Not all humanitarian aid agencies are created equal, and thankfully.
The most famous one - the International Committee of the Red Cross - rushes into trouble spots to mend the suffering, but not to fend off violators of human rights. It operates with cautious neutrality, which allows it access even as bullets fly. In 1901, its founder received the first Nobel Peace Prize.
But now, as the century that has seen horrific wars ends, the prize has been given to a very different relief group, Doctors Without Borders, which was started 28 years ago because, well, other relief groups were too quiet about the culprits who start conflicts.
Doctors Without Borders (or, in French, Mdecins sans Frontires) has set a precedent of ruthless compassion in its humanitarian activism - simply, that charity can't be blind to the solutions required to end the need for charity.
In its healing mission into lethal war zones, the group uses such commando tactics as crossing borders without permission, rallying the media to fight injustice, and opening talks between warring parties.
It brings a quality of mercy that puts people above borders, a doctrine gaining popularity and that was invoked in the NATO bombing in Kosovo. "National boundaries and political circumstances or sympathies must have no influence on who is to receive humanitarian help," the Peace Prize committee stated.
Most of all, the award reminds us that humanitarian disasters are the responsibility of all of us, not just governments, in whatever kind of healing we can bring.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society