Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies & Aid by Samantha Nutt, M.D. McClelland & Stewart 2011.
First posted at Willow Books on March 21, 2012.
I often see bumper stickers on cars that read “Support Our Troops!” or “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” Huh? Catchy, but what the heck is that supposed to mean? I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t “Support Our Troops”. But supporting a war is quite another matter.
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Samantha Nutt has worked in many of the world’s most violent hotspots, from Iraq and Somalia to the Congo (DRC). In Damned Nations she shares some of her experiences with readers and shines a light on circumstances that are almost impossible for the average viewer of the evening news to grasp.
In America, those who questioned the war in Iraq were branded Saddam Hussein sympathizers. If you’re not with us, you’re against us! But what are the costs of these wars? What is it like to be a civilian in a combat zone? Who are the casualties of war? In World War I, just 15% of the casualties were civilians. Now, 80% of casualties in wars are civilians. In the Shock and Awe campaign, 7,500 Iraqis died and almost 18,000 were injured.
War is big business. Annual world-wide military spending now exceeds $1.5 trillion dollars. That’s $225 for every person on the planet and the most rapidly expanding market for weapons is the developing world. The market price for an assault rifle in a war-torn country averages less than the cost of admission to an American theme park.
We became accustomed to thinking of Canada’s role in the world to be that of peacekeepers, but in fact, Canada is among the world’s top 10 arms exporters, with one of the lowest international Arms Transparency ratings among industrialized economies.
Who profits from these arms sales? Well, Canada’s teachers are among the beneficiaries. All but two provincial teachers’ pension funds are invested in one or more of the world’s top one hundred arms producers, while the Canada Pension Plan holds more than $200 million in investments in top arms-producing companies.
Instability in regions such as eastern Congo often benefits arms dealers, mining companies, smugglers, foreign governments and other profiteers. The DRC is blessed and cursed with deposits of gold, diamonds, tin, copper and coltan (needed for electronic equipment such as cell phones). When Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960, its first democratically elected prime minister was deposed in a CIA-sponsored coup just 3 months later, allowing corrupt dictator Mobutu to take charge and amass a personal fortune while leaving the country in chaos.
All of the money that is currently poured into military operations could go a long way towards solving some of the problems at the root of unrest were it redirected. Nutt notes that in countries such as Afghanistan, extremist movements offer angry young men, with no hope for their future, money and a sense of belonging. The only way to abort such movements – to strip them of their platform and subsequently their foot soldiers – is to strangle them with arms-control measures and thwart them through youth education, skills training and employment. And a justice system is vital to end the culture of impunity enjoyed by war’s profiteers.
Nutt looks at many aspects of the aid scene in war-torn and disaster-struck regions and dissects some of the proposed solutions. She also offers recommendations for where you might best spend your charitable dollars.
Disasters such as the Haiti earthquake often prompt well-meaning outpourings of dollars that can’t all be wisely invested in a short period, while long-standing war zones attract little support. Entertainment personalities who establish their own charities can raise funds, but they don’t have experience as aid providers. Donations of goods such as clothing are also problematic because they can undermine the local industries vital to a thriving economy.
Look for organizations with a long-term commitment and experience in a region. Consider a small but regular contribution to an ongoing project instead of a one-time donation to a disaster fund. Projects that empower women help a whole community. And don’t send a goat, send a lawyer!
Nutt co-founded War Child in 1999. War Child’s mission is to empower children and young people to flourish within their communities and overcome the challenges of living with, and recovering from, conflict. You can link to the War Child website here.
Although Damned Nations offers a great deal of information, the narrative never bogs down in facts and figures as Dr. Nutt enlivens her discussion with anecdotes from her often nerve-wracking encounters in war-torn regions. Damned Nations is a powerful and thought-provoking book.