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Description - A Bed for the Night by David Rieff

Timely and controversial, A Bed for the Night reveals how humanitarian organizations trying to bring relief in an ever more violent and dangerous world are often betrayed and misused, and have increasingly lost sight of their purpose. Drawing on first-hand reporting from hot war zones around the world - Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Kosovo, Sudan and, most recently, Afghanistan - David Rieff shows us what humanitarian aid workers do in the field and the growing gap between their noble ambitions and their actual capabilities for alleviating suffering. Tracing the origins of major humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and CARE, he describes how many of them have moved from their founding principle of neutrality, which gave them access to victims, to encouraging the international community to take action to stop civil wars and ethnic cleansing. Rieff demonstrates how this advocacy has come at a high price. By overreaching, the humanitarian movement has allowed itself to be hijacked by the major powers, sometimes to become a fig leaf for actions that major powers take in their own national interests, as in Afghanistan, sometimes for their inaction, as in Bosnia and Rwanda. With the exception of cases of genocide, where the moral imperative to act overrides all other considerations, Rieff contends that if humanitarian organisations are to continue doing what they do best - alleviating suffering - they must remain independent.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099597919
ISBN-10: 0099597918
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 24mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 7-Nov-2002
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - A Bed for the Night by David Rieff

US Kirkus Review » The Third World is a heap of severed limbs, the aid the First World offers but the smallest of Band-Aids: so argues journalist Rieff in this lucid polemic. "Any adult who does not understand that the world is an unjust place, even in its treatment of catastrophe, is a fool or a dreamer." Thus Rieff (Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West, 1995) establishes the tone of his emphatically unstarry-eyed look at relief efforts in places such as Rwanda and Kosovo. Rieff's argument follows provocative lines: humanitarian relief organizations working in such places are in crisis, as even its most committed proponents recognize, in part because they have been co-opted by the major powers, which in turn have made human rights central to foreign policy. In the theater of aid-as-realpolitik, relief too often plays into the wrong hands, propping up corrupt governments and creating a pattern of infantilizing dependency; as one aid worker observes, "aid too often does nothing to alter-and very often reinforces-the fundamental circumstances that produced the needs it temporarily meets." Rieff urges, among other things, that we shed fairy-tale views of a world of tyrants and oppressed; as he observes, many of the Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda in 1994 had merrily slaughtered their Tutsi compatriots before packing their bags, which does not lessen their need-only their supposed status as innocent victims. Just so, he argues, the UN's insistence that all sides were villains in the Balkans, "while false in the instance"-the Serbs, in his view, having been the clear aggressors-"was right about any number of conflicts in the world, from Tajikistan to Burundi." All of which is not to say that the West should stop trying to ease the world's suffering. But, Rieff urges, humanitarian NGOs can do their stated jobs only if they act independently, not as arms of the new world order, and the major powers would do better to remove tyrants at gunpoint than deliver powdered milk to faraway places. A sober treatise, burning with righteous indignation. Rieff makes a solid if impious case for humanitarian reform, one that ought to generate much discussion. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - David Rieff

David Rieff is a journalist who has covered wars and refugee crises around the world and has worked as a human rights investigator for various foundations. A visiting professor at Bard College and the author of four previous books, including Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West, he lives in New York.

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In Praise of Forgetting by David Rieff
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Susan Sontag: Later Essays by David Rieff
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Reproach of Hunger by David Rieff
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As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh by David Rieff
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