December 31, 2004

The America I Wish We'd Been This Week

Originally posted by Alex Steffen from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here, reBlogged by ts

This is a personal essay, likely to make some people angry but perhaps to many others seem worth the read. It’s about the kind of nation I wish the United States had shown itself to be this week.

The White House just announced that the US will contribute US$350 million to the relief efforts. First of all, let me say that I’m proud that my government is beginning to respond in a way more proportional to the magnitude of the crisis. Then, let me say something clear and unequivocal: it is nowhere near enough.

Rather than go into a whole thing about why I think that, let me instead draw a picture: I wish we were the America that would look at a tragedy like this and, without hesitation, live up to its highest ideals.

Imagine, if instead of offering a few million dollars and a press release, the president had flown to Indonesia, and, standing in solidarity with the victims, had announced that the United States government was going to, say, cover one third of the relief and reconstruction costs, a figure of five billion dollars. Imagine further, that the president took the opportunity to reaffirm the US commitment to compassion and global cooperation in pursuit of freedom and prosperity, as, in another context, another president once did.

Here’s the speech I wish I’d heard from a U.S. president standing on Indonesia’s shores:

We find ourselves today at the scene of a terrible tragedy.

I know our entire nation, and the entire world, joins me when I say to you that we grieve for your loss and we feel in our hearts your pain. Perhaps never before has a disaster so awoken us to how small our world has become, and how close our bonds have grown. Perhaps never before have we really understood what it means to live on a small planet.

We know something about national tragedies. We remember well the outpouring of support, from every nation on Earth, when we experienced a day of terrible destruction and murder. You stood with us then. I am here to show that we stand with you now. I say to you today: You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are not without friends.

Thousands of our brothers and sisters are dead. Millions more have experienced the kind of personal tragedies we all hope never to face. Money alone cannot heal these wounds. Our best doctors, our finest relief workers cannot take away that pain. No amount of help will smooth the rough waters and leave all as it was before.

At the same time, we can make smooth the road to recovery, and we will. The United States is a powerful and wealthy nation, a nation which enjoys the blessings of liberty and prosperity. We here today affirm that the United States is also the friend of the world.

Where there is the eternal night oppression, we seek the sunlight of openness and freedom.

Where there is the heavy burden of poverty, we seek the uplifting power of progress and prosperity.

Where there is the sting of despair, we seek the balms of justice and hope.

Where there is now a world divided and at war with itself, we seek a better tomorrow of unity and peace.

Today, we make manifest our commitment to that better future with a promise to the peoples of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya. We will stand with you today and in the difficult days to come. Our wealth, our strength, our knowledge are yours to use.

We will help in every way we can.

First, we will help in the most direct and quick way: with money. The United States here pledges five billion dollars to the disaster relief effort, and an equal amount to the reconstruction efforts to follow. This is a way we can help. Please accept our offer.

We will also bring all our influence to bear to see that the massive debts which have been so troubling to many of your nations in recent decades are forgiven. There are times when one must insist that your neighbor repays you, and there are times when you say to your neighbor that you understand that he has other needs more important than his debt to you. This is one of those times. It’s time to cancel these debts.

We will also bring our know-how to the job. We offer our help at the highest levels and we will bring to bear our expertise, our technology and our science. Everything we have learned about responding to disasters we will share with you. Every help we can give as you plan your response and recovery, we will deliver. Our military and civilian first responders are on their way. Thousands of other aid workers and volunteers will follow after. Americans will be here when you need us.

Finally, we will remain constant. Too often, we remember the victims of disasters only while their faces flicker across the television screen. We will make sure the world remembers the victims of this disaster. We will not falter or fail in our commitments. We understand that the rebuilding work to come may last years, and we pledge to work alongside you until the job is done.

What is that job? That job is to coax meaning from this tragedy by making sure that every community destroyed by this terrible catastrophe is rebuilt anew, rebuilt better, rebuilt in ways which leave its people more able to secure for themselves stability and the blessings of peace, liberty and prosperity. We cannot undo the past, but together we can build a better future.

So I leave you today, my friends, with the heartfelt sympathies of our nation, with our prayers, with our deep respect for the bravery and courage you have shown, and with a pledge that we stand with you now in this darkest hour, and we will stand with you still, when a new dawn breaks over these waters.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

>That would be a president I’d look up to. That would be an America in which I’d be proud to live.

(Posted by Alex Steffen in WorldChanging Miscellany at 12:08 PM)