2011-03-17 / Sam Bari

Good news — a welcome concept

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

The enormous hardships that have befallen the beleaguered country of Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami are inconceivable to most people who have never experienced disaster of that magnitude.

Despite the record-breaking catastrophe, a refreshing light once again shined brightly that is a testament to humankind. Within 24 hours of the news announcing the deadly tsunami, 21 countries put together $3.5 billion in money, goods and services to help the Japanese people.

Political differences were set aside and compassion for fellow humans took priority. China immediately sent a 15-member team of search-and-rescue experts with equipment and supplies. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed “deep condolences” to the Japanese people and promised to provide more assistance as Japan needs it.

The gesture came despite the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea just six months ago that had the two countries at odds and tensions running high.

The United States led the charge with goods, services, and financial aid totaling up to $7.92 million. However, that included eight warships from the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which is in the battle group, has daily operating expenses that run between $800,000 and $900,000 without the costs of the other ships.

Germany gave a generous $3.13 million and France contributed $2.43 million. Even the tiny Netherlands gave $1.56 million, which was $6 million more than the contribution from the United Kingdom.

However, the exact amount is not the most important point. The fact that the world came together when help was needed and differences were set aside gives us hope.

The United States has always set a good example in this regard. The American people have come to the rescue many times with manpower, supplies, equipment and financial assistance wherever and whenever it was required. Nonetheless, we as a nation do not stand alone in our generosity.

We often hear people say that the United States is always available in times of disaster. Where is help when the United States needs it? To set the record straight, help has often been offered to the United States when disaster has struck. Sometimes we even reject it.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the world immediately offered assistance. Even Venezuela and Cuba, two countries that are openly hostile to the U.S. government, were the first to come to the rescue.

The two countries pledged more than $1 million, several mobile hospitals, water treatment plants, canned food, bottled water, heating oil, 1,100 doctors and 26.4 metric tons of medicine in aid that the U.S. government rejected.

The U.S. government allegedly refused the aid for political reasons, because the two countries would use its generosity to its advantage. Whether that is true, we will never know. The same could be said about assistance the United States has offered to hostile countries. Our aid has also been rejected.

That is the only black mark in the humanitarian process. Even when people are offering assistance because they genuinely want to help other human beings who are in need, governments deny both sides the opportunity to do the right thing. That is unconscionable.

When Katrina struck the U. S. coastline in the Gulf of Mexico, the Japanese government donated $200,000 in cash to the American Red Cross and $800,000 in relief supplies. This was at a time when the Japanese economy was on the brink of recession.

Privately, the Japanese people and firms doing business in the United States contributed more than $1.2 million. One individual, Takashi Endo, gave $1 million of his personal money.

More than 70 countries, worldwide, pledged funds to help the United States in its time of need during Katrina. The total amount of personal contributions will never be known.

The people from countries that struggle to put enough food on the table to stay alive came to our aid without hesitation. They didn’t complain, or say that they couldn’t afford to help us. They found a way.

Without doubt, Americans are generous, and quick to come to the aid of those who need it. But we are not alone in that effort.

The last few disasters like the tsunami in Sri Lanka, Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the earthquake in Haiti, and now the earthquake and tsunami in Japan have proven that we live in a world community.

Our nature as human beings is to be supportive of one another. If that could transcend into the political arena, we wouldn’t live in a system we can’t understand.

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