07 October 2007

How can combatants be humanitarians?

"How can combatants be humanitarians?" was a frequent refrain among relief workers in Afghanistan referring to Coalition soldiers who went from shooting to fixing schools. Yet, the "blurring of the lines" seems to be part of a larger trend in the humanitarian industry and so perhaps humanitarians need to find better approaches.


How can they not? In war amongst the people, the new style of war replacing the industrial war classically expressed in World War II, warfare is precisely defending (or attacking) the services of the modern industrial state - roads, electricity, water, justice, and above all the physical security of civilians. It is more about winning hearts and minds in the streets and on TVs than ever.

This is because more and more, civilians are the battlefield. Which means that humanitarians are combatants, and will be treated as such by the enemy, which means that more than ever humanitarians have to be prepared to be maimed and killed.

(Also, combatants will become more and more policemen; but that's another post.)


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