2010/01/15

Thoughts On Disaster

So, once again, the US military is called upon to be among the first responders to an emergency elsewhere in the world. This annoys some of my conservative and libertarian acquaintances. The general feeling is the US military should be not be acting as a kind of global "Meals on Wheels". While I sympathize with this viewpoint, there's one glaring problem with it.

There are very few organizations that can mobilize as quickly and effectively as the US military. If you want to put boots on the ground fast, anywhere in the world, and have the people there with enough equipment and support structure to do any good, you really don't have a lot of choices.

Let's look at what diaster relief really takes. First off, you need to transport a sizable amount of people and material to wherever your disaster might be. Once they get there, you need them to have a plan, some organizational structure to carry it out, and the communications capability to coordinate all this activity. In the middle of all this activity, you also have to make sure your people have site security, food, water, toilets, and a place to sleep. Keep in mind all of this capability, once you leave an industrialized 1st world society, has to come in with you since there isn't going to be any of the stuff where you're going. Now, imagine you want all these things to happen in less than 72 hours.

I'm not aware of any private organizations who have the resources to do this on the scale that's necessary when a disaster like the Haitian earthquake hits. Frankly, I'm not sure any other country has the military capability, either. If you want to put people and equipment anywhere in the world starting from scratch and have the capability to help other people, you need the US military. We're the only game in town. Yeah, it's not the core competency of the military. The main job is still kill people and break things. But in order to do the killing and breaking, we've had to get good at the logistics and C3. It's a nice bonus that can be put to use.

Now, I have some sympathy for the argument saying it's not our responsibility and we shouldn't spend the resources. I understand that point of view completely, and 99 times out of 100 I'll endorse it. Shit, two days ago I was bitching about coerced charity. So why is this different? Because there isn't anybody else. Those people need help, and they need it now, not in 2 weeks or a month or whenever the international aid bureaucracies can get off the dime and get moving. If there was any NGO that could do what needs to be done, I'd point you at them and say donate. In the absence of said NGO, somebdoy needs to step up, and if it isn't America, it won't be anybody. My friends who tell me we have no obligation to help are absolutely correct, just as you are under no obligation to help when you see someone drowning. However, if you have the capability to help and you don't, you're a sonofabitch.

Having said all that, I will also say that the military role in cases like Haiti should be as a stopgap. Get in there, get on the ground and get things organized so the nice folks at International Red Cross or Caritas or OxFam can show up and start getting to work. Once that happens, the military should pull out and regroup and get back to their real jobs.

Similar thoughts can be found over here.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Ted Amadeus said...

Fine points, well made.
As long as we're not enabling another permanent dependency scenario, like Iraq and 'Nawlins, you're right on.
Unfortunately, lying OMFR bastards like "just send cash" Dubya, have a bad track record of such incidents.

4:40 PM  
Blogger perlhaqr said...

I just think we should charge for our services, like EMS does.

Admittedly, Haiti would end up being the rough equivalent to dispatching a 911 rollout to take a homeless person to the ER, in terms of ability to pay, but it's really the principle of the thing.

6:58 AM  

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