Out of Biafra came a new idea of how to save the world:
And the man who would create it was a young French doctor called Bernard Kouchner.
Kouchner had worked for the Red Cross in Biafra, but he had become disgusted by the Red Cross’ refusal to publicise the genocide created by the Nigerian government.
Just as the Red Cross hadn’t revealed the horrors they saw in World War Two in the Nazi concentration camps because they insisted on being “neutral”
Kouchner resigned and went back to Paris where he founded a new humanitarian organisation called Medecins Sans Frontieres. Being neutral, Kouchner said, really meant being complicit in the horror. And MSF would never be complicit. It was on the side of the innocent victims.
Kouchner — and many of the others who founded MSF — had been Marxist or Maoist revolutionaries, but they had become disenchanted with those utopian visions. And what they were doing was reworking the politics of third world liberation into a new form.
It was a type of liberation that they believed went beyond the politics of left and right and instead was about saving individuals from the horrors of totalitarianism whether that came from the right or the left.
They weren’t going to be neutral. They were going to take sides. But it was the side of the victims — because they were neutral.
Their first slogan was “There are no good and bad victims”.
And in 1979 Kouchner dramatically demonstrated this belief. He hired a ship to go and rescue the Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing the communist regime who now ruled Vietnam.
The left — and many liberals — were shocked. Because these were “bad victims”. Victims of the noble anti-imperialists who had defeated America.