History is written by the winners, as the old saying goes. But that's not exactly true -- sometimes history is written by wishful thinking. When the real event isn't quite inspirational or romantic enough, we just make up a prettier version and call it history.
Just consider the way we remember ...
It was the beginning of the modern era of celebrity activism. Bono would not be out there doing what he's doing without Live Aid.
Which would be a shame.
How History Remembers It:
It was 1985, and the music world got together to raise money for starving children in Ethiopia via an intercontinental 16-hour music festival known as Live Aid. With record sales, merchandise and video sales, it was estimated that Live Aid had raised a massive 150 to 170 million pounds, or $250 million. You can feed a lot of damned children with that kind of cash. Probably more than once.
No question, it was one of the feel-good events of the decade, and was called "the greatest concert of all time." The event played to 77,000 attendees in England, and 100,000 more attended in the U.S. It was beamed to TV sets worldwide to an audience of 1.5 billion people. Organizer Bob Geldof was given an honorary knighthood in 1986, and to this day, the event is heralded as "the standard by which other all-hands-on-deck rock and charity events are known."
"Have fun, but not too much because of the children."
Here is where we learn about the sad, unintended consequences of African humanitarian aid efforts. As is often the case in Africa, the famine they were trying to fix in Ethiopia wasn't just a result of not growing enough food -- it was because people were A) being displaced by war and B) under the thumb of a bullshit government.
Now, when another government gives foreign aid to an impoverished country like Ethiopia, the donor government can set conditions, and enforce them. If you blow the money on weapons to fight your civil war, you don't get any more money.
"Toss the food. We'll break the crates up into cudgels."
But a fundraiser like Live Aid doesn't work that way -- the money is given to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and in order to do their work, they have to work under, and obey, the bullshit government. In other words, all those piles of well-meaning cash wind up propping up the assholes who helped create the famine. It's like buying Christmas presents for the poor kids down the street, only to see the abusive dad sell them for drug money.
Before inviting Castro over and shooting the breeze.
So for instance, the aid workers who traveled to Ethiopia were forced to exchange the aid money for the country's currency at highly inflated rates, thus inadvertently funding and reinvigorating the evil government. That money also helped fund the government's forced relocation program of thousands of starving people from the south of the country to camps in the north. It is estimated that one in six of those who made the journey died.
Did Live Aid feed a lot of starving people? No doubt. But as others have pointed out, it's entirely possible that the horrible things done with the cash killed as many or more people than the food saved. In the real world, good intentions don't always stand a chance against a bunch of shitheads with AK-47s.
"We're not poor, look at all the war we can afford."