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War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times [Paperback]

Linda Polman
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

19 April 2010

From Rwanda to Afghanistan, from Sudan to Iraq, this brilliantly written and at times blackly funny work of reportage shows how the humanitarian aid industry, the media and warmongers the world over are locked in a cycle of mutual support.

Drawing on her decades of first-hand experience, Linda Polman's gripping narrative introduces us to the key players in this twisted game, to the aid-workers and the warlords themselves. Among many others, there is the Bible-bashing one-man NGO who rescued two Sierra Leonean girls from life in an amputee camp - only to change his mind and try to send them back again; the director of the World Bank in Kabul who estimates that 35-40 per cent of all aid in Afghanistan is looted or lost; and the rebel soldier who explains that war does not mean fighting: 'W.A.R. means Waste All Resources. Destroy everything. Then you people will come and fix it.'

War Games is a controversial exposé from the front lines of the humanitarian aid industry by one of the most intrepid and brilliantly incisive journalists of our times.



Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (19 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670918962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670918966
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 253,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Depressingly accurate 9 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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
4.0 out of 5 stars A sceptical view of aid to Africa 9 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Two titles - one book 29 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Linda Polman's War Games is, apart from an introduction, the same as her Crisis Caravan. I could not get the contents of Crisis Caravan as this was a kindle edition. But the first chapter of both books is Goma -a total ethical disaster.
I know this as I bought both books, thinking, obviously, they were different.
As I had to rate the book for the purpose of this review I have given it 5 stars, because I think it is excellent
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worrying book that more people should read 29 Jun 2011
By EMB
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars war games----aid to foreign countries 28 Aug 2010
By dumbo
Format:Paperback
The book arrived in very good time and in excellent condition. It had been recommended reading in The Times. It described how terribly awry all aid can go and be positively dangerous for helping the wrong parties. Corrupt governments intercept monetary and material aid and/or it simply gets distributed to groups who use it towards their own cruel ends. The contents of the book can seem repetetive---unhappily having to illustrate on so many fronts and in so many situatuons how utterly wasted much of the well-intentioned assistance becomes.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing and mind-opening
This represents Linda Polman's experiences as a journalist across many war- and catastrophe- zones. It is a counter view to that with which we are presented with in the media and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by T Bancroft
4.0 out of 5 stars Biting, intensely readable, surprisingly hilarious
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. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Helot
5.0 out of 5 stars nice book
a very good description of why aid fails to work and how humanitarian work is more a business than more humanitarian.
Published 16 months ago by nirajan
1.0 out of 5 stars Sadly disappointed
I started the book anticipating a good read. I am interested in this subject. I never got to find out if the content is good though. Read more
Published on 24 Oct 2011 by ukreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - ignore the detractors
I find it very interesting that some of the reviewers of this book view it as having too many anecdotes, and not enough empirical backing. Read more
Published on 20 July 2011 by Andrew Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars War Games by Linda Polman
A very readable book with interst on every page, War Games exposes the real facts about the operations of the Aid Agencies in Africa and Asia. Read more
Published on 6 July 2011 by J. Wilkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Uniquely Depressing Book
A long time ago someone I know made a throwaway comment about the fact the money raised for Live Aid didn't help, it made things worse, not better. Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2010 by pjr
4.0 out of 5 stars Further corroboration, if needed...
It is perhaps significant that the cynical voices raised against this book come from people who have been involved in the aid business and feel tarred with the same brush. Read more
Published on 30 Oct 2010 by Joiner
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
Linda Polman uses a series casual observations made on her own priviliged forays into places few choose to go to come to some odd and outdated conclusions. Read more
Published on 11 Oct 2010 by ChrisH42
4.0 out of 5 stars The Florence Nightingale question
Polman asks an important question. If an army (as Napoleon remarked) marches on its stomach, does supplying humanitarian aid help third world armies to march? Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2010 by James-philip Harries
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