In A Bed for the Night1, David Rieff2 explains his frustration at the lim- itations and Rieff frequently gives in to his penchant for extreme positions. He dis-. A Bed for the Night has ratings and 36 reviews. Alisa said: Ok, so I did not give this book four stars because I thought it was much fun to read. Had. David Rieff’s A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis is an emotionally raw and deeply personal argument that humanitarian organizations must be free.

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Rieff’s earlier book on Bosnia was my first introduction to the complexities and complicities of international humanitarianism. Skip to main content. The television camera operator’s stock-in-trade in a famine or a war is the close-up — the focus on the baby in the aid worker’s arms, the child with flies lighting on her face, the vultures slyly approaching the rotting corpse of the dead militiaman. There you are in your living room, and wedged somewhere in among the politicians’ squabbling, the car crash on the highway, the stock market report, and the sports is the news that a bunch of people in a place you’ve barely heard of are starving to death, or fleeing for their lives, or being shelled and sniped at.

Author raises some interesting points, not all of which I agree with, but definitely stimulate reflection, including a unique comparison of communism and humanitarianism. And such a loss would have been seen as a relatively small one at that, if not by American then by Western European standards. Other editions – View all A Bed for the Night: Understandably, many people today find analogies to World War II and the fight against Nazism morally invidious.

A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis

I will note that the end of the books feels incredibly dated. Sep 09, Anna rated it liked it.

Throughout the book, he inspects four historic case studies ‘milestones,’ if you will through which humanitarianism came to find itself inextricably intertwined with major political forces of the post-Cold War Western world: For while Somalia starved, so did Sudan; while Sarajevo burned, so did Kabul.

By clicking ‘Sign me up’ I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the privacy policy and terms of use. Bosnia and the Failure of the West and an experienced journalist who extensively covered Bosnia and Rwanda, the world is a place where literally billions suffer with little reason for hope.

Critics of the press — indeed, critics of the West more generally — tend to forget this.


Humanitarianism must be free to simply aid those in need. Given the way humanitarian emergencies are covered, what other impression can the viewer retain but the feeling that out there in the poor world there is a planet of sufferers? For every Rwanda that is covered, a dozen other unspeakable catastrophes never find their journalistic chroniclers, or, if they do, they get covered perhaps once or twice in the course of a year.

Somalia proved the error in this sort of thinking.

A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis by David Rieff

It is with the question of how that sympathy can be translated into action that the problems arise. But in the optimisic words of the author, “Given the choice between liberal imperialism and barbarism, I would take liberal imperialism every time,” and this book is for those who want to see international humanitarianism’s faults as a credo and keep going. This should be required reading for anyone within the field, if only so they can see how bitter and resigned working for decades in war zones can make someone!

Noted journalist Rieff Slaughterhouse: The reason for this is simple: But he calls for a sense of what the limits of aid are, dsvid, more importantly, for a consideration of what the costs of humanitarian intervention can be, even in the most necessary cases. More importantly, it wasn’t until the very last few pages of the last chapter that I finally figured out what he was so strident and indignant about Reiff may not have the ability to see the good that humanitarian work has done, and that may ultimately be his downfall, but at least he points out rirff of the contradictions within aid work.

How could he have made it real to people sitting in San Francisco or Houston? What counts is that your habit of reading a newspaper and, above all, of watching the news on television means that you voluntarily expose yourself on a regular basis to at least some of the most horrible things taking place in the world. There, too, the press’s almost obsessional focus was what distinguished these particular fields of horror from all advid other places undergoing similar miseries at the same time.

His exceptionally eloquent and penetrating assessment of the nature and problems of humanitarian action will surely remain the standard account for the next few years. In the end, it is less a question of motives than of structures. Rieff and I do not agree on everything, but I really appreciate his well-argued tone, and the reality that he brings to the text.

I do appreciate that he stays true to his mandate by not offering any forward vision. Humanitarianism in Crisis A Bed for the Night: Again, this is not to say that those few humanitarian interventions that have taken place — Somalia inthe Balkans between andRwanda in the aftermath of the genocide inand East Timor in — have been wholly disinterested.


Not only does television news have limited time at its disposal to air the stories that seem urgent, it has no time at all to present stories about humanitarian crises that might become urgent sometime in the future.

A Bed for the Night eBook by David Rieff | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

A person who lives in these countries inhabits the one tiny corner of the planet where war, hunger, and fear as lived realities have become — or, as the generation that lived through World War II leave us, are rapidly becoming — events one reads about in books. In reality, most of the world’s horrors never get any airtime at all.

Very pertinent but no lucid argument for any one thing in particular, no real summation of the vast amount of history he tries to cover and synthesize. But somehow the canonical narrative of humanitarian relief, and of that putative “revolution of moral concern,” occludes that fact when it comes to those in need of humanitarian aid.

Knowing who these people are makes it possible to understand what is happening in the countries and tragedies in question. In Rwanda, for instance, he reports that aid workers went into refugee camps threatened with cholera—but the “victims” they helped, the Hutu refugees, were in fact the killers who had committed, and were planning to resume, the genocide of the Tutsis.

It was hardly likely. From his perspective, their mission was political — that is, to attack him. By the end, you’re left understanding why he feels the industry needs such a critic.

Actually, despite the condescension that is often directed at them by people who are either professionally or affectively involved with wars and brd emergencies, the television anchors and the newspaper editors do their best to communicate these almost incommunicable realities. In the film Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, the angry young hero reproaches his immigrant father for not being more politically militant.

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