Kenneth Cain’s Journey

“The problem is that no matter how good your intentions, eventually you want to kill someone yourself.” (Cain 193).

In “Emergency Sex”, all three of the characters presented experience substantial development over the course of their journeys. Of the three, the character I believed experienced the most significant growth was Kenneth Cain. Partly because of this, Cain is also my favorite character of the three. In the beginning he is easily the most relatable. He has huge aspirations for his studies concerning his thesis paper, as well as his future; “the truth is that this is the first time in my life I have been implicated in anything bigger than myself. I want to go” (Cain 10).

Right away, Cain comes off as a very likeable character; he’s about to start his studies concerning his thesis which he is extremely passionate about, albeit very dangerous as well. In the very first chapter he is trying his best to stay professional but can’t stop thinking about how attracted he is to the woman he is staying with in Israel. After sealing themselves off in a room and putting on gas masks to stay protected from the missiles being dropped he eventually makes his move. This scene is great because depicts the harsh inhuman realties of war outside the US contrasted with the unintended all-too-human feelings of attraction towards the people around us.

“I just watched a missile land, and people died. They’re bleeding and burning right now. That Scud hit and killed people. I keep repeating it all in my mind to keep it all real […] This is ridiculous. I’m in a sealed room with the door open and my gas mask half off thinking of adolescent sex.” (Cain 16-17).

While in Cambodia, Cain seems to be having the time of his life. He’s staying in a house filled with humanitarian workers from all over the world, meeting new and interesting people left and right. One scene when he’s having a party at his house helps to show his general disbelief at how much fun he’s having. “This is the best party I’ve ever been to, and it’s my house. I never dreamed I’d attend a party like this, never mind host it” (Cain 65). Cain has the time of his life in Cambodia, but moods quickly change when he begins working in Somalia.

Cain’s outlook on his journey immediately transforms after an ambush on a courthouse in Mogadishu during a ceremony he attends. This is the first time Cain is experiencing the violence that always been present in the regions around him. What was first fear turns into anger. There are many different ways that fear manifests itself in the human mind; with Cain, his fear has become so extreme that he expresses his longing for violence during the ambush. “I want to kill the boss. I want to drag him out into the line of fire headfirst and watch his body buckle and jerk as the bullets hit him. I want to watch him bleed to death.” (Cain 150). For a number of days after the attack he feels numb, in a total state of disbelief. When Cain finally goes to Rwanda and later Liberia, he conveys this feeling of hopelessness. After everything he’s witnessed combined with everything he’s tried to contribute, he’s seen more bad than good.

“I think I’m actually starting to understand. I was hell-bent on being an effective humanitarian in Cambodia and Somalia. But a naïve fog is finally lifting. Revealed is a train wreck of illusions, the depravity of someone else’s war, the futility of a competence stillborn there. To understand this you have to become this.” (Cain 219).

Kenneth Cain started humanitarian work in a number of different countries, leaving most of them with a feeling of hopelessness, almost depression. He tried to do good, but after witnessing events like the ambush in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda, his faith in humanity was weakened. At the end of his moral career, Cain decided to reflect on his experiences by writing about them. “I am a witness. I have a voice. I have to write it down.” (Cain 290). Cain is able to look back on the past decade he experienced and acknowledge where there was success and failure. Cain stays working at the UN and is hopeful for what the future holds and the role he will play in it.


Arcaro, Tom. “Moral Career.” 2013. Audio.

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die before Kofi Quits?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 03 Apr. 2005. Web.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures.” London. 2004. Print.



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