mark's Reviews > Chasing The Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World

Chasing The Flame by Samantha Power
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's review
May 28, 09

bookshelves: nonfiction, war, biography-memoir
Recommended for: all readers and even those who don't
Read in June, 2008

The "Flame" is, I think, the drive to self-actualize--which Sergio had mastered by the time of his death on August 19, 2003, in Baghdad. He died a slow death, buried in rubble, the target of an al Qaeda attack. This is his story. It is not surprising to me that self-actualization and "the fight to save the world" are linked. Vieira de Mello was an extraordinary man, who worked for the United Nations his entire adult life. It is a tragedy that he was killed at the age of fifty-four.

Most of us don't know the world beyond our immediate surroundings. Most readers don't know what it is like to be a victim of war. Most people don't know what it is like to die via a bomb blast or know anyone who has. This book is a meticulous account of those things.

Samantha Power is a good writer and a good researcher, and for that, the reading is slow going. The book is filled with hundreds of foreign names and acronyms. This is not a novel, but it is a love story of sorts. (I found it impossible to keep everyone, and every organization defined. No matter.) Power is a fan of her subject; but gives an accurate account of his struggles to save the world, complete with all his shortcomings and failures. De Mello, however, was on the right course, which the world in total, and most specifically America, is not. In the epilogue, Power, describes what she thinks is Sergio's remedy for the world's ills. What this amounts to is a pragmatic manifesto as to how that can be done. It is the practical application of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Viera de Mello learned that the basic levels of human needs are linked; and that in order to bring peace and self-actualization to the world--individuals, tribes, and nations must have their physiological, safety, and connectedness needs accounted for; and that these needs are often exploited by power hungry men who themselves have been deprived. These men and States must be engaged and dealt with, with respect for their humanness. It is a paradox. Power calls de Mello an "unusual breed," in that his idealistic objectives led to "ruthless pragmatism."

Vieira de Mello was an atheist. When told by his Christian rescuer (a US soldier) to pray, Sergio replied: "If God is who you say he is, he wouldn't have left me here." To which the medic responded: "God has His reasons for everything he does." Sergio: "Fuck God. Please just get me out." Do with that what you will; and read this book.

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