The Corner

In Nepal, Another Reminder of the Cost of U.S. Leadership

The news that a missing U.S. Marine Corps helicopter has been found in a mountainous region in Nepal is a grim reminder of the price regularly paid by U.S. service members upholding America’s global role. Six U.S. Marines were on the helicopter, along with two Nepali soldiers, as part of the humanitarian response to the massive earthquake that ravaged Nepal two weeks ago. They were flying relief supplies to remote villages devastated by the earthquake when their helicopter disappeared. At least five bodies have been found in the wreckage, and there are no survivors reported at this time. 

Nepal is a small country far from America’s shores. There is almost no security or geopolitical justification for Washington to rush to send aid, or put U.S. service members’ lives at risk. Yet that is not how a great power thinks or acts. Many nations have contributed relief and aid to Nepal, but as always, the United States has taken the lead, flying in C-17s filled with supplies just days after the quake, and following up with helicopter missions into the remote interior. Responding in force to such catastrophes, as America always does, is a moral underpinning of civilization. Doing so does not change political calculations, nor does it necessarily create new partnerships or alliances. It will not end conflict between states or give a boost to the American economy. But it is a sorely needed ethical action in a world too often riven by cold accounting of national or personal interest. 

While many nations may, in fact, want to contribute, only a few can realistically do so on a scale that makes a material difference. The United States stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world in that regard. Having both that capability and the will to employ it, is the mark of a great power. To have neither the ability to help others nor the commitment to doing so would mean the passing of no small part of America’s greatness. 

What we often forget is just how such intentions are put into practice and such capabilities employed. It is, more often than not, the young men and women of the U.S. armed forces that are the tip of the moral spear, sent thousands of miles away to help those they have never met, under dangerous conditions, and with little recompense for their efforts. They do it because they are ordered to, and we as a people do it because it is morally right to do so. 

But there are often terrible costs associated with being such a leader. Today we are reminded of those costs, and six brave young Americans, sent to help those in need, will never return to their families. Spare a thought for them today and say a short prayer for their sacrifice for our noblest principles. Semper Fi.

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