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

3.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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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 (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 782,443 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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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Format: Paperback
I bought the book hoping for an in depth critique and analysis of the subject and some answers to the problems thrown up by the author....but I was disappointed!

It was interesting insofar as it publicised problems associated with the subject but only in a gossipy sort of way, it was journalistically lazy I felt! I know these problems exist due to my work, but some of the issues cited were not put in context or in some cases were factually wrong! This lead me to think that if this was the case with the few circumstances cited in the book that I personally knew about, how much of the other instances cited about other situations in other regions were also wrong?

Having said that, valid points were made about certain aid agencies and their dealings with children, but the points about the role aid agencies play in supporting the perpetrators of wars eg rebel groups can't be addressed by aid agencies alone, a much stronger political will from the international community needs to be factored in, particularly regarding policing of the help given.

I felt the tone was rather one dimensional, but nevertheless a useful book to draw public attention to the problems and situations faced by aid agencies!
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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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