Should the U.S. Military Go to Haiti?
There is no doubt that the death toll from the earthquake in Haiti will be horrendous. There is no disagreement about the destruction from the earthquake being catastrophic. There is also no disputing that the situation in Haiti is very grave. One thing that must, however, be challenged is the notion that the U.S. military should go to Haiti.
A military assessment team has already landed in Haiti from the U.S. Southern Command. The Secretary of Defense has made it clear that "he will help provide 'anything and everything' the military command needs to aid the mission." But should the U.S. military go to Haiti?
The short answer is simply: of course not. The long answer is what follows.
If the U.S. military goes to Haiti it would not be the first time. The American military occupied the country from 1915—1934 and intervened in Haitian affairs other times before and since this occupation. The most recent intervention was in 2004 after a coup ousted the president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
But, it is argued, U.S. military intervention in Haiti this time would be for purely humanitarian reasons. I agree. However, I still believe the U.S. military has no business going to Haiti.
The main reason the U.S. military has no business going to Haiti is simply that the purpose of the military should be to defend the United States against attack or invasion. Nothing more (like invading other countries), and nothing less (like failing to defend its own headquarters on 9/11). Using the military to establish democracy, spread goodwill, change regimes, train foreign armies, open foreign markets, enforce no-fly zones, protect U.S. commercial interests, serve as peacekeepers, furnish security in other countries, contain communism, and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid perverts the purpose of the military.
There are some other reasons as well for the U.S. military not going to Haiti.
First, private U.S. and international relief agencies exist for things like this. It is a myth that nothing will be done soon enough and good enough without the help of the U.S. military. An even greater myth is that without the help of governments there would not be enough money, supplies, and personnel to help the people in areas hit by natural disasters. The American people especially are a generous people. They donate millions of dollars for relief efforts whenever and wherever a disaster strikes and would probably give even more if they knew their government was not getting involved.
Second, disaster relief and humanitarian aid, whether provided by the state department or the defense department, is still a form of foreign aid. This is funded by taking money out of the pockets of American taxpayers and giving it to countries that most Americans can't locate on map. How many Americans have any idea that the country of Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the country of the Dominican Republic? No American should be forced to "contribute" to the aid of another country. If foreign aid is wrong in principle then foreign aid is still wrong when a country is hit by a famine, a flood, a cyclone, a tsunami, or an earthquake. So, just like the United States shouldn't have given foreign aid to Myanmar under the guise of disaster relief, so the United States shouldn't give foreign aid to Haiti.
And third, U.S. military relief efforts in Haiti are a PR bonanza for the military. It is certain to counter, at least for a few weeks, the fact that we are engaged in two unpopular wars. And it certainly will help to quash the news that our Predator drone attacks have killed more civilians than militants. Humanitarian intervention by the U.S. military fosters the illusion that the military is somehow benevolent and praiseworthy instead of aggressive and contemptible.
There is one good thing I can say about U.S. military intervention in Haiti. At least for a change the military would be saving life instead of taking it, rebuilding property instead of destroying it, restoring basic services instead of wrecking them, spreading goodwill instead of terror, and making friends instead of terrorists.
As much as I deplore U.S. military interventions for any reason, I would love to see all U.S. forces leave Iraq and Afghanistan and deploy to Haiti instead.
January 15, 2010
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State and The Revolution that Wasn't. His newest book is Rethinking the Good War. Visit his website.
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