15 January 2010

Short answers to good questions

ginandtacos.com - A Modest Proposal
Stationed in Baltimore, the Comfort can be ready to sail in five days and it'll take a couple more to reach Haiti. A lot of people who could have been saved will have died in the interim. So here's my idea. Let's build five of them. Staff them with medical students and military doctors, distribute them around the world (Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia, etc.) and have them on duty 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Make calls in poor countries and provide medical care for people who have nothing. When disasters happen, the ships can be there in hours, not a week. You know, doing stuff that might make people around the world less likely to hate us. If we can maintain military bases in 30 different countries around the world we can afford a handful of ships. But without any guns, it would be a hard sell on both Congress and the public.

Isn't the military always going on and on about that "winning the hearts and minds" shit after they turn some nation into rubble? That might work – one of these decades. Or we could spend a tiny fraction of our obscene military budget on, you know, helping people. But that doesn't interest us. We want to do as we please and then find some way to make people like us afterward. It worked well in Vietnam and Iraq, so why change now?

John Cole at Balloon Juice makes a similar observation, noting that a BBC poll showed the United States with a 70% approval rating in Indonesia, due largely one assumes to goodwill accumulated by American aid in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. Given the shocking discovery that generosity tends to make people "hate us for our freedoms" much less, why don't we practice it more often?

Alas, empires don't run on candy and good thoughts. US aid during major natural disasters is more public relations spending than anything else. Catastrophes like the Haitian earthquake are too high profile for the United States to be seen sitting around doing nothing, especially by its own population which expects to have the image of the great American spirit of generosity reinforced. So, in isolated cases like this, we come bearing alms blowing our trumpet before us, before going back to business as usual, helping subvert Haitian democracy and driving the agrarian population into an overcrowded shantytown slums which....oops.