UNICEF’s Chemical Weapon

Yesterday I was on a flight on an airline that claimed to be deeply anxious to preserve the environment, though not quite anxious enough, obviously, to go out of business. This kind of self-righteous sanctimony, a commercial reflection in the mirror of political correctness, ever more prevalent, irritates me greatly, and would irritate me just as much if the claimed virtue were real rather than false. Save the world by all means, but please do so in private.

Worse was to come. A short while before we came into land the chief steward announced over the public address system that the airline was making a charity collection and that this month’s charity was UNICEF. A small contribution—about 60 cents US—was enough to immunize a child against a disease that might otherwise kill it. And to prove that this was true, a recording of a celebrity (of whom, naturally, I had never heard) was played that relayed exactly the same message. How could what a celebrity said be wrong?

Those who would once have been called stewards and stewardesses passed up and down the aircraft aisle to the jingle of allegedly life-saving contributions. It was like passing the plate at the end of a religious service. The passenger next to me gave generously, and for a moment I felt morally intimidated into doing likewise, but in the end I was able to resist. I kept my hands in my pockets.

Quite apart from the fact that there are few countries that really could not save their children’s lives for 60 cents if they really wanted to (rather than, say, have their ambassadors riding chauffeur-driven around the capitals of Europe in black Mercedes limousines), I am not an unequivocal admirer of UNICEF. This is not just because their Christmas cards are in doubtful taste. I simply do not believe that if I gave it 60 cents it would use it to save the life of a child. Like most charities these days, it has other priorities that it was set up to serve.

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