Category Archives: Assignment 4

A Solution to War Games


Polman’s War Games shows the complex interdependence that the humanitarian aid organizations, media, governments and warlords have with one another, and focuses for the majority of the time on what it actually “is” as opposed to how it “ought” to be. Though Polman says all of these units have to act together–the governments and humanitarian organizations in order to focus aid and use it in a similar manner instead of all acting separately (as she discusses in her interview with Jon Stewart)–it may be too much to ask. A majority of the problem faced in War Games is that people are not well-enough informed, which in turn can cause an influx of refugee warriors and an extension of wartime (as we saw between the Hutu and Tutsi in Goma), or too many organizations all taking different actions and a surplus of aid that cannot be tracked and is often stolen (for instance in the Dutch Flood Disaster where many MONGOS arrived as well as many useless donated aid items). I hate to be pessimistic when really these humanitarian aid organizations aim for good, but corruption exists on all levels and it will be hard to entangle because of the big players involved. It would take a lot of work and a lot of people working together, and its a flaw of human nature that we cannot all agree on what is best for the world because selfishness exists. We “ought” to work together, but many believe that they can always do better, work harder, send more money, etc and the chances that people will work together is unlikely, especially because no one can even keep tabs on how many aid organizations there actually are.

Humanitarian organizations rely on their beliefs that they are “remaining neutral” and rely on the media to attract worldwide attention for money, but the media also only shows a fraction of what is happening in these crisis areas, most of the time what is exaggerated by victims competing with one another for aid and warlords taking a majority of the aid that is being supplied. Victims compete with each other by accepting prosthetics but not using them, and even calling themselves “real victims” who got their limbs cut off “long sleeve or short sleeve” (cut at the wrist/forearm or below the shoulder) rather than amputated from a medical procedure from the war conflict (Polman). Governments themselves have to approve an aid organization to be present and deliver aid into their country, which is also corrupted by the governments laying down requirements for them to help those in need. People are using the media to create a postmodern view to change the reality that the world sees (Witt 108).


As part of the “War on Terror” United States aid organizations were expected to do “public relations for the US government…NGOs had to do a better job of linking their humanitarian assistance to US foreign policy and making it clear that they are ‘an arm of the US government'” (Polman 129). The connections these organizations are forced to have with governments when they are supposed to be independent causes a problem, Polman discusses in her chapter Afghaniscam, because people “…can no longer tell the difference between ‘real’, neutral humanitarians and reconstruction troops disguised as humanitarians” (Polman 131). When the military was present in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, they used the humanitarian aid organizations to further military goals,  known as a “force multiplier” (Lischer 99). Lischer has found that “humanitarian soldiers” are not able to create stability or meet the needs of victims because they are instead acting like government agents (Lischer 99).

The solution to the problems presented to us in War Games: work together. Further structural changes could help minimize some of the bad effects from the humanitarian aid business, but unfortunately, further corruption of the system is most likely inevitable.


Works Cited:

Lischer, Sarah Kenyon. “Military Intervention and the Humanitarian “Force Multiplier””JSTOR. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Jan. 2007. Web. 10 June 2013.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Witt, Jon. The Big Picture: A Sociology Primer. 1st ed. New York: McGaw-Hill, 2007. Print.

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A4 The gap between the is and the ought

Dunant“The moral sense of the importance of human life; the humane desire to lighten a little the torments of all these poor wretches, or restore their shattered courage; the furious and relentless activity which a man summons up at such moments: all these combine to create a kind of energy which gives one a positive craving to relieve as many as one can.”

 A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant 1828-1910


 The gap between the is and the ought

Now that you have finished War Games/The Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman and done some outside reading related to “aid industry” you perhaps have a clearer sense of the enormous complexity of the ethical, social and cultural issues historically raised by the delivery of humanitarian aid.  You should also be cognizant that these issues are very real this moment as we look toward, for example, Syria, and try to imagine the best way forward both as a nation and and individual US and global citizens.

Making use of the terms list below and of your viewing of Polman’s appearances around the world (via YouTube), unpack and discuss her main thesis and try to comment on the gap that exists between the “is” and the “ought” regarding the workings of what Polman euphemistically calls the ‘crisis caravan.’  Further, make an attempt to address how -or if (?)- we can use her insights to guide our response to crises of the moment.  Be sure to address the ethical, social and cultural issues that are raised in her book and comments.

You may choose to drill into the note below or to go in your own direction with this post.

Note:  certainly one of the reasons that there is a gap between the “is” and the “ought” is the cancer-like existence of corruption at virtually all levels of the aid system.  Are we doomed to having corruption a permanent fixture of the aid system because of the nature of human nature or can real structural (legal, policy, communication, accountability, etc.) changes eventually significantly minimize the amount of corruption?

War Games/The Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman

Some key terms/ideas/people

  • Henri Dunant
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Un Souvenir de Solferino
  • Tutti fratelli
  • ICRC
  • Crisis caravan
  • Humanitarianism
  • humanitarian
  • Goma
  • Hutu
  • Tutsi
  • “landing strip effect”
  • genocidaires
  • MSF
  • Contract fever
  • CNN as Security Counsel member
  • NGOs
  • MONGOs
  • Donor darlings
  • Murray Town Camp
  • “long sleeve or short sleeve?
  • “real” amputees
  • “shaking hands with the devil”
  • Tamil Tigers
  • Taliban
  • RUF
  • Aid as a weapon of war
  • Refugee warriors
  • Lieber Code
  • Geneva Conventions
  • Biafra
  • Colonel Ojukwu
  • International Criminal Court (ICC)
  • Janjaweed militia
  • War chest
  • “Do They Know Its Christmas?”
  • who is in charge of how aid money is used?
  • Cold War
  • War on Terror
  • “Afghaniscam”
  • contracted employees
  • Phase Zero of warfare
  • Blue helmets
  • NGOs as “force multipliers”
  • Involuntary collaborators

Plus all of the words and phrases in the “aid speak” glossary at the end of the book.


  • Due by 10:00pm EST June 11th.
  • Late posts will be downgraded at least one letter grade.
  • Comments to at least two colleague’s posts by  June 13th by 10:00PM EST.
  • At least three citations: at least one from text and/or other assigned reading, and at least two from outside academic sources.  Note:  you are to read/watch/listen to all of the material in the hyperlinks in the parent post above; your contact with the material should be apparent in your post.
  • List references at the bottom of the page (MLA format).
  • At least one photo and/or video link.
  • Minimum 0f 500 words (excluding references).
  • Grade will be based on quality and quantity of response to the post prompt including adherence to the above benchmarks.
  • Keep in mind that you are writing for a broad audience that is educated and interested in this topic; infuse your post with the sociology you are learning/have learned in a non-jargonistic manner

Please check Assignments/Assignment 4 before you Publish.


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