If anything good can be said about the disaster that struck Asia, it is that the response demonstrated once and for all that the world really has become a global community.
People put aside the labels that usually divide us — Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever — and responded as human beings to the needs of other human beings. That's encouraging. There might be hope for the human race yet.
And if the people got ahead of their governments, that's OK. People, after all, respond to need. Politicians, whatever their nationality, instinctively pause to assess the political impact of whatever they might do or say. To be angry about that is like being angry at the desert for being dry or the ocean for being wet.
It is worth noting that this is not the worst disaster in recent years. Cyclones in 1991 killed almost as many or perhaps more people in Bangladesh than died in the recent tragedy. In 1970, a cyclone in the same country killed an estimated half a million people. I vaguely remember reading about it, but it did not have the impact the current tragedy has had, and it is useful to note the reasons it did not.
For the sake of honesty, one has to say that in Bangladesh there were no large numbers of European and American tourists in 1970, but more importantly, there did not exist then the capability for global communications. CNN did not come along until 1980, and personal computers and the Internet did not exist in 1970.
Those of us in the ink-stained-wretch business are loath to admit it, but television and pictures on the Internet have far more impact than words on paper. What made the difference this time was that people could see the disaster and its aftermath, not only on commercial television, but by viewing videos on the Internet taken by survivors. Words are just words. They convey meaning in an abstract manner, but pictures are the next best thing to being there. And today it is often possible to see things as they happen or very shortly afterward.
So what people saw were not foreigners, but mothers and fathers and children, and they discovered what I learned a long time ago — that despite differences in appearance or clothing or language or customs, human beings the world over are basically the same.
I've been called an ethnic junkie. That's because I like the company of first-generation immigrants. I learned that if you want to know something about a foreign country, it is better to talk to people who were born there and lived there than to consult so-called academic experts. When you talk to a Cuban who has lived under Fidel Castro, you know what a tyrant Castro is. When you talk to people who have lived through the events in the Middle East, then you know more than many biased history books will tell you.
But what I discovered through my friends who are Cuban, Arab, Israeli, Vietnamese, Korean, Hungarian, Chinese, Eritrean or whatever is that the differences are, in the final analysis, superficial. Humans the world over share basically the same dreams and hopes and emotions. People who try to exploit these superficial differences for the sake of their own selfish motives or political agendas are really enemies of the human race.
The fact that we are basically the same doesn't mean there won't be conflicts. It should mean, though, that for all time there will never be another racial conflict. The human race is all we. There is no "other."
That is the message that is emerging from the relief efforts. People are helping people to whom they have no tie other than that they are all human beings. But today the world is closer than it was before the earth shook and the waves came.
January 8, 2005
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.