Required Reading for #TheResistance | Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid

“Fear, in war, is absolute.”

Dr. Samantha Nutt packs a punch in Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid. Her succinct book is informed by her experiences as a distinguished medical doctor and humanitarian, with nearly twenty years working in conflict zones at the time of publication. Dr. Nutt’s thoughts on corruption, militarization, and foreign aid are set against a backdrop of her personal narrative — rich with cruel and heartbreaking encounters, told with conviction and compassion.

Heavily discussed is the pervasiveness of the arms trade and the corrupt, despotic regimes on the receiving end. Dr. Nutt makes a passionate case that access to weapons in unstable environments fuels and perpetuates conflict. Greed is deeply embedded at the top, trickling down and manifesting itself in incomprehensible violence. Her depictions of such atrocities as rape and genital mutilation are illustrated with jolting detail. The realities of war are not Dr. Nutt’s sole focus, however; she argues with equal force that people in the Global North are, however unknowingly, implicated in war’s ongoing destruction. She expresses her outrage that our ties to the arms trade — through Canadian Pension Plan investments, for instance — enable the very conflicts we oppose, fill the pockets of the war criminals we condemn, and cause the adversity we aim to alleviate.

In addition to laying out the failures of militarized intervention, Damned Nations exposes the problematic (and ironic) nature of militarized aid. When armed forces attempt to provide humanitarian assistance for the conflicts they’re engaged in, there are often detrimental repercussions. Dr. Nutt advocates for the imperfect non-profit sector, defending its role in international development while challenging its efficacy. The United Nations receives a significant amount of attention, with both support and criticism from Dr. Nutt, whose career was nurtured by UN opportunities. Recounting her field experiences in parallel to sobering analysis, Dr. Nutt gives balanced, thoughtful consideration to how individuals and organizations can best help — a reality check on our altruism. She highlights a need to hold non-profits accountable, and to adjust our expectations for them. While she commends the public’s will to respond to crises around the world, she asks us to be careful not to become part of the problem, often by participating in “voluntourism” trips or donating too heavily to short-term aid rather than long-term development.

Dr. Nutt concludes Damned Nations by reflecting on these ideas and funneling her expertise into recommendations for two priority groups: supporting girls and women through education and economic empowerment to close the gender divide, and supporting boys and men through education and employment opportunities to offer an alternative to being swept up by the cycles of violence. By concurrently addressing these priorities, curtailing access to arms, and investing in the legal system, Dr. Nutt hopes we might begin to get to the roots of conflict, develop a framework for justice, and slowly heal communities.

Damned Nations sheds light on the palpable effects of war. It is a resounding plea to see war for what it is, and to find ethical and sustainable solutions for fighting the sadistic evil we’ve allowed to persist. It’s a call to look critically at the institutions we fund — military as well as non-governmental — and to implement reformed policies and programs to lift people out of dire situations. By sharing her experiences on the frontlines of global warfare and human suffering, Dr. Nutt challenges the way we think about war and shapes the lens with which to view war-torn areas from Somalia to Iraq. A guide for understanding both the source of conflicts and the complexities of aid, Damned Nations should be required reading for anyone who donates to charity or wishes to dig deeper into the international development arena.

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