Distinguishing between military relief and humanitarian aid

A simple solution would be to call the military relief operations just that. The media should stop using the word "humanitarian" when it is both wrong and unnecessary.
This article appears in The Lancet under the headline: Humanitarian propaganda Ã?  Sir - The current reporting about relief operations by coalition forces in Iraq has highlighted a number of contradictions and a basic confusion about the word "humanitarian". Humanitarian aid is by definition independent of the warring parties. It is impartially provided, purely on the basis of need, by organisations that are politically neutral. These are not romantic slogans but critical issues for the most vulnerable people. They need to be able to trust the intentions of the aid-giver, otherwise they may be too frightened to receive aid. They need to be treated equally or some will die of discrimination. Iraqi people, the British military, and journalists are clearly aware of the tension between the role of the soldiers as killers and as savers of life. The military have a clear responsibility under the Geneva Conventions to provide the basic necessities for the civilian population under their control, particularly where security issues exclude other agencies. What is wrong with much of the reporting is the unquestioning use of the word "humanitarian" to describe these military relief operations. The British Humanitarian Task Force can certainly save lives but it cannot be impartial. It may meet needs but it is bound to be driven first by military or political considerations. Winning hearts and minds or protecting international reputations is more the need here. Politicians routinely attach the word "humanitarian" to political or military causes that need a wider moral justification. It is a truism of the propaganda war that spinning for victory means getting journalists automatically to repeat your terminology. In this case the word had been corrupted already, so the latest twist has been less noticeable but still misleading. What matters is that journalists should distinguish between the political claim and the truly independent provision of relief. A simple solution would be to call the military relief operations just that. The media should stop using the word "humanitarian" when it is both wrong and unnecessary. Martyn Broughton Director of Communications MSF-UK