Weekly Book Review: Damned Nations

 January 1, 1970

Damned Nations: Greed Guns Armies & Aid

Samantha Nutt, M.D. – Signal McClelland & Stewart, 2011 – 228pp. – $29.99


The bad.

“Most of us come into this world amidst a frenzy of pain and unpredictability, and too many of us leave in the same way” and with the annual military spending at the highest point since World War II (higher than during the Cold War) these premature, frenzied and painful departures into Beechers great mystery show little signs of slowing. President Obama’s “peace” platforms did not translate into much peace rather much more action as he authorized more attacks against suspected terrorists by unmanned drones flying over Pakistan than George W. Bush did in his entire presidency, killing civilians at a ratio of fifty to one. There seems to be no end in sight when security interests continue to trump humanitarian and development concerns. As recently as of this week I have heard Congressman Mitt Romney arguing that he doesn’t want a “hollowing out” of the military. In Canada the Conservative government froze Official Development Assistance at $5 billion a year for fiver years and within months, Prime Minister Harper had the audacity to announce a $9 billion purchase of F-35 American fighter jets. (The 9 turning into a 30) Dallas Willard warned that “Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity” in that words, places, experiencing, people that we come in contact with so often begin to loss the depth and edge and original significance that they once carried. War, weapons, military and aid may be verbs that in recent years have garnered enough debate and controversy to engender a familiarity that has left many at best ignorant at worst apathetic. The bad; Military and military profiteering including modern-day “revolutionaries” including the cause-of-the-month Joseph Kony profit from this ignorance and apathy. The worst, so do many of us. “(War is) in our pockets, generating annuals returns for our pension funds, encircling our ring fingers, and filling up our cars,” powering our IPads (1),hidden beneath the cloak of “aid” or “missions’ giving, among other luxuries.

More bad.

Chicken or the egg? What comes first? A nation that does not want to disclose its arms deals or citizens who don’t want to register their firearms? A question to pursue another time but what is not in question is that for the past five years, Canada, which is among the world’s top ten arms exporters, has had one of the lowest international Arms Transparency ratings among industrialized economies. The fact that “War Sells” puts money in our teachers’ pockets as all but two provincial teacher’s pension funds are invested in one or more of the world’s top one hundred arms producers. Nutt “When teachers start betting on a boom in weapons sales to see them through their golden years, it’s time to load the trunk of the car with flashlights and soup cans.” This is bad. Worst is that all Canadians are implicated as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) holds more than $200 million in investments in twenty-four of the worlds’ top one hundred arms-producing companies.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” If that were the case I don’t think Mikhail Kalashnikov would have expressed regret in creating the AK-47 and wished he had invented a lawn mower instead. “Well Mikhail if someone wants to kill someone, they could use that lawn mower.”

Damned Nations makes the case that war is a big business and to use language from the past five years a business that may “be too big to fail” but fail it must if we want to see the day when “between the two certitudes of birth and death a generous period of life, free from the shackles of violence and poverty” will be available for those who do not have the luxury of collecting retirement pay on blood.

This is bad.

I was aware of many of these and other issues that Dr. Nutt raises in her book. I knew things were bad but I wasn’t prepared to hear how my being uncritical of my good intentions was actually exacerbating the problem. “Only fools rush in believing they have the answers, not realizing how quickly they become part of the problem.” It was not till after reading Damned Nations that I came to see how dangerous Bono, Child Sponsorshipprograms (2), the recent Kony 2012 campaign, and my desire to see tangible results right now can ultimately be. It is not my intention to regurgitate the entire book but I will offer her issue orphanages.


I cannot claim ignorance as I have read enough Charles Dickens and I have lived in North America long enough to know that orphanages are not a good idea. I know that they are harmful to children physically, emotionally and psychologically. I know that is why they no longer exist in North America. I knew this. Then why did I think it was ever a good idea to build them in developing nations? Why did I think it a good idea to take teams to work in these orphanages for two weeks a year? In reading Damned Nations I came to the understanding that not only do developing countries not need our used shoes, extra holiday candy and Christmas Boxes, they do not need our failed systems and programs. The bad, when it comes to aid, is not that we do it the bad is that often we are uncritical in doing it and that, argues Dr. Nutt, is exactly what we have to be and her book serves as a guide in helping the reader take the first steps. While the reader has to walk alongside her as she ventures into some dark stories of rape, abuse, murder some being helpful in personalizing the conflicts, others at times, seem gratuitous and meant to shock more than explain or even inform. There are moments when it seems like she is willing to forgive misspent funds and time for the cause of long term gain but when that money and time is misspent by Oprah or Madonna none of her caustic ink is spared in pronouncing judgment.

For the most part Nutts methods match her message. As harsh as the material is at points her respect for the people and situations is evident enough to keep the reader from cringing to the point of “turning it off” or closing the book which is important because once the reader has walked through the bad a rough blueprint is given for what can be done. Nutt distills her years of research and experience into initiatives she feels are worth supporting. They are;


  1. A. Eliminating the Gender Divide
  2. B. The Burden of Poverty and Unemployment
  3. C. Legal Aid
  4. D. Search for  Alternatives


Dr. Nutt is a woman I would never want to cross the wrong way but someone who I am thankful to for opening my eyes and directing my future steps in foreign development and aid. Which reminds me, for my birthday, don’t give a village a goat for me. Get them a lawyer and get yourself Samantha Nutt’s Damned Nations.



[1] “Coltan is an ore that yields the metal tantalum, which is one of the


four minerals mined in eastern Congo used to make capacitors in


electronic devices including cell phones, digital cameras, video game


consoles, and computers. Between 60 and 80 percent of the world’s


coltan deposits are in eastern Congo, where it is collected by hand. This


resource is used in developed countries every day, yet most have no


idea what it is or where it comes from.” Think Leonardo DiCaprio and exchange “Diamond” with “Minerals”


[2] Nutt likens the dehumanizing consumerist approach to advertising


sponsor children with buying a Cabbage Patch Doll or Pound Puppy.