May 15, 2008


With the best of intentions, we often dash off into doing what we think is best and then discover much later that we have landed in a quagmire. Our original thoughts were created from a need to help others with an innocence of purpose and a purity of deed. We enlist the help of others in humanitarian efforts designed to save lives and assist in times of disaster or upheaval. In North America, these efforts are typically the result of a huge public outcry that insists that our governments and military get involved and stop the suffering of people in remote parts of the world that we didn't even know existed, until some catastrophic event occurs that we see on the evening news.

On a selective basis (determined as much by the proximity of a CNN news crew, as anything else) the Canadian and U.S. governments respond to the voice of their own citizens and rush across the world to assist with boat and plane loads of food, medicine and temporary shelter. Much of the rest of the civilized world does the same. Even though I'm a cynic, I think that this initial response is motivated by the sincere desire to help our fellow human beings both on the part of the public and the government. Aside from disasters like tsunamis, cyclones and earthquakes, we respond to other threats like drought, mass starvation, genocide, military aggression and political subversion that results in massive death tolls. Once again, our need to respond and assist is motivated by a charitable nature inherent in most of us. This element of our humanity has been in evidence since we formed social groups many millenia ago. Recently, we have jumped to help Europe during the first and second world wars and Korea and our initial reaction to atrocities in Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Kosovo and belatedly, East Africa and many others has been similarly motivated. We discovered the plight of Afghanistan five or six years ago and decided to save its citizens from the Taliban regime that had totally oppressed them as well as supplying the heroin trade with its source of poppies and death. It was the right thing to do for the people of Afghanistan and the campaign garnered our support for a short while after we insisted that our leaders "do something." We needed to support this mission of hope with military enforcement to create some sort of law in a society ruled by despots who totally disregarded the value of human life. Good on Canada and good on the United States and others who saw the need and stood up for the freedom of our fellow man.

Our attention spans seem to shorten every year as we, and the media, jump to the "next big thing," and forget our original intentions with regards to previous decisions. Such is the case right now with Afghanistan, as the evening news shows a steady diet of body bags returning to home soil with ours sons and daughters inside. We have forgotten that it was all of us who sent these brave souls into harm's way through our need to help others. Were we unwilling to pay the cost? Some politicians who supported our original involvement find it expedient to disavow support and have created a political football from our good intentions as a nation. They attempt to score points with an electorate that seems to have lost its courage for doing the right thing. It would be nice if politicians would demonstrate the same degree of "spine" that our soldiers do.

The world's attention is now focused on Burma and the death of perhaps 100,000 people and the danger presented to many millions of others, initially in the path of a cyclone and now we discover oppressed by yet another military dictatorship. Burma's leaders are demonstrating a heartlessness and arrogance of unbelievable proportion that causes most of our citizenry and opposition members of parliament to call on the government to once again, do something! Notwithstanding the tragedy that is occurring in that country, be careful if you demand action. For a change, remember that 5 years from now, the consequences of involvement may have a cost attached to them. To the politicos and media - will you turn tail and hide again?

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