Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: "Damned Nations" by Samantha Nutt, M.D.

This book is an accounting of a true humanitarian's two-decades-long experience in 1) the frontlines of conflict: Somalia, Iraq, the Sudan, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, in 2) the corridors of the world's decision makers: The United Nations, NGOs (both big and small), Western Powers, and in 3) the "kitchen tables" (a worn-out cliche, I know) of Canadian homes.
This book is an honest view of events that we are only familiar with through newspapers and TV clips. The world in this book is seen through the eyes of the  multi-faceted mind of a woman, a Western woman, a Western woman physician, and a mother for whom advocating for the suffering is a calling.
I personally can't think of a better book to read for the person who wants to feel the full power of empathy for these far-flung places, without the risk. "Social change (anywhere in the world) begins with education". Waking up our innate empathy is the essential ignition spark for action. This book also provides a guide to the effective deployment of a person/family's resources through an index of aid groups, advocacy groups and a who's who of groups that contribute to the war industry (including your pension fund!).
I have distilled this book to it's three main messages:
1). "War is not so entrenched that it cannot be undone". It's easy enough to dismiss what appears to be a naive, utopian statement. After all, isn't "war" hardwired into our DNA? Don't we go to war to preserve our way of life, to defend ourselves? Well, it is almost never the case. Wars are fought so your pension fund's values go up and stay up. Wars that are, on the surface, initially at least, started on xenophobic and nationalistic grounds are almost always abetted by, and prolonged by overlapping government and  corporate interests  of the Western (and Chinese) nations.
2). Empowering women (Westerners shouldn't be too smug: the West needs this done too) is the surest and  most cost effective way of nullifying the reasons for, and the effects of, going to war. It's about small victories: providing a safe forum in the remote villages for women to talk amongst themselves away from men, providing seed money for home-based business, and of course, education.
3). This book shatters the myth of efficacy of the aid-delivery methods and programs we have come to rely on. It explains in thorough detail the ineffectiveness, the folly, and the actual harm that, for example, donating used clothes does to the societies it is supposed to help. Another example, volunteer tourism, doesn't help anybody except contribute to the fuzzy-warm albums of the volunteers and their families.
The resource list at the end of the book is a must read for an awareness of who is doing "bad" things and who is doing "good" things.

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