Two of the founding spirits of humanitarian aid, Henri Dunant and Florence Nightingale, held diametrically opposed views on how to help those caught up in wars. For Dunant, all assistance should be neutral, impartial and independent; for Nightingale, aid failed in its purpose if the warring powers concerned were able to use it to their own advantage. Though Dunant's view prevailed, and the Geneva Conventions he inspired are accepted today by all 194 countries in the world, never has humanitarian aid been more problematic or open to manipulation, and never has so much money been spent to such troubled ends. Linda Polman's very readable polemic, War Games, is one of the liveliest and most depressing books on the subject to appear in recent years.
Dunant's view may have carried the day, but it is Nightingale's message that haunts – or, in Polman’s view, should haunt – the aid community. The nature of conflict has totally changed in the last 150 years. Wars, once fought on battlefields between soldiers, are now conducted from