“We spend more than that before breakfast in Iraq.”
-- Senator Patrick Leahy.
As the magnitude of the catastrophe begins to sink in, there is a danger that we will grow numb to the growing death toll, the massive destruction, and the daunting need that must be fulfilled if we are to avoid a health crisis that will surpass the initial damage.
Four days after the cruelest full moon in recorded history, the dead and wounded of the Sumatra quake has surpassed the casualties of the Iraq war and December 26, 2004 has supplanted September 11, 2001 as the date of the new millennium that will live in infamy. Future generations will ask: How did we respond in the hour of need? Inescapably, they will judge us by our answer.
We know how America responded to September 11. Driven by a pseudo Texas cowboy and a cartel of White House warlords, America’s bountiful passion was channeled into a crusade of vengeance. When sincere diplomacy and decisive action would surely have prevented war and produced infinitely more constructive results against the enemy that attacked us, we played directly into Osama bin Laden’s hand, invading and occupying a nation in the heart of ancient Mesopotamia.
Passion is a dangerous thing. Indifferent to morality, it can be employed in the cause of good and evil. It can be used to justify illegal and immoral wars but it can also be used to aid the suffering and relieve the burden of the afflicted masses, the innocent victims of a natural disaster so profound the human mind can hardly grasp its totality.
Does America know how to respond when there is no enemy?
To date, America’s response to this growing crisis has been tepid, defensive and evasive. As for the announced tour of decimated areas to be led by Colin Powell and Jeb Bush, it must be asked: How many bottles of fresh water could be supplied at the cost of security alone for what amounts to a photo op? We watch our president, vacationing at his Crawford ranch, emerge from three days of silence to issue the standard, generic statement of condolences and we wonder what world he is living in. We witness America’s pledge of assistance move slowly from five to fifteen to thirty five million dollars and we gradually understand what our leaders are saying: We cannot fight the world’s wars and support the world’s relief efforts at the same time. Pragmatically, those of us who can see beyond tomorrow understand that we are trapped in a deadly dilemma. In the far reaches of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere, America’s enemies did not hesitate to come to the aid of the afflicted. They are on the ground now and their efforts will long be remembered.
That we have lost an opportunity to display our better nature to the world is beyond doubt. As individuals, Americans have once again risen to the challenge but, sadly, no level of individual contributions can begin to answer the needs of this crisis.
We already know what we should have done and would have done if we had a compassionate and enlightened leader. We should have immediately stepped to the fore and pledged to give whatever was needed to ease the suffering, prevent further death and destruction, and rebuild the impacted communities. Instead, a president who decries the use of focus groups by his political opponents, waited to see how it would play out on the world forum and, more importantly, on American media. He has since discovered that the compassion of an informed American citizenry is beyond his ability to comprehend.
Senator Patrick Leahy has very reasonably suggested that we divert funds from the war in Iraq to the relief effort. A truly compassionate and enlightened leader would go well beyond that modest proposal.
Recognizing that the war was not only wrong but also ill advised and counterproductive from its inception, we should announce an immediate cessation of hostilities in Iraq (let there be no more Fallujah Massacres) and a withdrawal of our forces beginning February 1. We should announce that all unexpended funds would be devoted to (1) reconstruction, (2) reparations and (3) world relief. We should further announce an immediate end to all funding for research and development of tactical nuclear weapons (a development that triggers worldwide nuclear proliferation), strategic missile defense (a black hole that swallows billions of dollars without ever demonstrating a hint of viability), and HARP (a secretive Defense Department multibillion dollar boondoggle so powerful that some suggest it has triggered cataclysmic events).
Any one of these measures would free tens of billions of dollars for the relief effort.
As one distinguished voice of America’s late night airwaves has observed, we are living in accelerated times (see Art Bell’s The Quickening). Whether it is caused solely by earth cycles or is aided by human development is almost irrelevant. We are entering a phase in world history in which disasters will become increasingly commonplace. We must find the means to rally the world’s resources in the defense of the world’s inhabitants. It begins by diverting our destructive resources into constructive resources for prevention, preparation and relief.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II. The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, FirstPeoplesCentury, Trinicenter, Global Research and other notable sites. The Jazzman Chronicles are available at City Lights Bookstore in SF. Visit his website: www.jackrandom.com.
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