Politics & Policy

Uncle Shylock?

We have good will toward our neighbors in the world.

On the matter of the tsunami, several thoughts come to mind, disparate but not unrelated.

1) The first recalls Bishop Butler of the 18th century. Ronald Knox nicely summarized what I have come to call “Butler’s Escape,” as follows: “I do not think there is any getting over the force of Butler’s argument in the Analogy, that if we had been set down to build this world according to our own specifications, it would not have been the world as we know it.” No cancer, no tsunamis, no whooping cough.

2) The second remarks the widespread tendency to assume that money given away by the United States is accumulated by exnihilation. Before, there was nothing: Breathe smilingly–and there is an ocean of money! So that the matter people begin talking about isn’t raising money, it’s allocating it. Certainly no one this side of Aceh has suggested a surtax for the benefit of the stricken. The money is just supposed to crystallize, which is a feat of modern economics nowhere explained except in ancient alchemical texts.

3) There has been, of course, major taunting of the United States. This was triggered by the president’s mention of $35 million as an initial contribution to the relief and reconstruction of the stricken areas.

All the world denounced this as piffle, a sum of money embarrassing in its meanness, given American wealth. One observer thought to spotlight our niggardliness by contrasting this with posted commitments by other nations, prominent among them, Spain. Spain is allocating $68 million. The question crosses the mind of the solon: How much money has Spain saved by withdrawing from the collective effort to curb Saddam Hussein? The difference between the bloody chaos brought on by the tsunami and the bloody chaos brought on by Saddam is that one of them was the wicked force of nature, the other, the wicked force of someone who is still alive and who continues to serve as patron of daily bloodbaths in the insurgents’ war to deprive the Iraqi people of life under freedom.

4) Any appraisal of American contributions to the planetary commonwealth properly takes into account the cost of defense. Europe, outstandingly–given that it is collectively richer than the United States–is the primary leech here. For decades it has relied on the United States to look after it, whether by matching Soviet nuclear missile strength, or moving to tranquilize Kosovo; and now, of course, the major effort in the Near East, in which only Great Britain shares the cost.

5) The American people last year gave away individually, not corporately, $290 billion. That is the sum total of gifts to hospitals, the Red Cross, schools, churches, missionaries, whatever. That is a staggering act of generosity done by millions of individual Americans who contribute voluntarily. None of this money has anything to do with taxation by the government, though it is true that tax relief ensues from it. The national disposition to sacrifice is written by the American foot, tracing its will on the sand beneath it, not by congressional appropriations, or executive dispensations.

6) Obviously the government of the United States will end up giving toward reconstruction and survival much much more than $35 million. That figure was an initial reaction to the tsunami’s holocaust, well before the full scale of it was perceived . In Sri Lanka on Wednesday one million people were without water! To cope with peculiar devastation on that scale requires resources, yes–lots of people have water–but primarily, huge ingenuity. Quick: How would you go about transporting 5 million gallons of water per day to Colombo?

We have that kind of creative intelligence, and we have the good will toward our neighbors in the world. It would be good to proceed without the fustian of U.N.-types.

(c) 2005 Universal Press Syndicate

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