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War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times Paperback – 19 Apr 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (19 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670918962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670918966
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 1.6 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 556,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


War Games is a blood-boilingly good polemic that should knock a few halos off (Sunday Telegraph )

Pacy, concise, vivid...the pages of this necessary but contentious book burn with a righteous moral anger about the contradictions and tensions of delivering humanitarian aid in conflict zones (Daily Telegraph )

Marvellous... cool, brusque, fearless and disillusioned...carries echoes of the African writings of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene (Guardian )

Highly topical...essential reading...she relentlessly catalogues the ways in which humanitarianism has helped prolong war and suffering...if Polman's book can serve as a rallying cry to more radical, redistributive alternatives, then it will have more than fulfilled its function (The Times )

A disturbing account that raises profound questions not just about the palliative efficacy of aid - but whether it fuels and prolongs conflict (Financial Times )

Linda Polman is one of the finest reporting journalists of the modern age - she is gutsy, intellectually penetrating and far from naïve (Evening Standard )

She offers no obvious solutions but calls for more debate, and for an end to the 'halo effect' that gives INGOs immunity from criticism. War Games is a decisive step in that direction

(Metro )

About the Author

Linda Polman is the author of We Did Nothing: Why the Truth Doesn't Always Come Out When the UN Goes In, which was shortlisted for the Lettre Ulysses and the Index on Censorship awards. She studied at the School of Journalism in Utrecht and for the past twenty years has been a freelance journalist for international radio, TV and newspapers; she is a contributor to The Times and the Guardian.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Peter Roberts on 9 July 2010
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I have spent 20 years working in various parts of Africa and already knew that most aid projects were pointless - but had assumed that the effects of the aid were at worst neutral if not vaguely benign. I was already aware that after the Rwanda genocide, the Tutsis got no aid, whereas the refugee Hutus (who carried out the murders) were overloaded with aid.

It is therefore depressing to learn from Linda Polman's excellent book that this is not the case: much aid actually has a negative effect on the victims and on the countries it is given to. Indeed even that some aid is solicited by the country in question in order to carry out humanitarian crimes such as mass internal relocation of rebel populations: this was the case for Ethiopia and the 1984 Band Aid aid campaign.

Aid prolongs conflicts and increases deaths.

There will be exceptions, but probably only for small projects: the big ones are tainted. Darfur (now), Ethiopia (1984 et seq), Biafra (1967), Rwanda (1994).

Aid is big business for the aid organisations and some are not so scrupulous about how they discharge their responsibilities. We should leave aid to Governments, but monitor properly how they are spending our money. In my own experience I am aware that UK Government aid to finance primary schools in Uganda in the early 1990s was inadequately controlled and much just ended up in the pockets of fraudsters.

A book that is easy to read, but deporessing: should be on the reading list of Government MInisters.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Professor Ian M. Johnson on 9 Jun. 2010
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The United Nation's "Millennium Development Goals" set out to halve the number of poor people in the world by 2015, without defining which half, or what would happen to the other half. Yet, twenty of the world's poorest countries still receive little or no aid. It is therefore important for a sceptical eye to be cast over what is happening to the aid funds that we contribute through taxes or collection tins, particularly for causes and crises in Africa.

This book by a Dutch journalist sets out to do precisely that, beginning by reviewing the creation of the concept of humanitarian aid in the middle of the Nineteenth Century with the foundation of the Red Cross with a presumed duty to relieve human suffering unconditionally. The author's case is that by doing so, the aid agencies put themselves at the mercy of the belligerents and the corrupt.

Using well documented examples, she demonstrates how TV and the Internet have raised awareness of crises, and how - as the news media cut costs - journalists have become passive processors of the agencies' publicity. The agencies themselves manipulate the media by highlighting or even exaggerating the worst cases of need to help them in the competition to raise money. That might be considered `fair game' were it not for the fact that insurgents and corrupt regimes deliberately worsen situations to attract attention.

Many of the smaller agencies are inexperienced and provide inappropriate assistance. Their multiplicity only serves to make the situation worse.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By EMB on 29 Jun. 2011
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This book is a quick and easy read and I would like to see more people reading it as I think it raises a lot of questions that deserve to be answered. Though the book is about aid to developing countries in general, it does focus on Africa as that is where most aid goes at present. Really, what is it about aid that makes people ignore common sense? I can only suppose it is the desperate situations that people get caught up in that make any action seem better than no action at all. Billions of pounds have been poured into Africa without producing anything. It is senseless to carry on like this and hard questions and hard actions need to be taken as it seems that the main result of so much aid is rampant corruption. I don't know how accurate the author's facts are as I am not in a position to judge. However, if even a fraction of it is true, it's horrifying enough. The idea that the rebels of Sierra Leone might have amputated more limbs from their victims to get more of the world's attention and therefore aid monies is monstrous. What are we achieving with aid?
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Format: Paperback
I came to this book via my local library, having been deeply impressed by her previous book "We Did Nothing", about the failures of UN peacekeeping. Polman turned her attention to the unholy connections between aid and war, and has produced a work which, while it might not win awards for academic rigour, succeeds brilliantly in its purpose of showing us how the almost unimaginably vast sums our governments and charities spend in our names are rarely used for their supposed purposes.

The opening chapter's description of the gigantic refugee camp set up after the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in Goma, Zaire (now Congo), makes for astonishing reading. I was unaware that this well-reported creation was, in fact, populated mainly by Hutus, the ethnic grouping responsible for the genocide. They were using the camp as a base to launch attacks back over the border and some in the camp grew very rich on the proceeds of stolen aid, robberies which the aid organisations were unwilling to confront because it might mean they would have to give up their lucrative jobs and leave.

The thesis of the book is that aid is so poorly administered that, in the majority of case, it causes far more harm than good. To her great credit, Polman offers no simplistic solutions: she does not call for the ending of all aid, which would be both moral cowardice and rebound on us here in the developed world. But, as she states, we are far too willing to believe everything we're told by self-interested governments, institutions and non-governmental organisations. We need to question much more, to demand that our money is spent wisely, or not spent at all. Personally, I would go further and greatly reduce overseas aid budgets, which from all the evidence are out of control.
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