Protecting Children From War: A Conversation With Dr. Samantha Nutt Of War Child USA

If we hope to eradicate chronic violence and the horrific human cost of war, we need a sustainable, long-term, community-driven approach. Dr. Nutt shows us the way forward.
War Child Founder Dr. Samantha Nutt in South Sudan, 2011

War Child Founder Dr. Samantha Nutt in South Sudan, 2011

As a 25-year-old at the very beginning of her career, when most would be reckoning with the anxieties of post-graduate life, Dr. Samantha Nutt found herself heading to Baidoa, Somalia – an area journalists have referred to as “the city of death.” Fresh out of medical school, Nutt had managed to end up in the middle of a region ravaged by war tasked with the insurmountable feat of helping aid organizations figure out how to respond to this humanitarian crisis. It would be a situation she would find herself in again and again in the following years, but this particular experience in Somalia – transcribed in great detail in her book Damned Nations – would radically shift her view on humanitarian aid, international crises, and how war impacts each and every individual.

Dr. Nutt, MSc, CCFP, FRCPC, C.M. is a world-renowned humanitarian, author, public speaker, medical doctor, and the founder of War Child USA and War Child Canada – which focus on protecting children from war. She’s been awarded Canada’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Canada, and was recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Her résumé is, at risk of sounding redundant, impressive. She has spent the majority of her career embedded in conflict zones, attempting to restructure the way we understand and deal with war and widespread violence.

There’s no denying that Dr. Nutt (who manages to smoothly transition from self-deprecating jokes about her last name to blistering critiques about the traditional understanding of humanitarian aid) is, indeed, a giant in the field of foreign affairs. As a member of a generation shaped by international war and a post-9/11 world structure, I was eager to sit down with her to discuss how she, who has made a career helping those in conflict zones, can still envision a world without war.

War Child USA has just launched their #2400 campaign. $2400 is the amount the average U.S. taxpayer spends on war and military expenditures – more than any other nation.

You’ll find a lightly edited transcript of my conversation with Dr. Nutt below and you can listen to it in full here or on Spotify.

Remy Carreiro: Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I wanted to start with a couple of background, basic questions to introduce you. You’ve got such an impressive resume and I can’t help but wonder what made you want to go into the field of humanitarian aid when this all started?

Samantha Nutt: You know, sometimes I think you go down a particular path in life and then you find that it just becomes a part of you, really. And so for me, I don’t know that I necessarily chose this career, but I made specific decisions that led me to it. And then, once I had seen war and experienced it firsthand, it profoundly changed not only who I was as a human being, but my view of the world around us and our global complicity in some of these atrocities.

And I think that when you’re exposed to that degree of violence and heartbreak, for me anyway, it was no longer an option to just pretend that it wasn’t happening and that there wasn’t something that was being demanded of me in that respect. But I think ultimately if you look at what led to that trajectory: growing up I had spent a fair amount of time overseas given the nature of my parents’ work, and I spent some time in South Africa as a child. And then I was in Brazil as a teenager, so I was always very attuned to the international perspective around issues of violence and poverty.

Then, when I applied to medical school, it was because I was specifically interested in the connection between health and human rights and gender equality. How those things intersect with one another to produce frankly, you know, bad health outcomes and to put some populations at risk. And that’s why I chose to be a public health specialist. And in the process of pursuing my public health residency, my specialty in medicine, and doing a master’s degree on that front – that was when I was recruited, and you know that story, to work with UNICEF in Somalia. And that particular experience had a, I would say, profound and psychically shattering impact on me. I left Somalia not feeling this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I actually left Somalia feeling very, and if you read the book you know this, feeling very confused, even frightened about the nature of this work.

Not questioning my contributions as a physician and a public health specialist, really questioning the – frankly, the lies and mistruths that I had been sold over the years, my kind of undergraduate assumptions about the nature of war, and what fuels it and what sustains it. And so it was the pursuit of those questions, really, that led me back to this work. And then after a period of time trying to figure out how we build better humanitarian models is where I really managed to feel that I was making a contribution. So that was a long answer and I do apologize. You know it’s just not one thing right, it’s a trajectory. And it’s been an uneven trajectory. There have been times when I felt I couldn’t do this work anymore.

RC: Right. Well, I appreciate that answer, because one of the other questions I wanted to ask you – knowing the story [of your experience in Somalia] that you started with and having read the book – is how you made that leap from coming away from your first experience with humanitarian aid being so disillusioning and, sort of, world-changing as you said. To make that jump to continue in this world and question what was wrong rather than just saying, you know, I can’t do this. It’s so overwhelmingly flawed. So I appreciate that answer. My follow-up to that would be, taking all that into consideration, what makes your organization different than those humanitarian agencies, and I’m sure that’s another very esoteric question. But taking away what you learn from those first experiences – how is War Child different?

SN: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. I think it’s a very specific question and we wouldn’t exist if we didn’t feel that we were contributing something that was new, and novel, and important, and addressing the issues in ways that weren’t being done.

For example, 98 percent of our staff are local. For War Child Canada and War Child USA – so War Child North America – we have more than 600 full and part-time staff throughout the world. Ninety-eight percent of them come from war zones. They’re contributing back into their communities, they are helping us to design the program, to implement those programs.

And so, for us, creating a humanitarian model that is locally driven, that is sustainable, that is based on the knowledge and understanding of those populations, of those insiders and not the assumptions and prescriptions of outsiders – that was critically important to us.

But I also really want to emphasize, in terms of our programming model: that part of my frustration, and I think it’s, you know – there is, without a doubt, an absolute need (an important need) for organizations that do emergency humanitarian assistance. Food, water, shelter, blankets – all of those things that keep people alive. But ultimately if you want to reduce the threat of war – if the ultimate goal is to reverse that cycle of violence, to stop it in its tracks – then you have to look at the drivers. And you have to look at people’s express vulnerabilities, and those vulnerabilities, in particular, have to do with access to weapons. It has to do with a lack of opportunity, lack of education, and lack of economic means, a lack of good governance, access to justice, history of colonialism. All of these things play against one another to produce this state of chronic violence. And most wars are chronic violence. Right? Like, even Syria, you know, we’re talking about seven years now. I mean, wars usually go on for decades and people are displaced for decades.

So War Child was set up specifically to tackle some of those drivers. And that’s why we take a long-term view of the challenge of war, and we engage those populations to reduce the threat of war through education – with a strong focus on the education of girls and women through access to justice. And strengthening the protection mechanisms that exist for women and children, who are specifically vulnerable, especially to sexual and gender-based abuse.

And then the third part of what we do is livelihood work – economic development, community peace-building. So, you know, by creating that sort of foundation – one that’s based on opportunity and stability and justice and education – we believe, and certainly our programming results point to this, that you actually can reduce the threat of violence, reduce the number of kids who were recruited into armed groups, reduce the vulnerability of women and female-headed households as well, hold perpetrators accountable. And that we feel is what fundamentally will move the goal posts in ways that traditional mechanisms of international humanitarian assistance and relief tend not to – because they don’t wade into the more longitudinal structural challenges these communities face.

“International aid and development work – it’s not an extracurricular activity. It’s not as simple as having good intentions.”

RC: One of the very impacting elements of your book, for me, was the apparent disconnect between what some aid organizations offer and what people on the ground really need. And it sounds like your methodology really, sort of, approaches that by encouraging people that are there on the ground already. Could talk a little bit more about how, at a micro and maybe a macro level, we combat this type of paternalism that seems very prevalent in a lot of previous western-based responses to crises?

SN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean you have to have those local community groups and local community experts who are the ones driving and leading that process. I mean look, there are sort of evidence-based approaches… I say this all the time and I don’t mean to backpedal here, but international aid and development work – it’s not an extracurricular activity. It’s not as simple as having good intentions because, take Africa in particular – and I wrote this in my book – it’s plagued by our misspent altruism. Schools are erected in districts that may not need them, that are not meeting local standards, with no plan in place to have a teacher that is supplied on a regular basis, or is supported by that community.

All these kinds of mistakes that continue to get made – it is because we’re not thinking critically about this. We’re not engaging and learning from those local experts and those local leaders. And we’re not taking the time that we need to – as a program, a project progresses – to say, “Well, what’s working and what’s not working?” and “How can we revise this to have better outcomes?” And there are a whole bunch of reasons why that’s the case. You know, partly it’s driven by, kind of, a naive desire to help. And I applaud and celebrate anybody who does want to help, but I think we also have a moral and ethical obligation here to make sure that we’re not perpetuating any kind of neo-colonial approaches and stereotyping. And that it’s in conjunction with those local community groups – genuinely and in a meaningful partnership – and not at the expense of.

Every time we deploy fleets of foreigners to do the work, every time we think we know what’s best for a local community, every time we’re very paternalistic and even, I would say, righteous about what we think they need and then prescribing that to them – and then being disappointed, for example, if those surplus goods end up in local black markets, right?

I mean if that’s happening, it’s because they don’t need it. And if that’s happening because they don’t need it, chances are some international or humanitarian organizations got that wrong. And now we know that, in fact, food vouchers, and things that can be used in local markets, and cash for goods, and that kind of stuff – that’s a much better way of allowing those families to make decisions for themselves.

For me, and I have to tell you, as a public health doctor? Having an evidence-based approach is really important. And, unfortunately, so often in our sector we don’t think critically, or measure critically, our outcomes. We look at it in terms of the numbers of tents that were distributed, in the number of blankets, the number of food packages, the number of kids who were vaccinated – without really taking a hard look at whether that was the best kind of intervention that that local community required at that time.

“It takes a generation to see the impact of well-managed aid. You have to be invested, usually, if you really want to transform lives.”

RC: Would you say that some of that issue – that there isn’t that sort of approach – comes back to how funding is gathered from a government point of view? From just needing to have those numbers in order to incur funding to continue these efforts? Do you see a connection there?

SN: I absolutely see a connection there. I think it that a lot of that is driven by donors, right? Donors want: how fast, how many, how often, how cheaply? And I’ll give you a good example this right? You would presume that a program that touches a hundred lives is better than a program that touches 30 lives. Especially if the program that touches a hundred lives is less expensive per capita than the program that touches 30 lives. Except when you do a deep dive – and Afghanistan’s a really good example. In fact, micro-financing is a really good example. A lot of micro-financing initiatives, they target women who have already achieved a certain level of education and stability, precisely because they are a better bet. Right? They know how to read and write, they have access to some capital already that they can then leverage to ensure that loans get repaid. And then it’s cheaper to give money to those women to start their business.

So you can cover a lot more of them. Except that often women who are the most vulnerable are the ones who have no assets, who are totally functionally illiterate. And we know this from our example of our work in Afghanistan. The cost in taking those women – who are the most vulnerable, who have the most vulnerable children – from a place of, say begging on the street to functional literacy and numeracy skills training, economic development, business training, and taking their goods to market in an economically sustainable way – that might cost you $1000 per woman as opposed to $50 per woman. But the transformational impact of that investment is so much bigger, and the group that you’ve targeted as a result of that are so much more vulnerable, that ultimately the impact is greater. But donors don’t always see that, right?

It’s about becoming a lot more literate when it comes to development and what works. And donors, at the same time, are also driven by short funding cycles. We say all the time at War Child that it takes a generation to see the impact of well-managed aid. You have to be invested, usually, if you really want to transform lives. If you really want to take people from a place of violence and insecurity and hardship and poverty and war, and work with that community and really transform, through those local grassroots entities, and get to a place of you know, real resiliency and real opportunity and real self-efficacy – that’s at least 10 years. We wouldn’t presume in North America that if you take a kid and you pay for their education for one year that they’re going to make it, right? They’re going to live the American dream, right? Like we know it’s years and years and years, but we don’t apply that to our development model. We just think it’s enough to be altruistic, and it isn’t.

RC: I do want to circle back again a little bit because War Child does have such focus on women in war zones and you’ve spoken a lot about it in your book…The women in these in these war zones often face a, sort of, different type of violence – a very specific gender-based violence. And I wonder how that environment impacts your work personally, and with your organization going into these areas.

SN: Well, it’s very challenging. First, we’re doing a lot of access to justice work specifically to ensure that women and children who are facing sexual and gender-based violence have opportunities for protection. That their cases can be heard, that we can intervene both at the community level and at the family level to support them and to reinforce their rights. But if your question is, as a woman doing this kind of work – and we have a lot of women employed by our organization – you face unique threats as a woman on the front line and that’s a reality. I mean, I’ve been threatened, you know, far too many times, in very sexual ways from men. And, you know, that threat looms pretty large when you’re out there. And it’s not in every environment, but it is in some environments for sure. Especially if you’re stuck at some nondescript security checkpoint or border crossing and you’re the only female and you’re traveling alone or with one other female. You feel very vulnerable.

And for me, that’s just a reminder of just how terrifying that is for women who live in those circumstances every single day and who don’t have the leverage that we have as foreigners even. Being a foreigner comes with certain risks, but it also comes with a number of protections usually that local women, unfortunately, are not afforded.

RC: I’m interested about this because you know, we’ve seen the rise of the #MeToo movement over the last year or so, and there’s been a more public-facing awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence. Which, of course, so many women just have known their whole life, but it’s getting more play in the public sphere and we’re talking about it – at least in North America a little bit more and in certain areas in Europe. And I wonder if you see any sort of connection between that conversation that we’re having here and the gender-based violence that is more prevalent in these war zones?

SN: Not as much as I would like. In fact, I did a piece for NowThis on why #MeToo means them also. I think that – I don’t think that one conversation negates the other right?

It’s a question of all women coming forward and having their voices heard and respected and their rights upheld. And we definitely face challenges here in North America. Those challenges are often amplified in violent, unstable corners where – for example in the Eastern Congo, young girls going the couple of blocks to get to school, their risk of sexual assault is massive. And repeated sexual assault and the risk of early and forced child marriage. And what I would like to see is that we also amplify those voices and create platforms for those girls and women. That it is part of a broader – that it becomes part of a broader struggle for women’s rights everywhere and that we invest in that. You know, so often, we commit our resources to programs that are local and that’s very necessary. But it’s a bigger fight, you know, it’s a bigger fight and it’s a bigger struggle and the problems are often, even more monumental. And you’ve got amazing, courageous, local women’s organizations, where a small amount of money can radically, transform their organization and their work. And if we’re thinking progressively and investing in those kinds of groups, that’s when we’re going to see some progress in even the hardest, hardest hit areas.

“Incrementally, you are creating a framework for justice and for accountability. And every time you do that, you decrease the reliance on violence to seek redress for grievances…The cycle of impunity that plagues a lot of war zones is one of the biggest obstacles to peace and stability.”

RC: On that note, could you speak a little bit more about your access to justice programs?

SN: Yeah, absolutely. Our access to justice is one of our three pillars, our three areas of focus, so it depends on the context. But, for example in Northern Uganda and then also in Afghanistan, we’re actually a registered law firm. And we train local lawyers and paralegals.
We have mobile legal clinics. We go out into communities, into refugee camps for example, into the prisons in Afghanistan, into local communities in Afghanistan, and we work with women within those communities – we use a team of community volunteers – who bring their cases forward. And the legal redress that is applied really depends on the local circumstances. It can be community mediation to ensure that the rights of those women and children are being upheld. Sometimes it involves financial, you know, sort of settlements if people’s rights are abused. Sometimes it involves supporting, if the woman wants to go in that direction, sometimes it involves prosecution depending on the nature of the violence.

In Afghanistan, we’ve been working, in particular, with women and girls who have been accused of moral crimes, and I mentioned that at the LA event. So they’re incarcerated often, you know, on ridiculous charges. And they’re incarcerated with their children. So we go into the prisons and then we bring their cases forward to have their sentences reduced or to have the women freed completely.

In other environments, our access to justice work – if the judicial system is such that it really is either non-existent because it’s an active war zone or so horribly corrupt that you can’t navigate it whatsoever. In those situations, what we tend to do is more human rights, community-based works of sensitization and awareness. But then we also will work with individuals whose rights have been violated and approach from the point of view of legal community mediation, as opposed to taking it to prosecution, because otherwise, it’s too much of a risk or threat to those who are involved.

RC: It’s an incredible program. I bet it’s also doing incredible work to create sort of, a case log for precedence for further work in this area, which I don’t see a lot, so that’s very interesting.

SN: Really, we’re training a generation of lawyers and paralegals on more robust approaches and trying to really undermine the opportunities for coercion and abuse to the legal process. Right? I mean, justice everywhere is tough to navigate. And even in the United States, you know, if you look at the incarceration of African-American males. I mean, access to justice is challenging everywhere, and it’s even more challenging in an environment where it can be so easily subverted, that you can go to the police and pay 20 bucks and have your neighbor arrested because they pissed you off. And without exaggeration, I mean, these are the kinds of environments that we’re sometimes working in. But incrementally, you are creating a framework for justice and for accountability. And every time you do that, you decrease the reliance on violence to seek redress for grievances. It’s really important. The cycle of impunity that plagues a lot of war zones is one of the biggest obstacles to peace and stability.

“War doesn’t come from nothing…it doesn’t just suddenly materialize. And in the same way, it’s not going to be suddenly solved by some kind of quick intervention or humanitarian response.”

RC: I’m seeing a common trend that all of these approaches need to be from a long-term point of view. Like this is a long game that’s being played and there’s not a short-term solution in any of these angles.

SN: Well, that’s right. And war doesn’t come from nothing, you know? It doesn’t just suddenly materialize. And in the same way, it’s not going to be suddenly solved by some kind of quick intervention or humanitarian response. And in fact right now, if you look at the trends over the last couple of years – and I don’t know if you were reading the old version of Damned Nations or the new edition that just came out about a week and a half ago, the new preface deals with this a lot.

If you look at the last couple of years and Russia and others, I mean, the complete subversion of international law – bombing of MSF hospitals, for example, in Syria and in Afghanistan, the specific targeting of those of humanitarian actors, ISIS abducting and killing humanitarian workers, for example, kidnap and ransom, this kind of thing – the entire humanitarian movement has been upended. You know, the entire Geneva convention has been completely, I would think, almost irreparably eroded. And so then, the question becomes, “Well, what does humanitarian action look like now?” And it has to be something different than what it was in the past. It really does. It has to be much more fundamental and much more structural and much more locally driven both by necessity and by design.

RC: What role do you see aid organizations playing in the immediate future?

SN: There will always be a need for aid organizations that keep people alive. That can respond to massive catastrophes. That can erect refugee camps that can keep people safe from harm. There will always be a need for humanitarian action in humanitarian space. I have no doubt, about, frankly, any of those things. But the role of humanitarian aid should be, fundamentally, to make itself redundant. And so if you’re not meaningfully building up the capacity of local communities and local community actors, if you’re not strengthening the role of local civil society, if you’re not promoting and defending the rights of women, if you’re not reducing the threat of violence and poverty – then you’re not really moving the dial forward. Right? Like you’re trapped in this, frankly, kind of terrifying nightmare.

And we all, as human beings…imagine, you know, your family has been affected by the war in Syria. You managed to tap into resilience for a period of time, right? You’re grateful, if you survived you know that you still have loved ones, that you’ve made it out, and all these kinds of things. But we all, as human beings, need reasons to get up every day and to strive and to put one foot in front of the other. If you’re living in these camps, you can’t get a job, you can’t get access to school, your kids are impoverished, you’re dependent on handouts. And this is going on for years and years and years and years. It is so psychically destructive that at that point the damage is really – it’s quite profound. So we have to think about the role of humanitarian aid and longer-term strategies at a much earlier stage. And include things like education and skills training and livelihoods and access to justice right from the very front end. Because otherwise, we’re just chasing our tails. And that’s pretty much the pattern that we see throughout the world, unfortunately.

RC: So, slightly shifting gears here. How do you, as someone that is a head of one of these organizations, approach increasing support for humanitarian aid organizations, and for people that go in and do this type of work, with the growing trend of nationalism that we’re kind of starting to see. I mean, it’s something that’s very prevalent in America, but in other countries as well. Is that something that you’ve come up against or are starting to come up against or have dealt with a lot before?

SN: You know what? I mean, to be honest with you, I do come up against that all the time and I’ve been coming up against that now for 25 years, right?

RC: So, it’s not new for you.

SN: No, I mean, even to somebody in medical school interested in global health and human rights, the thing that you hear most often is, “Well charity begins at home, and we have our own problems here at home, and humanitarian aid is wasted, and how do I know it’s going to get to where it’s going to go to, and why are we taking care of people living in other parts of the world?”

And so that’s been an ongoing problem. I think the fact that narrative now has, you know, a presidential platform, and not just in the United States, but Europe as well. I would answer that in two ways. One is, I think there will always be a contingent that rejects self-interest. That is politically engaged and aware and thinking globally, whether that’s about climate change or conflict issues or human rights or foreign policy. I do think that there is a contingent of people, who reject that kind of nationalism and self-interest. And so we definitely want to tap into those people. You want to find them and identify them and make sure that they feel that they’re engaged in your efforts and that they have opportunities to engage in your efforts. That’s really, really important.

The second piece of it is, I think that what we are beginning to see with the mass migration of people, for example, landing on the shores of Europe, with the migration of people along the Mexican border and what’s happened in the United States the last couple of months, is that the issues from other parts of the world don’t happen in isolation and they can’t be contained. You know, war and violence do have a very nasty habit of spilling over borders, toppling governments, and having ripple effects that are felt throughout the world.

ISIS didn’t come from nothing. I mean ISIS, emerged from the 2003 Iraq war, right? So you can draw a very direct connection between U.S. foreign policy and the emergence of ISIS and the threat that ISIS has presented to average Americans and Canadians. I mean, that is a very real threat.

So, on the one hand, you’ve got this argument around, it’s important for us to care about what’s going on and some people will always get that and they’ll support that. On the other hand, just purely from the point of view of self-interest, even if you’re a nationalist – it makes really good sense to provide support in a longitudinal way to people living in other parts of the world, if what you really want to do is protect the integrity and the interest and the security of the United States.

RC: That’s a really interesting way to look at it. I wonder how much of that can be applied to, you know, the people that are starting to deal with some compassion fatigue. Especially because of our 24-hour news cycle, where we’re consistently seeing terrible things that are happening. Which can be so beneficial, in regards to waking people up, and can also be very demoralizing and sometimes have a negative impact. I wonder how much of that approach can help combat that disempowering issue that I see pop up amongst people that are already involved – perhaps more that first group of people that you’re talking about.

SN: Yeah, I hope so. Certainly. I think the bigger challenge right now – although we do talk about donor fatigue, compassion fatigue – the bigger challenge right now is the politics of distraction, right? That we’re so busy, in terms of the new cycle. It’s not really, frankly, over-exposure to international issues that’s the problem these days. For instance the famine in Yemen. There’s been so little coverage of the terrible famine with millions of kids at risk of starvation. For me, it’s not as much about the fatigue, it’s about breaking through the noise of trivialities, frankly, and people just shouting at each other – and coming at it from a place of, frankly, renewed empathy and intellectualism.

And maybe that makes me naive, I don’t know, but that’s the part that I find most discouraging. The sort of, reductionist view that we have of politics now. That it’s all strategy. It’s all game theory. It’s all people shouting at each other. It’s manipulation. It’s sound bites. It’s Twitter. We’re not having meaningful…you can find that. You have to go looking for it, you know, in specific podcasts and other news outlets. But you don’t get a lot of that in the mainstream media anymore, because rather than chasing the story, they’re chasing the ratings. And I get that because they’re driven by advertisers, but still, that’s the stuff I find most depressing, to be honest.

RC: No, I understand that. That makes a lot of sense and I feel that quite a few, you know, everyday individuals, I would say, would resonate with that. And on that note, I’d wonder what you would say to everyday individuals that are reading or want to combat that and want to combat these things – it’s such a cliche question, but what can they do to start making a difference in these things that might feel esoteric to them?

SN: I would say look there are a couple of different things, but one is you don’t have to be an observer. Find an international humanitarian organization that you believe in, that is aligned with your values, with your ideals. Whether it’s War Child USA or any entity, frankly. Develop a relationship with that organization. If you have time to volunteer and to support, that’s great, but never underestimate the tremendous difference you can make by just becoming a supporter. I also say to people all the time that if you really want to affect change, you’re much better off giving a smaller amount of money on a regular basis for example, by becoming a monthly donor to any cause, than writing a check and walking away, then wondering why things aren’t getting better.

And when you’re a donor you do have a relationship with an organization. You can certainly engage through other forms of media. Like our organization’s practice, one of the big priorities we have the next couple of years, is we want to become bigger content producers and be sharing a lot more about what we’re doing throughout the world and about the voices of those that we’re working with throughout the world so that they have that kind of platform. And that’s something that we’re actively doing. That’s why I’ve been doing some stuff with NowThis, but it’s a challenge to film things and do things sometimes in war zones because you arouse suspicion and you can put people at risk, so we’re navigating that.

But for me, it’s really important to write and to speak and to do this sort of limited amount of media stuff that I’ve been doing, because you’re engaging people in the conversation. And that conversation happens whether you’re doing a radio show or whether you’re in front of an audience or whether it’s one-on-one. It’s finding those points of connection and trying to engage people in different ways all the time and in ways that are meaningful for them. That’s how you breakthrough.

“The most active, anti-war crusaders that exist in the world are people who have personal, first-hand experience with war…The more we understand the horrific human cost of war, the less likely we are to resort to war as a solution for our differences. And so that’s why I do think that peace is possible. Not easy, not easy.”

RC: That’s a really inspiring thing to hear. It’s something that I definitely agree with. And again, I could keep chatting with you for so long about that. But I don’t want to take up too much of your day. So I did want to ask one more question. And again, it probably is a pretty cliché-sounding question, but…One of the reviews for your book said it was inspiring and alarming, and I can relate to that response. But do you truly believe that we can, at some point in humanity’s future, exist as a world without war? Is that something that you believe in?

SN: I do, I do. I mean, I think that we will always have disagreements. How we resolve those is up to us. I think that the forces that conspire in other directions, whether they’re ideological forces, whether they’re pure financial/opportunistic forces, like the arms trade, those are very, very strong. They’re very, very strong. And I think that we will always be in a situation where there will be times when we need to defend and protect our interests through whatever means that ends up looking like. But I do think that anybody who’s ever lived with war and experienced war, and seen war, in my experience – if you look at American veterans, there’s so few of them that will say to you that war is a good idea. Or that war makes sense. Or that war solves anything.

The most active, anti-war crusaders that exist in the world are people who have personal, first-hand experience with war. And so, from my perspective, I think that the more we understand that, the more we understand the horrific human cost of war, the less likely we are to resort to war as a solution for our differences. And so that’s why I do think that peace is possible. Not easy. Not easy.

RC: Well, nothing worthwhile is right?

SN: Yeah and probably not in our lifetime. But we have to fundamentally do a lot of things differently. You know, it’s really easy to think that weapons will solve your problem or address your anger when they’re readily available and cheap and accessible, right?

RC: Right, right, which of course increases the amount of weapons and supplies, which you talk about in great detail in your book as well and in your Ted Talk, which is very interesting. But that’s a really inspiring answer and I think it’s very important to hear that sort of response from somebody that has been working in the field for so long and has actually been there on the ground and seen it. So thank you for that.

Again, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I don’t want to take up too much more of your time so I’m going to end the recording now unless there’s anything else that you specifically wanted to say about your organization.

SN: Other than the fact that I’m surrounded by really great and amazing people and so I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk to you. I represent one fraction of a group of people who are really, really dedicated and really hard working and I’m so grateful that you took the time to do this. And I do apologize because some of my answers were kind of long.


RC: No, it’s great. It’s absolutely great. I love it. I wish I could just let you go on for longer. It’s great. Thank you so much again.

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Interview // Human Rights / War / World