Tsunami Shouldn’t Overshadow Relief Needed in America

As a way to ring in deficit spending in 2005, Congress admitted this week it expects the Bush Administration to request as much as $100 billion this year for its military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I hope they ask for something big,” said senator Lindsey Graham of the bill. “Look, this is a test of wills. We need to show our enemies that we are not going to do this on the cheap.” (Apparently Graham hasn’t read troops stationed in the Middle East are resorting to using scrap metal as armor.)

Such monies would raise the overall expense of Bush’s private little wars abroad to over $230 billion dollars, roughly $1000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Is the cost worth it? Every motivation lobbed at Americans encouraging war has fallen apart, and effort to bring freedom to Iraqis and Afghanis only reminds us “humanitarian war” is a contradiction in terms.

Graham’s zeal to appropriate more military spending (current Pentagon budgets already broach half a trillion dollars) only exacerbates a dangerous mindset in our political leaders. Why create when you can destroy? Why help tsunami relief victims when you can kill Iraqi civilians?

Why rebuild the American infrastructure when you can blow up roads and buildings abroad?

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Last week’s tsunami was a sad combination of devastating loss of life and political idiocy at its finest. On one hand, we have hundreds of thousands of people killed in one of the largest natural disasters in human history; on the other we have bureaucrats scrambling to cover their asses when their short-sightedness caught up with them.

Thailand not only brushed aside warnings from the United States and its own meteorologists about pending disaster, it actively sought to halt warnings out of concern for its tourism industry. No nations surrounding the Bay of Bengal issued an official warning even with last-minute information. Calling the disaster preparedness “lethargic and disorganized” is an understatement to say the least.

Do I praise the response? Absolutely — the relief effort from around the world has been tremendous and re-affirms my faith that humanity does have bouts of empathy from time to time. I’m even slightly surprised the U.S. upped its pledge of monetary aid to $350 million (from a starting point of $30 million). Is that surprise welcome, though?

Not to me.

While I applaud bankrolling a little debt to help people, I’d rather see it spent on my fellow citizens. Acts of charity are best left to foundations committed to charitable works, foundations organized and funded by people who devote their time and hard-earned money to the greatest cause — humanity.

As we’ve seen, government is dedicated to few things beyond its own self-preservation. The money given by the United States to disaster relief is proof of that. $30 million dollars doesn’t even pay for the lavish inaugural festivities President Bush has planned for later this month. Upping the ante to one-third of one percent of proposed Iraq spending sends a message the administration is desperate for a little goodwill.

But you know what? I don’t want my tax dollars spent on spit-polishing the Bush Administration image — I want it put towards me and my community. I’d like roads that don’t collapse in heavy rains, I want schools to stay open and teachers to get a bump in pay. I’d like Pell Grants to continue for the 1.4 million college students that will lose them this year. I want safe streets and above-adequate funding for civil services.

I want real armor for our troops — not scrap metal.

Forgive me for sounding selfish, but it’s time Americans look to the problems facing our own society and using what money we have left to improve ourselves. I’m tired of seeing money that could be used to our own ends to help our battered industrial base and residential streets shift overseas to help (or harm) people according to some vague agenda.

Do I feel for the people of Sri Lanka who are now homeless because of a natural disaster? Sure, but I feel more sympathy for the legless veteran who’s returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan facing foreclosure on his home because he has no money, few medical benefits, no job prospects and the psychological trauma of having served as a killing machine.

Guess what: devastation comes in all shapes and sizes. It can take the form of a tidal wave, but more often than not it’s the haunting look in a man’s eye, the eviction notice in a woman’s hand and the gnawing hunger in a young child’s stomach.

And that is the problem that exists in American society as the disparity of wealth grows ever greater. Our children look at the world around them and see a government that cares less about their own people than nameless others in foreign lands. They see that they are given substandard educational tools, food, and facilities but hear about billions being pumped into other economies, and they learn that charity begins and ends at home.

Want real charity? Teach your own people that you care about them and let them know it. Build them roads. Give them education. Don’t screw them out of their Social Security. Make them safe. All these things can happen if the federal government lays off the warmongering and turns its vast policy of wasteful spending into something productive.

I’m not saying the tsunami situation should be ignored. By all means, please help in any way you can. But I also ask that we as Americans re-examine ourselves and realize that it’s okay to help to help ourselves, too.

If we don’t, we’ll visit upon our nation the horror and devastation a tsunami can bring without even getting our feet wet.