As the year 2005 ends, the news networks go on their ritual of recapping the year’s biggest stories. Time Magazine named Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates as people of the year in order to emphasize the value of philanthropy and charities in a year marked by a number of costly natural disasters. The cable news networks are now commemorating the Indian Ocean tsunami that took place a year ago, reporting on what has happened since and what progress in reconstruction has been made. One snippet I happened to catch on CNN featured an interview with a representative from UNESCO that discussed the metrics of the amount of aid that has been distributed so far. Throughout the entire hour of reporting on this anniversary of this somber event, the tone was one mostly of disappointment and cynicism about the slow pace of reconstruction. Not one mention was made about the U.S. military’s involvement in Banda Aceh, the hardest-hit area near the epicenter of the tsunami.
The shear scale and speed of the entire operation was impressive and more efficient compared to other efforts by non-governmental organizations that came to assist. None of the latter groups could match the U.S. military in matters of coordination, quantities of resources, and integrity in providing service. Although originally created as force trained to fight, the skills that go into that role are well suited in controlling crowds and seeing to it that aid gets to the right people. Such traits were well served in the past year in places of desperate poverty like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and of course Indonesia. The U.S. has earned plenty of goodwill from these interventions; perhaps more than any other kind of relief organization could muster. In reviewing the actual performance of civilian aid organizations, whether private or state-run such as the Peace Corps or Americorps, I find their ability to change a situation for the better limited to such a degree so as to have little to no effect. Beyond providing base essentials on the scale of one community at a time, civilian aid organizations are simply unable to restructure the political context or inculcate values forcefully within the cultures they serve that are fundamental in ensuring long-lasting improvement.
The American army, in contrast, is the ultimate in aid organizations, the premier restorer of order and hope to the most chaotic places. Or so says this National Guard officer who is helping victims from Hurricane Katrina:
…Last year, while a field director for President Bush in Ohio, I made a life-changing decision to join the Army National Guard and entered Basic Training in January. Although it was the toughest thing I've ever done, I can't tell you how proud I am to be able to say I am a soldier.Here's the thing: like many new soldiers I met, I didn't join the Army to take lives . . . but to help save lives. Although you won't hear it from the MSM, It's my opinion that the United States Military is the greatest humanitarian organization in the world . . . even greater than groups like Greenpeace and the Peace Corps that reap most of the press attention.I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer to be mobilized to Mississippi and New Orleans with Ohio's 73rd Troop Command in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and I can't tell you what a wonderful feeling it was to be able to help those wonderful people while wearing my country's uniform.So thank you, again, for so eloquently stating what I've come to learn in the past year: that the U.S. military does much, much more than just kill people and break things...
I’m learning that much of the time, it’s those who sacrifice their own lives that save the lives of others in the most profound ways. Giving one’s time to help others is admirable, but offering your life to others who are bound to lose theirs is unassailably heroic.