Angry, impassioned essays are not the general currency of Canadian non-fiction, so it’s refreshing that physician Samantha Nutt breaks the mould with her forthright attack on militarism and misguided aid efforts that exacerbate the poverty and conflict they are meant to solve. The executive director of War Child Canada, a non-governmental organization working with women and children affected by war around the world, Nutt sports a dizzyingly busy resumé that includes multiple trips to war zones in the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Liberia, and Afghanistan.
The author turns her sharp focus on everyone from herself (analyzing what she calls her smug and comfortable assumptions) and her colleagues in the NGO world (criticizing the “poverty porn” that forms the basis of so much charitable fundraising) to duplicitous governments and corporations that profit from misery and inequality. All of us, she convincingly argues, are complicit in the international webs of injustice that condemn the majority of the planet’s population to violence, disease, and starvation.
Nutt’s analysis of what goes wrong when the world focuses its attention on countries like post-earthquake Haiti or war-torn Libya is accessible and insightful. Her arguments are bolstered by a combination of personal, on-the-ground reminiscences and interviews with remarkable individuals who continue organizing and working for a better world. But for the most part, she unselfishly places herself in the background, focusing squarely on the issues.
The book offers practical solutions to the problems she details, including benchmarks for donating money or volunteering, as well as encouraging political initiatives that support women and children’s education and empowerment. She does not push her own organization onto the centre of every page; indeed, it would have been interesting to learn more about how War Child Canada deals with the complex issues she introduces. That minor quibble aside, Damned Nations is an important read, especially for smugly comfortable Westerners who believe tax-deductible donations are the best way to change the world.