Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism
Keith David Watenpaugh
Oakland, ca: University of California Press, 2015, 272 pp.
This is a very timely and carefully researched contribution to the literature that has emerged to mark the centenary of the First World War. The title alone lays the foundation for its subject matter: the desperation of people (especially children) caught up in war, poverty, deprivation, massacres, death marches, and genocide. The reference to bread and stones is not only attributed to the New Testament, but also can be found in Armenian, Turkish, and Arabic folklore. With this backdrop, Watenpaugh draws the reader into his text by prefacing the two beginnings of his work: first, a humanitarian report by Karan Jeppe, written in Baalbeck, Lebanon, in 1922, after the collapse of efforts to repatriate the vast population of Armenian refugees to their homelands in Anatolia; and second, a friendship with Ann Z. Kerr who introduced Watenpaugh to the work of her father-in-law, Stanley E. Kerr, in Near East Relief and his book, The Lions of Marash (1975), along with other family archives, letters, photographs, and memoirs.
Bread from Stones was written as the modern Middle East descended into a humanitarian disaster that, in the degree of suffering and international complicity as well as indifference, resembles what occurred during and following the First World War. It is tempting to draw parallels between past and present: the immense flows of forced migrants across international borders, the even larger scale of internally displaced people, the drive to contain the population in the region of conflict, and the rise of smuggling, trafficking, and sexual violence across the Middle East. As Watenpaugh reflects, these "echoes resound across the same territories of inhumanity and humanitarian response" (xv).
This book explores the role of humanitarianism in the history of human rights in the twentieth century and addresses how the concept of shared humanity informed bureaucratic, social, and legal humanitarian practices. While humanitarianism existed before the early twentieth century that Watenpaugh addresses in this book, in previous periods humanitarianism was more closely tied to notions of charity for the poor and less well off, as well emerging from understandings of religious duty and obligation. The Eastern Mediterranean is where much of modern humanitarianism was born. With the collapse...