Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Thursday, January 06, 2005
 
Tsunami Realpolitik

On a few random messageboards, among psuedonymous lurkers and trollers, and in the unhallowed halls of the Ayn Rand Insititute*, I've heard people complaining about the military resources we (the United States) are using to help Tsunami victims. They do not see a link between the aid missions, like the deliveries of food and medicine that are being made by the helicoptor pilots of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and our national interest.

It's easy to dismiss such reactions. We can live the way we do because we have stuck our national noses in every corner of the world. I feel it's obvious that as the wealthiest nation on earth we have a moral duty to help others, especially at times like these, especially when we are particularly suited to doing so. (I.e. we are less affected than many other nations, and we have the best portfolio of battleships and helicoptor pilots in the world.) But the complainers won't have anything to do with a nation's moral duty. That's fine, we can play the realpolitik game with them. Click on the timestamp permalink to see my strategies.

The most basic argument: We are the biggest economy in the world, and like the biggest corporations, we need to have the biggest PR machine in the world. This is our PR. Note the last line of the New York Times article I linked to above:
"It hasn't really hit yet," said Lt. Scott Cohick, one of the Seahawk pilots. "You see these places that used to be villages. And now there's only a mosque and lines that used to be streets."
If we do this right, the imams of those mosques might call for gratitude to the Americans. If we don't do it, we give more fuel to those who would use their minarets as anti-American recruiting stations.

Recall my previous post about Sumatra coffee---that transaction is a two-way street. There are a lot of Americans who can make a decent case that their productivity will drop if prices in gourmet coffee spike over the long run because Sumatran coffee production is completely destroyed.

The most direct argument, however, comes from the ever-brilliant Intel-Dump: these aidm missions are relatively safe, good practice for our troops. No one is really shooting at them, but they have to practice logistics and coordination and hard work in traumatic circumstances. When I was a teenager, I went on a version of Outward Bound, which was started by Kurt Hahn in Scotland during World War II.

Laurence Holt, part owner of the Blue Funnel Shipping Company, was looking for a training program for young sailors who seemed to have lost the tenacity and fortitude needed to survive the rigors of war and shipwreck, unlike older sailors who, because of their formative experiences on sailing ships, were more likely to survive.

While I have been fortunate enough not to have to call it into play very seriously, I still stand by the basic principle: if you practice doing something very difficult under somewhat safe circumstances, you are much more likely to be able to deal with very difficult situations under dangerous circumstances. Which brings the tail of the dragon back to its head: if there was one thing that Kurt Hahn believed in, it was that doing the right thing would also--somehow, some way--end up being the most self-helpful thing.



*I really wish I could link to their editorial on the subject. They seem to have taken it down. Here's Google's cache, which will probably expire soon.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
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India Uncut
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Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
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South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
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Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
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Vinod's Blog
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Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
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Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



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The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
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Green Ink!
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Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
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