Where soldiers fear to tread

I just finished ‘Where Soldiers Fear to Tread‘ which is the account of the author who, in 1998 decided to volunteer with the World Food Program in Somalia as an operator of a boat to carry humanitarian supplies to villagers displaced by flooding.

I’d read Burnett’s book Dangerous Waters which was interesting if a bit uneven but this book is far better.  What struck me was how similar the experience of aid workers are to combat journalists and soldiers.  The big differences being soldiers get to go into dangerous places armed and can count of having a whole bunch of armed support if things don’t go well.   Aid workers have to rely on a mixture of negotiations, bribes and dumb luck.

The end of the book discusses security of aid workers in the post Cold War world and how the perceived safety of them through their neutrality has been shattered.  The book takes the UN and other NGOs to task for neglecting security and proper training of their personnel (and provides yet another critique of Kofi Anon that I keep stumbling on).

The book dances around the issue of the role of adrenaline addiction as critical to both the aid and military fields.  Why, exactly, would someone who is skilled and could get safe, profitable work in any number of places volunteer to insert themselves in some of the most dangerous places on earth where you are likely to be viewed alternately as a source of funds, human shield, bargaining chip, spy, or target for frustration.  It does cast a cynical eye at those who claim to do so for purely altruistic reasons.

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