The militarization of relief efforts
I’ve been taking a break from following the news for a while but I briefly broke my fast a couple weeks ago and listened to a show on Vancouver Coop Radio about relief efforts in Haiti and became angry when the host and speaker complained about the military presence. It’s been bugging me and I have to write about it.
The host and guest speaker were going on about empire building, the insult of men carrying guns on aid missions, and NGO’s being pushed aside by military efforts. I won’t debate the empire building side of things. The different political and economic forces exerting their influence on Haiti are a complex matter, so let’s put all that aside and get down to the meat of the matter: relief.
We all know that Haitians need aid. If you give it some thought, I’m sure you’ll agree that the organizations that are the most effective at doing tough logistical work are armed forces and I’ll bet that the Americans do large scale logistical jobs better than any other army.
The tough conditions and problems faced on a job like this are an armed force’s bread and butter. I have to say that I don’t know anything about NGO’s or the personnel they employ, but I do know that the regimented work life of soldiers that seems excessive or even preposterous to so many of us is PRECISELY what allows all of these men and women to to pile into planes and boats, travel thousands of kilometers to do a job, and come home again when the work is done. You can debate how effective their mission might be, but I don’t think you’ll find any organization more qualified to do this sort of work than an army; at least not on such a large scale.
As for guns….People waiting for aid can’t be trusted to remain restrained when you bring in supplies. I don’t care how civilized and nice you are; when you pile hunger, thirst, stress, grief, and sleep deprivation on top of each other, you will be seriously tested. If you’ve ever been truly hungery you’ll understand why nice good folks can, and do, mob aid centres and trucks.
Generally speaking, I believe that armed aid efforts help keep everybody safe. Would you reach out to a drowning man with your hand if you had a pole? Most of us know that you can’t judge him for grabbing at you and maybe dragging you in too; you’re not rational when you’re drowning.
On the radio show there was talk of a Vancouver based relief group that was turned away from Haiti twice because the airstrip they were to use was reserved for military flights….People who have survived a near drowning, fire, or any survival situation where rationale goes out the window can personally understand why you use a pole to help a drowning man and also why so many don’t stop and think to use a pole.