I haven’t finished the entire book yet, but so far I’m a giant bundle of emotions about it: shocked, impressed, proud, inspired, sad, angry… the list goes on.
I’ve read a fair bit of the body of work that has risen up about the Rwandan genocide; Orbinski has exposed things in this book that I haven’t seen explicitly stated in any other. He deals harshly with France, the United States, Great Britain and the UN, and rightfully so. I never fully understood the extent to which the world failed in Rwanda; Orbinski spells it out in great detail.
What interests me most about this book is Orbinski’s discussions of the political calculations undertaken by MSF. MSF has gone to great lengths to maintain their independence – from refusing funding from certain states to even expelling the Greek chapter from their organization during a nasty dispute in the Balkans in 1998. The Nobel prize committee noted MSF’s commitment to “independent medical humanitarian action and to speaking out which helps to form bodies of public opinion opposed to violations and abuses of power.”
Orbinski’s writing style is excellent; everything in the book is easy to read. He avoids unnecessary jargon as he explains the histories of the various conflicts he has lived in the middle of. He talks near the end of the book about struggling to write an acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. One of his colleagues explained that “humanitarianism was not about ending or justifying war; it was the struggle to create human spaces in the midst of what is profoundly abnormal. In that moment I understood that to allow that space to exist, we had to be willing to confront political power” (338).
This book is without a doubt one of the best I have ever read about humanitarianism and conflict. Having studied these conflicts in university, I have never gotten such a personalized view of them until now. I feel like my understanding of the world and how it works (and fails to work) has been rattled, but strengthened at the same time.
Everyone should read this book.