2005-01-06 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s Attitude

By Neil S. Friedman

Sadly, Disaster Brings Out Best Of The Human Spirit

Just as he dawdled too long when he was told about the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, it was déjà vu when President Bush belatedly responded to Mother Nature’s devastation in southern Asia even as the confirmed death toll rapidly appraoched 100,000..

While the world reacted instantaneously with a tidal wave of emotion, including many state and local politicians in New York, not a word was heard from Bush for three days.

What the heck was so important in Crawford, Texas, that the head of the world’s leading nation was too busy to take a break from his vacation?

How shameful!

How could Bush forget how the world offered its sympathy and compassion immediately following the terrorism on these shores nearly 40 months ago?

The president finally began to make amends for the delayed reaction, and initial paltry offer of $15 million in aid, when he recently pledged more than $350 million in U.S. assistance to the region, which is more than any other nation has offered thus far, except for $500 million by Japan.

Who knows if Bush finally reacted following criticism from the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator, who condemned rich Western nations for being “stingy” in their original aid promises, the New York Times editorial that echoed that criticism, or aides, who may have reminded the president about his previous belated fiasco.

It’s puzzling but, essentially, moot now since he finally did appropriately react.

By why did the president send Florida Governor Jeb Bush to the devastated area? Dispatching lame duck Secretary of State Colin Powell was logical, but not his kid brother. Bush’s explanation was that brother Jeb had recently led his own state through similar circumstances when several hurricanes devastated it, and possesses “extensive experience…following natural disasters.”

Or could it be the president just wanted to give his sibling some guaranteed high-profile exposure to lay the groundwork for his possible presidential run in 2008?

Although the United States was slow to react at the scene, it was at the forefront of international relief efforts by Monday when dozens of American helicopters began rescuing survivors and delivering much needed supplies, especially food and fresh water, to remote areas of Thailand and Indonesia. Thousands of Marines were also sent to the ravaged area to provide assistance.

Also a bit tardy were America’s major television networks, which relied solely on local reporters for coverage before realizing the devastation deserved eyewitness coverage from its recognizable correspondents this week.

Then, of course, New York’s tabloid newspapers focused excessively on one supermodel, who was injured when her boyfriend was swept away and remains missing, and other well-heeled vacationers at luxury resorts in southern Asia when the tsunami struck, as if their suffering deserved more awareness than that of the third world population, whose natives’ lives were dramatically altered.

The disaster has generated an unprecedented international response to the death and destruction caused by the tsunami triggered by the world’s most powerful earthquake in 40 years. The American Red Cross reported it has been receiving more donations than ever before. Recent reports estimated that Americans are contributing something like $1,000 an hour. From celebrities to households living paycheck to paycheck, donations have been pouring in like the rushing waters of a tsunami.

However, as the death toll nears 150,000, there has also been the usual rash of human sharks, who prey on victims of such calamities, especially reports about growing fears in child trafficking of isolated young survivors.

It’s also been discouraging to receive a number of e-mails this week, some of which may be legitimate, promoting disaster-related donations and items, like a tsunami bracelet. Hopefully, consumers are aware of such scams and know the legitimate organizations to which they should contribute.

When man is cruel to man, most of us are shocked by the horror that is inflicted.

But every once in a while we’re reminded that Mother Nature has an even more deadly potential.

Compassion and concern are the two primary characteristics on exhibit in the wake of last week’s disaster. Sadly, it takes events of such catastrophic proportions as the tsunami in South Asia and the hate-motivated ones in 2001 for the human spirit to suitably respond and triumph.

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