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Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century

Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid in the Twentieth Century

by Johannes Paulmann (Editor)


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This volume explores the history of humanitarian aid revealing fundamental dilemmas inherent in humanitarian practice for more than a century. The contributions analyse humanitarianism from the point of view of Europe and the West, and from the colonies and the Third World, revealing uneven developments and contingencies of change. Emphasis is put on the coming together of different forces, events, and structures at particular times, explaining the dilemmas faced up to the present day.

Humanitarian aid developed in a polycentric, multi-layered manner during specific conjunctures in the twentieth century. Its modern European version combines different threads with strong links to empire, religious and secular organizations, and warfare. In practice, the boundaries between humanitarian relief, development aid, human rights, and humanitarian intervention have been blurred. The urge to relieve distant suffering and make the world a better place, the evolving nature of humanitarian organizations, international politics and political economy, have all contributed to making humanitarian aid a dynamic field.

The historical studies in this volume are based on multi-archival research. They start with the foundations of international humanitarianism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, highlighting state interests, religious motivations and imperial reform. From these beginnings, humanitarian aid grew strongly in volume and organization during the first half of the twentieth century. The contributions show developments in the shadow of colonialism and two world wars covering Europe, northern Africa, China and transatlantic relations. After 1945 humanitarian practice stood at the intersection of Cold War and decolonization. Wars of independence, direct confrontations between East and West in the Third World, and the growth of development policy affected humanitarian practice, its scope and challenges. The most recent period of global humanitarianism is explored in essays on the role of non-Western areas in humanitarian governance, relations between concern for others and the self in prominent global organizations, and the practice of aid workers on the spot.

The volume identifies several essential dilemmas inherent in the idea and practice of international humanitarian aid since the beginning of the twentieth century. Amongst these is the politics of empathy. Narratives of suffering and relief often focused on events and actions; as the consequence of an alarmist and dramatized picture, regularly gendered by a focus on women and children, the political or structural causes of suffering were often left out. Human empathy was foregrounded and used by some of the political actors in disasters, so that we can speak of the politics of empathy. Furthermore, the volume describes humanitarian aid as politics: humanitarian aid was often used as an instrument to achieve other ends. In foreign aid it became an instrument of foreign policy. It also formed part of the economic policy of some governments in favour of their own producers. Domestic politics in donor and receiving countries determined the size, timing, and geography of aid, while international relations affected who helped, to what extent, and for how long. Humanitarian aid as politics also touches on the fundamental question of the relationship between civil society, the state, and the military. Finally, we recognize the politics of aid: as a result of proliferation and competition, aid organizations pursued their own politics. One basic feature was the relationship between the international dimension of aid and national aid structures in donor countries. Multi-layered systems of humanitarian aid existed and we need to ask how the aid polity developed over time nationally and internationally, for example, through the League of Nations and the United Nations Organization. Another factor was competition between NGOs for funds, access, and publicity.

By taking a historical perspective, the volume focuses not so much on the 'crisis of crisis relief', which strikes the present-day observer, as on the fundamental ambiguities and paradoxes of humanitarian aid. One long-standing ambiguity relates to the role of women in humanitarian aid. Although humanitarian narratives put particularly the objects of women's care, that is, other women, children, and the family, at the centre of attention, active engagement offered opportunities for work and professional careers which allowed individuals to go beyond traditional boundaries of voluntary work. Yet, in terms of organization leadership, the ceiling for them remained low. Another long-term ambiguity of the care for distant sufferers was that these remained basically 'strangers' even when the appeal for help was based, say, on a common humanity or Christian brother- and sisterhood. Humanitarian aid tended to reinforce existing racial, ethnic, and cultural differences. On a more general level, the changing and blurred boundaries of humanitarianism account for the dynamism in the field. They also make its study so rewarding as the humanitarian cuts across the local, national, or international perspectives of historians and others.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780198778974
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Series: Studies of the German Historical Institute, London
Pages: 460
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Johannes Paulmann is Director of the Leibniz Institute of European History and Professor of Modern History at the University of Mainz.

Table of Contents

1. The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid: Historical Perspectives, Johannes Paulmann
I Multiple Foundations of International Humanitarianism
2. Dilemmas of 'Geneva' Humanitarian Internationalism: The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Cross Movement, 1863-1918, Matthias Schulz
3. American Quakers, the Emergence of International Humanitarianism, and the Foundation of the American Friends Service Committee, 1890-1920, Daniel Maul
II Humanitarianism in the Shadow of Colonialism and World Wars
4. Weak Nation-States and the Limits of Humanitarian Aid: The Case of Morocco's Rif War, 1921-27, Francisco Javier Martinez-Antonio
5. Red Cross, Blue Express: Chinese Local Relief in an Age of Humanitarian Imperialism, Shandong 1923, Caroline Reeves
6. The League of Nations Mission in Western Thrace: Relief and Rehabilitation Operations (1922-24), Davide Rodogno in collaboration with Shaloma Gauthier and Francesca Piana
7. Two Crosses for the Same Aim? Swiss and Swedish Charitable Activities in Greece during the Second World War, Daniel Palmieri and Irene Herrmann
8. Life During Wartime: The Save the Children International Union and the Dilemmas of Warfare Relief, 1919-47, Joelle Droux
9. From Aid to Intimacy: The Humanitarian Origins and Media Culture of International Adoption, Heide Fehrenbach
10. Professionals of Humanitarianism: UNRRA Relief Officers in Post-War Europe, Silvia Salvatici
III Humanitarianism at the Intersection of Cold War and Decolonization
11. Blurring Relief and Development: Religious and Secular Politics of International Humanitarian Intervention during Decolonization in Sub-Saharan Africa, Shobana Shankar
12. The Algerian War, Third World Internationalism, and the Cold War Politics of Humanitarian Assistance, Young-sun Hong
13. ?The Credibility of our Humanitarian Effort is at Risk?: Tensions between Solidarity and Humanitarian Aid in the Late 1960s, Konrad J. Kuhn
14. Negotiating Humanitarianism and Politics: Operation Omega's Border-Breaching Missions During the East Pakistan Crisis of 1971, Florian Hannig
15. Competition over Aid? The German Red Cross, the Committee Cap Anamur, and the Rescue of Boat People in South-East Asia, 1979-82, Michael Vossing
IV Dilemmas of Global Humanitarianism
16. Humanitarian Dilemmas, Concern for Others, and Care of the Self: The Case of Medecins sans Frontieres, Michal Givoni
17. Asia's Evolving Role in Global Humanitarian Governance, Alain Guilloux
18. Dilemmas of Participation: Developers and the Problem of Doing the Right Thing, Eva Spies

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