Saturday, January 01, 2005
On this day:

If You Need Someone to Blame, Blame America

The Australian: Gerard Baker: Tsunami must be fault of the US
The past three days I have been impressed by the originality of the latest critiques of the evil Americans. The earthquake and tsunami apparently had something to do with global warming, environmentalists say, caused of course by greedy American motorists. Then there was the rumour that the US military base at Diego Garcia was forewarned of the impending disaster and presumably because of some CIA-approved plot to undermine Islamic movements in Indonesia and Thailand did nothing about it. To be fair, even the most animated America-hater, though, baulks at the idea of blaming George W. Bush for the destruction and death in southern Asia. But the US is blamed for not responding generously enough to help the victims of the catastrophe. A UN official this week derided Washington's contribution as stingy. It is a label that fits the general image abroad of greedy, self-absorbed Americans. They neither know nor care much about the woes of the rest of the world, do they? Did the tsunami even get a look-in on US TV news between the holiday schmalz and the football games, I have been sneeringly asked once or twice this week by contemptuous British friends. The answer is yes, it did. News coverage of the event has been extensive, and for the most part intelligent and mercifully free of the sort of parochialism about holidaymakers that characterises so much of the European press accounts. There have been some lapses -- the New York newspaper that carried on its front page the Manhattan supermodel's harrowing tale of survival as her boyfriend was swept away by a tidal wave. There has perhaps been a little too much "what if it happened here?" alarmist self-absorption. But for the most part Americans have watched a sobering, heartbreaking tale of unimagined calamity unfold halfway across the world. You get a sense of the heterogeneity of this country when something such as this happens. Every newspaper in every big city has been carrying stories about local Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Thai and Malaysian communities traumatised by the long-distance search for relatives and friends. Further, in financial terms, it is not at all clear that the US is shirking its responsibilities, pledging an initial $US35 million ($45.1million) in aid, with the prospect of much more to come, and offering military assistance. You can be sure that the private US response will be even more impressive. Don't misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that Americans are any more generous than anyone else -- simply that they, too, are moved to mercy by the plight of others.