David Reiff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis
Humanitarianism is supposed to be a great thing. It is meant to mitigate conflict and give food and care to those most in need. In this book Reiff takes a look at how humanitarianism has changed. Often humanitarian aid is used by Western governments as a tool to pacify their electorates. Reiff studies the history of humanitarianism, and how it has changed through successive conflicts. The major chapters discuss in detail conflicts such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
In conflicts such as Rwanda and Bosnia aid was given to salve the conscience of the West, who did not want to intervene to change the political situation. Eventually, the humanitarian effort in Bosnia became the excuse that Western governments gave for not intervening. In the conflicts in Afghanistan and Kosovo, Reiff discusses the worrying trend of governments becoming increasingly involved in humanitarian efforts and ultimately taking charge of them.
Reiff's book is thought provoking and makes a reader think again about humanitarian aid. Now, we take for granted that aid organizations will rush to conflict zones and start 'to help'. Reiff puts forward the argument that humanitarianism deludes liberals into thinking bloody conflicts can get better. In reality it is hard for humanitarian organizations to give out aid and simply do good. The process of giving aid is extremely complex and carries political consequences.
A Review by Adam Shatz of the Boston Globe