Doctors without security

Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors without Borders in English, is an endeavor that offers hope for the human species even to a hardened cynic.  The organization has been in operation since 1971, bringing medical care to anyone in need in conflict zones and sites of natural disasters while keeping independent from governments and battling factions.  As a result of this decision, MSF does not accept armed protection from any side in a war zone.

Senior humanitarian specialist with MSF, Michiel Hofman, explains this stance as follows:  “Those people who can provide you with armed protection are always connected to one or the other party in a conflict. Which means as soon as you accept an armed party, you become a legitimate target for the other side of that conflict.”  Not only does MSF not accept protection from local forces, but the organization also does not support armed intervention of other nations to provide medical care.

This is a noble position for a humanitarian group to take.  Medical professionals and other aid workers who are willing to walk into the middle of a war to save lives are some of the bravest people among us.  Unlike some types of pacifists, the personnel of MSF are not content to sit quietly on the sidelines.  While I’m not a pacifist myself, I respect those who will put their own bodies in the line of fire to do good.

We can’t accuse MSF of being blind to the realities of the world.  The current president of the group, Joanne Liu, insists that “We will not leave patients behind.  And we will not be silent.  Seeking or providing healthcare must not be a death sentence.”  She says this in response to repeated attacks on hospitals where they are working, including a bombing by NATO forces that the U.S. has labeled a mistake.

As someone who is certainly not a pacifist, I agree with Christopher Hitchens in his many speeches on politics that the insistence to refuse to act to defend good and fight evil is itself an evil act.  This is not something we can accuse MSF of doing.  However, we can observe that doing good while unarmed depends on the good graces of people who are not always trustworthy.

Unfortunately, George Orwell never actually wrote the exact words, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” though he did say things to that effect.  The point of this idea is that there are bad people who will not respect the choice of others to live and let live.  They won’t respect pacifists for their moral stand.

And that’s the key difference in the moral values of someone who chooses to be armed for self-defense and the defense of others.  My argument is that I’m on the side of good people, regardless of what they decide with regard to being armed or not.  It’s appreciated if they return the courtesy, but all I really ask is the same thing I ask of every person—do the good that you’re able to do, and don’t shirk that responsibility.

So again, I have the greatest of respect for MSF.  At the same time, I recognize the need for armed good people to make the world safer for medical professionals doing their work.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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