A wave of criticism

Thomas Sowell
Posted: Jan 06, 2005 12:00 AM

The catastrophic tsunami wave that has devastated so much of southern Asia has even killed more than a hundred people on the east coast of Africa, more than 4,000 miles away. Two questions: First, what country has done the most to help the victims of this natural disaster? Second, what country has been criticized most for not doing enough?

 The answer to both questions is the United States of America.

 Even the $350 million officially announced as American aid to help the tsunami victims does not count the cost of sending American military planes and naval ships, including an aircraft carrier with a crew of thousands, to aid in the rescues and provide medical treatment.

 As with many other natural disasters, aid pouring into the stricken areas tends to pile up at transit points -- ports or airfields, for example -- while the victims suffer and die elsewhere.

 American aid has been particularly important in this regard because it includes not only the supplies of food, water, and medicine which are arriving in the region from various countries around the world, but the logistical support to get those supplies to the people needing them, as fast as possible under the chaotic conditions in the aftermath of widespread destruction.

 It is American planes and helicopters that are doing much of the heavy lifting, rushing food and medical supplies to people and rushing stricken people to medical treatment centers.

 What, then is the criticism?

 The first blast came from the United Nations, where one of their high officials implied that the United States is stingy in the aid it is providing. No matter what we do, it is always possible to do more. But "more" is not the standard to which any other country is held.

 Ironically, the charge of stinginess comes at a time when a study cited in Philanthropy magazine shows that Americans donate not only more money to philanthropic causes than any other people, they devote a higher percentage of their income and contribute far more of their time as volunteers to a whole spectrum of humanitarian causes.

 But, no matter what we do, "more" is the demand -- and the criticism -- that can always be made. We are not compared to other people. We are compared to an ideal that human beings have never met.

 No consistent principle is involved in these criticisms, just attitudes. These include not only the attitudes of those foreigners envious or resentful of American success and power, but also the attitudes of those among the American intelligentsia who automatically echo foreign criticisms of the United States.

 Decades ago, Eric Hoffer wrote: "Nowhere at present is there such a measureless loathing of their country by educated people as in America." Reasons may be cited but the flimsiness of many of those reasons betrays the fact that what is really involved are attitudes.

 A recent example is a denunciation of the United States as a "land of penny pinchers" by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. Why? Because, aside from highly publicized tragedies like the tsunami, "we're tightwads who turn away as people die in greater numbers" around the world from things like malaria and AIDS.

 Foreign governments are more generous with their taxpayers' money than the American government is, both domestically and internationally. But real generosity is shown by those who voluntarily give their own hard cash -- and Americans do that more than anybody else.

 Incidentally, in all of Mr. Kristof's waxing indignant about the ravages of malaria, there is not one word about the banning of DDT, which has led immediately to a resurgence of malaria that has taken lives by the millions, as a result of propaganda campaigns against DDT by environmental busybodies.

 Apparently it is not the principle of saving lives lost to malaria that is crucial, but the opportunity to score points against the United States. Green extremists get a pass. So do bungling and corrupt foreigners, including the United Nations.