Destruction, Natural and Man-Made

This past week the TV screen has been full of pictures showing people in Southeast Asia returning to their villages after the tsunami, only to find their homes completely destroyed.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the only place where people are returning to devastation. The same thing is happening in Fallujah, Iraq. A Los Angeles Times article, reprinted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is just one of many detailing the tragedies that returning residents are experiencing. Here are some excerpts from the article:

Lakes of sewage in the streets. The smell of corpses inside charred buildings. No water or electricity. Long waits and thorough searches by U.S. troops at checkpoints. Warnings to watch out for land mines and booby traps. Occasional gunfire between troops and insurgents. . . .

[T]he effort to win the hearts and minds of the local population has fallen flat as soon as returning homeowners see the burned buildings, piles of rubble and heavy troop presence. . . .

After enduring three hours of military checkpoints and searches, Atiya and two brothers anxiously re-entered the city Monday, uncertain what to expect.

U.S. troops handed them leaflets warning against a myriad of dangers and advising them that the U.S. military could not guarantee their safety. Don't drink the water, the leaflets warned, or eat food left behind.

Every resident is required to carry a small card outlining special new rules for the city. There's a 6 p.m. curfew. No weapons are allowed. Graffiti and public gatherings are illegal. Cars and visitors are banned.

Males age 15 to 55 must carry special identification cards. U.S. military officials have announced plans to use fingerprinting and retina scans to prevent insurgents from returning. . . .

As Atiya and his brothers traveled through the city and saw the destruction, they braced for the worst. When he caught a glimpse of his roof, his first emotion was relief. The house was still there. As they drew closer, however, Atiya and his brothers began to curse.

A gaping hole in the two-story house appeared to have been caused by a tank, whose tracks were visible in the mud, he said. Most of the furniture was smashed. "Half my house was demolished," Atiya said.

In the kitchen, cabinets had been ripped from the walls, he said. Others were emptied of their contents, which lay in heaps on the floor. "Every dish was broken, every cup, every plate, as if someone had just stood there breaking one dish after another," said Atiya's brother Raaid Abbas, 37. "Why?"

The brothers don't know who ransacked the house, but they blame U.S. troops, who they say left muddy boot prints.

Why haven’t we seen these pictures on TV? Because the U.S. military has banned TV cameras in the city. (For security reasons, I’m sure.)

Speaking of the tsunami: As soon as someone could find George Bush at his Texas ranch and inform him of the disaster (he says he doesn’t read newspapers or watch TV; he gets all his news from Condoleezza Rice), he immediately announced that the U.S. government would donate $15 million in relief funds, and within days had raised that to $35 million. After he was accused of being too stingy, he upped the figure to $350 million.

Of course, this wasn’t his own money he was pledging. He was being generous with your money. And he had no authority to commit even $1 of federal money to anything that hadn’t been approved by Congress – which in turn had no Constitutional authority to commit even $1 of federal money to any charity, in the U.S. or overseas.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to see a truly American response by a U.S. president?:

The people of Southeast Asia have been hit with a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to the families of the dead, and to those who have suffered such terrible destruction of their homes and other property.

I hope that Americans will be generous in this time of need. I want to do my part, and so I’ve written a check for $10,000 as my contribution to the relief effort. I urge others to do whatever they can to help.

Of course, to do that an American president would have to have some idea of what once made America America.

Speaking again of the tsunami: One of the unfortunate aftermaths of the tidal wave is the epidemic of malaria that will follow in its wake. Forty years ago that wouldn’t have been much of a problem, because the affected areas could have been sprayed with DDT. In fact malaria itself was pretty much eradicated throughout the world, because DDT helped kill the mosquitoes that cause malaria.

But benevolent souls in the U.S. got together and saw to it that DDT was banned worldwide, because it had interfered with the procreation of bald eagles in America – and because Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring had asserted, without proof, that DDT could damage the health of human beings. And so every year more than a million souls die of malaria. Fortunately, some countries are repealing their DDT bans. But not the U.S., of course.

A lot of people have come to realize the folly of saving birds at the expense of humans. Even Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a good article on the subject in The New York Times (in about a week access to the article will require a fee).

January 13, 2005