Monday, January 03, 2005

How do you eat an elephant?

Silly old riddle.
You eat an elephant like anything bite at a time. So how do you cut a tsunami disaster down to size? Well you look at some other disasters and see how this one measures up.

Now before I start, let it be known for the record that I recognize that what is happening in the Bay of Bengal may be the worst natural disaster in history. The amount of human suffering is incalculable. This morning I have read everything from accounts of the United Nations getting credit for work that is clearly being accomplished by the United States (and Austrailian) military with no help from the UN, thank you very much. I woke up to a heart-breaking individual story on NPR about a woman in Leeds, England whose brother's body has just been identified, bringing to an end days of waiting, dismal hope against hope, that the chance that he may not have been a victim. There are reports of tsunami orphans being snatched to be sold into God knows what kind of life by the lowest order of our species.

Having said all that, though, I have to give voice to a commentary that strikes me as sensible, powerful and significant. I'm not a warrior, nor do I hold the warrior's trade in high regard, as any reader of this blog knows. Nevertheless, I have nothing but the greatest respect for character and grit. I measure performance against the ability and willingness of a performer to pick a goal and reach it, whether or not I like the goal. That's why I can appreciate sports, or card games or computer programing or any of the thousand other human activities that consume human energy and time, even though I may find them personally a tedious waste of time. "Personally" does not mean disapprove of those things, just that they are not my bag.

End of disclaimer.

A fairly recent blog, Musings of a Merry Mad Monk, started about the same time as this one. The writer is cut from military fabric, probably kevlar. His is the voice of somebody who has a no-nonsense view of life and the world. His is the resonant voice of a warrior who knows well what his mission is and how it is to be done. There is no room in his world for failure, weakness or cowardice. And I doubt there is any assignment which, with the right kind of support and briefing, he would be willing to undertake. This latest post is long, but worth following...

He does not suffer fools lightly, either inside or outside his world. He can call it like it is, with the clarity of a country music song writer. I enjoy reading his blog in the same way that I enjoy wathching Bruce Willis or Ahnold. There are people whose personae are writ so large that they appeal even to their adversaries because they come across as bigger than life. Others may write rants from time to time, modulating most of what they say in gentle tones. But here is a voice that speaks in rants. He recalls to me a description I once heard of a bishop. You knew he had to be a bishop because when he said the word "God" you could hear in his voice that it was pronounced with an upper case "G".

It was April 1991 and we were preparing to deploy back to the United States. We had just fought in a war that resulted in the deaths of thousands of enemy soldiers. Some estimates of Iraqi soldiers killed were as high as 100,000...We moved back into Saudi Arabia and after a couple of more weeks out in the desert, we moved to the port and were garrisoned in the now-infamous Khobar Towers, waiting our turn to go home. ...As the day drew near for our turn to take the big flight back to America where families and friends waited, the news came of a major cyclone hitting Bangladesh. ...We were spared. The Marines got the call. God bless the Marines!

He recalls the cyclone that wiped out 140,000 in Bangladesh and left millions homeless. He remembers...

Over the next month, 6,700 Navy and Marine Corps personnel working with U.S. Army, Air Force, and multinational forces, provide food, water, and medical care to nearly two million people. The relief efforts of U.S. troops are credited with having saved as many as 200,000 lives.

Time passes, but not much...

In August 1992, less than 18 months later, I was back in Southwest Asia -- an emergency deployment to Kuwait. ...On about July 25th of that year, [Saddam] moved an armored division and a mechanized infantry division into southern Iraq. The infantry division was positioned only a few kilometers from Kuwait's northern border. ...Here we go again. ..It was an "open-ended" deployment, meaning we didn't have a set date to return home. As the weeks went by, we learned that we might be out by Christmas -- replaced by either a Stateside or Europe-based unit. This was good news. The bad news was that we might be diverted to Somalia...In 1991-1992, over 300,000 Somalis died of starvation and famine-related diseases as a result of the fighting between rival clans.

He admits that all this seems like rambling, but he finally gets to the punch line.
Here it is, and I see his point. From where he stands, the following screed is not a screed. Just facts.

The tsunami that hit South Asia is bad, but we've dealt with bad before. Americans deal with bad things and we try our best to fix broken things. We take action. It's who we are.

Our military is once again leading the way in disaster relief operations. Our government will spend many millions of dollars to help those affected by the tsunami. American citizens will open their checkbooks to help the tsunami victims.

If prayers could be seen as a light and American prayers for the tsunami victims were colored red, I dare say that our red prayer light would shine far brighter than any other country outside of South Asia.

I'm proud to be an American and I get mighty riled up when others disparage us.

I've had enough of the United Nations.

The UN is as worthless as tits on a boar hog. Worthless. You hear me? They can't pour piss out of a boot without instructions on the heel. Nearly everything that organization touches turns to shit.

If we pull the plug, it will die. And it's time for the UN to die. If we're going to be a part of any international body, let it be one made up of democracies who share our vision of liberty for all. Membership closed to the likes of Iran, North Korea, Syria, etc etc etc. No more Boutros Boutros Bygollees. No more Kofis. What a ridiculous person. He needs his ass kicked.

It's time for something new.

It's way past time.

I don't know about you, but I feel better knowing that guys like that are out there doing to job. In my opinion, what US military forces are doing in the wake of the tsunami disaster, and what they have done from time to time in response to other grave crises, is what is meant by the phrase "beating swords into plowshares." And when they look around them and see the corruption and pusillanimity of the United Nations, I can understand how they are ready to push them out of the picture.

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