There has been a tragedy in the family, the human family. Watching and reading about the victims of the tsunami in South Asia, one feels enormous shock at the magnitude of the human loss. The number of victims continues to rise and there is fear that widespread disease will follow in the wake of the disaster taking many more lives. Confronted by the worst natural disaster in memory, people throughout the world are rallying to aid the victims.
After being shamed by its earlier offering of $35 million, the United States has pledged $350 million in aid. President Bush has ordered US flags lowered to half-mast for the victims of the tragedy and has asked American citizens to join in contributing to a broad humanitarian relief effort. He has enlisted two former presidents, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, to head up efforts to solicit private funds towards this goal. “I ask every American,” he said, “to contribute as they are able to do so.” This is certainly a laudable call, but falls short of the contribution we could be making as a country.
There is a very big party, or series of parties, scheduled for January 20th for the second inauguration of George W. Bush as president of the United States. Some $40 million in private funds is being raised for this gala inauguration. The upper price for tickets is $250,000 each and includes lunch with the President and Vice President. Security for the events will also cost millions.
While still in the midst of the devastating tragedy in South Asia, not to mention the 150,000 American troops in combat in Iraq, it seems terribly wrong to move forward with such a gala public celebration. Americans should refrain from national partying while the verdict is still out on what more can be done to aid the millions of victims of the tsunami disaster. There is precedent for this in the fourth inaugural of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose January 1945 inauguration during World War II was described as “simple and austere with no fanfare or formal celebration following the event.” There was also no parade due to gas rationing.
Tragedies such as the one that has been unfolding in South Asia remind us that we are all part of the human family. When one part of the family suffers, we all share in the pain. Reports tell us that more than 150,000 people, including 50,000 children, have already died as a result of this disaster. These are our fellow humans. These are our children. Can we not imagine, even feel the grief of their loved ones?
We are reminded that we are one world and one human family. The tragedy is not over there. It is everywhere. It is not their tragedy. It is our shared tragedy.
It would be an impressive sign to the world that America cares and is capable of compassion and empathy if the President were to cancel the planned inauguration ceremony, the parades and parties, the pomp and circumstance, and add the tens of millions saved to the relief fund for the victims of the disaster. Even with this, we Americans would still be officially contributing less to relief efforts than the Japanese. Let’s show that individually and collectively we are serious about providing assistance to the tsunami victims. It would be good for them and also good for our spirits, for defining who and what we are capable of being.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).