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  • The “Strong Arm” and the “Friendly Hand”1:Military Humanitarianism in Post-earthquake Haiti
  • Jennifer Greenburg

“What this country needs is an enlightenment”

MINUSTAH Military Engineer, May, 2012

“The Haitian Revolution was the crucible, the trial by fire for the ideals of the French Enlightenment”

Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is one of the most striking recent foreign interventions in the country. Its massive white armored personnel carriers crowd the streets of Port au Prince, transporting heavily armed foreign soldiers from mainly Latin America and Asia. In recent years, particularly following the 2010 earthquake, this highly militarized presence has incorporated development and humanitarian activities into its primary concern with security. Soldiers describe these activities, which range from clearing rubble to providing Haitians with vocational education, as “winning hearts and minds.”2 This article explores these activities as windows into peacekeeping as a civilizational project in Haiti today.

I explore how soldiers come to understand themselves as performing a civilizing mission in Haiti through analysis of how they infantilize Haitians and frame Haitian poverty as a previous moment from their own national histories of development. This civilizational project represents a historical continuity with early 20th century notions of European colonizers as “trustees for civilization” in the tropics. Frederick Lugard, colonial administrator and member of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, famously theorized colonial powers as carrying out a [End Page 95] “dual mandate,” as trustees of natural resources for European exploitation and as “trustees for civilization”3 tasked with “‘bringing forth’ to a higher plane” those “backward races who are, in the words of the Covenant of the League of Nations, ‘unable to stand alone in the strenuous conditions of the modern world’” (Lugard 1926, 58, 66). Leading up to MINUSTAH’s genesis in 2004, Kofi Annan wrote of Haiti as “unable to sort itself out, and the effect of leaving it alone would be continued or worsening chaos” (Heine and Thompson 2011, 1). The idea of peacekeepers as trustees of a Haiti “unable to sort itself out” is then continuous with colonial trusteeship.

Yet the contemporary civilizational project of peacekeeping also represents an important rupture with historical forms of imperialism. In drawing on evidence from observations of peacekeepers from Korea, Brazil, and other “non-Western” emerging powers, I argue that peacekeepers’ projects are also about representing themselves as modern, staking a claim among the powerful countries within the UN. This analysis widens existing work on foreign intervention in Haiti, which has largely focused on the role of France, the US, and Canada (Dupuy 2007; Dupuy 2005; Fatton 2002; Beckett 2010; Beckett 2008).4

Recent literature on post-earthquake reconstruction has shown how the foreign aid apparatus undermines existing collectivist forms of organization (Schuller 2012a; Kivland 2012a). Kivland (2012b) has discussed the presence of international institutions as producing a sort of “hypergovernance” that contributes to Haitians’ perceptions of statelessness, abandonment, and political disorder. While scholars like Kivland and Schuller have shown the disempowering, alienating, and confusing effects of the aid regime, I examine how and why peacekeepers come to understand Haitians in such a way as to perpetuate these effects. I show how peacekeepers perceive Haiti less as a specific place with its own history and more as a terrain on which to showcase their own modernity. Within this frame, Haitians are perceived as incapable of taking care of themselves. Peacekeepers’ perceptions do not merely ignore the existing forms of organization Schuller and Kivland describe – they render them completely unintelligible.

MINUSTAH also raises some particularly important questions for the emerging field of study of “military humanitarianism” (Duffield 2001; Duffield 2007; Bryan 2012; Gregory 2008; Stoler and Bond 2006; Bricmont 2007; Chomsky 2008; Pandolfi 2010), and for scholarship focused specifically on peacekeeping (Sloan 2011; Zisk Marten 2004; Pugh 2004; Zanotti 2011; Higate and Henry 2009; Pouligny 2006). Both of these bodies of literature tend to rely heavily on textual, media- and policybased [End Page 96] evidence.5 These evidentiary bases represent the stated intentions of official projects, giving a coherence and singular strategy to institutions like MINUSTAH. By observing how projects officially described as “winning hearts and minds...