The great wave
Great and terrifying natural disasters give pause for reflection. As the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 cast a shadow on the Enlightenment and brought doubt upon the worth of reason in the Age of Reason, so might the great tsunami of 2004, with its tens of thousands of dead washed up along the shores of the Indian Ocean littoral, lends itself to taking stock.
The very idea of a gigantic wave racing at airplane speed to deliver havoc upon subcontinents and countries 1,000 miles and more apart is arresting in itself. Who can forget those videotapes of buildings being washed away like cobwebs before a garden hose.
I was struck in those first terrible days after the enormous wave had receded that finding the dead and helping the wounded and displaced was going to be hindered in Sri Lanka, not just because of a lack of roads and transportation, but because the north of the island is held by Tamil Tigers -- Hindus who have been engaged in unspeakable terrorist atrocities for many years -- opposed to the Buddhist majority that has reacted with ferocity as well.
In Indonesia, on the island of Sumatra closest to the epicenter, help was going to be slower in coming than it needed to be because the province of Aceh has been in revolt against the central government for many years. The government has been trying to squash separatist sentiments, and it has been reported that whole battalions of its troops are unaccounted for.
In Thailand, where the waves also came to visit, there are disputes and violence in the south between a Muslim minority and a Buddhist majority.
And in India, where Muslims and Hindus have been intermittently at each other's throats since independence half a century ago, the rising waters made no discrimination.
Indeed everywhere the wave went round that inner rim of Asia, it drowned tens of thousands of people of different races and religions who had spent too many of their last days in hating the other.
|America - It is a country that can act so magnificently when catastrophe strikes. Yet it has so lost its way in bringing tsunami waves of its own fire power down on the people of Iraq in the name of spreading American values from the barrel of a gun ..|
It is as the Italian journalist and novelist, Ignazio Silone, once wrote: "An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain -- the equality of all men."
One post-tsunami headline said: "Up to half of victims may be children, officials say." The story went on to explain that children account for half the population of Asia, which is something to contemplate in itself.
I was struck also by the outpouring of help that will probably be the greatest humanitarian effort the world has ever known. Groups such as American Jewish World Service, Catholic Relief Services, and Islamic Relief USA seemed ready to forget sectarian differences in order to help. Yes, disaster brings out the best in us, but should it have to take misfortune to stir mankind to its best? I was reminded of cynical old Voltaire, who wrote: "Individual misfortunes give rise to the general good; so the more individual misfortunes exist, the more all is fine."
It was impressive how quickly, in this age of information technology, the word was disseminated. E-mails brought us eyewitness descriptions within minutes. The ubiquitous video camera brought us almost instant footage that would have taken days to get only a few years ago. Yet one could not but be disappointed in the television director who told The New York Times that his first instinct was "we needed to get to the beaches of Thailand because that's where the tourists were."
It is a sad but true tenet of journalism that one's own are more worthy of covering than the others. Rich victims trump poor victims. In that the news business hasn't changed much since the Titanic went down.
And I found myself reflecting on the blessings of America -- a country that has known natural disaster, but that can recover quickly and won't be stalked by diseases and economic collapse. It is a country that can act so magnificently when catastrophe strikes. Yet it has so lost its way in bringing tsunami waves of its own fire power down on the people of Iraq in the name of spreading American values from the barrel of a gun, thereby giving up the moral high ground on which this country once so firmly stood.
Source: The Boston Globe
Topics: Nature And Environment
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