Synopses & Reviews
Named by the Los Angeles Times Book Review as one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2002, A Bed for the Night reveals how humanitarian organizations trying to bring relief are often betrayed and misused, and have increasingly lost sight of their purpose. Drawing on firsthand 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 to alleviate 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 those 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 organizations are to continue doing what they do best--alleviating suffering--they must remain independent.
The Wall Street Journal A withering, thought-provoking study.
The New York Times Book Review Hardheaded, sophisticated, and urgent.
Time A ruthlessly lucid book...hard, intelligent analysis.
Brian Urquhart former Undersecretary General of the United Nations A Bed for the Night provides an excellent antidote to the hollow clichés and generalizations that often blur and distort the horribly real problems of helping the world's most afflicted people.
Los Angeles Times Book Review One of the 10 best nonfiction books of the year.
Nadine Gordimer A wake-up, shake-up for those of us who see unquestionable humanitarianism as the disinterested answer to conflict and poverty in our millennium world.
Timely and controversial, A Bed for the Night reveals how humanitarian organizations are often betrayed and misused, and have increasingly lost sight of their purpose. Drawing on firsthand reporting from war zones around the world, David Rieff shows us what aid workers do in the field and the growing gap between their noble ambitions and their actual capabilities for alleviating suffering. He describes how many humanitarian organizations 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. By calling for intervention, humanitarian organizations risk being seen as taking sides in a conflict and thus jeopardizing their access to victims. And by overreaching, the humanitarian movement has allowed itself to be hijacked by the major powers. Rieff concludes that if humanitarian organizations are to do what they do best -- alleviate suffering -- they must reclaim their independence.
About the Author
David Rieff is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of seven previous books, including the acclaimed At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; and Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
SECTION ONE Designated Consciences
1 The Humanitarian Paradox
2 The Hazards of Charity
3 A Saving Idea
SECTION TWO Dreams and Realities
SECTION THREE The Death of a Good Idea
8 Endgame or Rebirth?
A Note on Sources
A Note on Major Humanitarian Organizations
Humanitarian and International Organizations