A letter to the editor appeared on my proofreading screen earlier today that caught my attention.
It contended that the United States, already being in financial straits, should not be expected to act as the world’s caretaker. After all, no foreign countries came to our aid after Hurricane Sandy or the Colorado flooding. The Philippines, the writer averred, should have had an emergency plan in place rather than wait until disaster struck and ask the world for relief. As for our responsibility, we should “stay at home and take care of our own issues.”
To be charitable, I will assume that the reader isn’t aware of the sheer magnitude of Typhoon Haiyan, and that with wind gusts in the 240-mile-per-hour range, it was the most powerful storm ever to hit a populated area in recorded history. It makes Andrew and Katrina look like summertime zephyrs by comparison.
Even in a country like ours — where we can afford to build to strict codes rather than construct entire cities out of discarded chunks of cardboard, plastic and scrap metal — the effects of a storm like Haiyan would have been catastrophic along the lines of the nuclear exchange we almost had with the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Is it possible for a nation, any nation, to prepare for an event like this?
As for our financial ability to provide aid to less fortunate countries, the United States — even in a time of economic stress — is a nation of unparalleled bounty. It’s a place where, for example, whole industries exist to help people shed unwanted weight gained as a result of enjoying too rich a diet. What one resident of Boca Raton would spend to erase the wrinkles on her face alone might feed and house several Filipino families for a year.
It comes down to one’s definition of “helping each other,” and the breadth of one’s individual scope. Do we restrict our compassion, empathy and generosity to fellow members of our own political nation-state, or do we recognize that we are all members of the same human race, with more uniting than dividing us?
We each — blessed as we are to have been born Americans — have to make our peace with the definition we choose.