chapter  13
16 Pages

Avec fronti è res: the discourse of humanitarianism

Imagine an organized team of neutral doctors arriving during the Spanish attack on the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan in 1521 pleading with soldiers on both sides to spare civilians. The juxtaposition of what is now the taken-for-granted role of humanitarian physicians within an historical period unfamiliar with such a role indicates the “historical specifi city” of humanitarianism and leads to the questions: “[W]hat is it about the present … that casts the care of strangers in such a leading role?” (Bornstein and Redfi eld 2007 : 2) and how have humanitarianism and the humanitarian organization come to be accepted as inevitable, natural, and taken-for-granted?