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A Shameful Response to Disaster



Word that the U.S. government is offering a paltry $10 million in aid to those countries whose coasts were devastated by tidal waves from the largest earthquake in 40 years should be a national embarrassment. That a nation which can talk casually about $400-$500 billion annual deficits, and about spending upwards of $100 billion a year in sowing destruction in Iraq can’t come up with more than pocket change for disaster relief in an event that has displaced over a million people and rocked the earth in its orbit is mind-boggling.

But then, it’s important to remember that there are disasters both natural and unnatural, and the American public and its chosen political system have markedly different responses to the two. There is also a different scale of concern for the deaths of Americans and the deaths of foreigners with brown skins.

There is national grief expressed for example, for the 15 Americans killed while serving themselves spaghetti in a military mess tent, while Iraqi men, women and children are being blown away, unremarked, at their dining tables on a daily basis by U.S. bombs and cannon fire.

There is untoward concern about 100 missing Americans in resorts like Phuket, but little anguish over the 45,000 locals swept away by the same sudden flood.

For that matter, such concern as has been expressed in America over the tragic loss of life around the rim of the Indian Ocean this past weekend as a result of a natural disaster stands in marked contrast to the complete lack of concern (much less guilt) expressed about the lost of more than twice that many lives at the hands of American troops in Iraq, where an estimated 100,000 civilians have thus far paid the ultimate price for their country’s “liberation.”

Surely the world’s richest nation could spare a few thousand rescue troops and medical teams and a billion dollars or so to help prevent the inevitable epidemics and starvation that will follow this latest natural catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest regions. But then, where would those troops and medics come from? They’re busy killing Iraqis and patching up the American wounded in the latest U.S. imperial adventure, and can’t be spared for humanitarian gestures.

And where would that $1 billion come from? Wealthy Americans would have to either forgo a few dollars in tax relief next year, or the military in Iraq would have to do without a couple of F-16 fighters.

And yet, if America really wanted to show that it cared about the Third World, and indeed the Muslim world, for that matter, here would be an excellent opportunity to prove it, by providing real , instead of just token assistance to the hard-hit Muslim communities in Bangladesh and Somalia, Indonesia and southern Thailand.

On Christmas Day, President Bush offered up a maudlin, sugar-coated “message of compassion” to the nation, urging the American public to consider the less fortunate. That same day, he offered up the national equivalent of a few surplus soup cans to the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

His words would have seemed more sincere and heartfelt had he offered to apply even some of the tens of millions of dollars that corporations and the wealthy are offering in legal bribes to help pay for his inauguration festivities to relief efforts instead.

We should all be ashamed.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at

He can be reached at:



Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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