“America always tries to do the right thing–after they’ve tried everything else.”
The United States has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars towards the relief effort in Southeast Asia. Because of this, I keep hearing people say, “You see? When something really bad happens, America is always there to help out,” or “Maybe terrorists should keep this in mind the next time they think about attacking us.” However, before we start adorning our cars again with American flags and start getting all teary-eyed during the opening notes of the Star Spangled Banner, we should engage in a quick history lesson. I’ll do the reader a favor by keeping this brief and only focusing on the nation that was hit hardest by the tsunami, Indonesia.
Sukarno was the president of Indonesia from 1945 to 1965. Being that his political views differed from the CIA's (he was a communist) the CIA decided to do what it always does to people who have differing political views–kill him. After a failed assassination attempt in 1958, in an attempt to embarrass him, they made a porno film with a Sukarno look-alike. That didn't work either. Finally, in 1965, in a US backed coupe, the Indonesian military replaced Sukarno with a man named Suharto. Within three weeks, 750,000 Indonesian communists were murdered. The death squads had been working from hit lists provided by the US State Department. In 1975, Suharto invaded East Timor, a tiny nation that–what a coincidence–happens to have a lot of oil. Since then, a third of East Timor's residents have been slaughtered with weapons supplied by the US. On a per-capita basis, East Timor is the greatest genocide since the Holocaust.
Sadly, a friend of mine was abused as a child. His father was a nasty drunk with a bad temper. Here’s the thing though. His father wasn’t one of those abusive parents who hated their children and beat them all day long. Instead, he would beat him, and then apologize. A few minutes later, they would play basketball. My friend recalls, "I would be running up and down the basketball court in Marine Park thirty minutes later, having fun, but my head would still be pounding from the beating I got a little while earlier." It's fortunate that he wasn't being beaten constantly, and it's also fortunate that his father also showed some affection towards him, but it was still psychologically damaging (as well as confusing) to have to receive these mixed messages of both love and severe beatings.
I see what happened to my friend as a good metaphor for US foreign policy. If a nation is stricken by a horrible natural disaster, we’ll give them lots of money. But if we were to discover a couple of weeks from now that that very same nation is building an oil pipeline, we would bomb the living shit out of them in order to take control of it. Feeling that our government is displaying a shining example of altruism by contributing a few dollars to a poverty-stricken nation that has encountered hell on earth is a convenient way of ignoring certain ugly truths, truths such as, oh I don’t know, the fact that we dropped a 500 pound bomb on a bunch of innocent Iraqi children the other day!
In closing, maybe Aristotle put it best when he said, "It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions.
January 11, 2005