After The Tsunami

by Quinn

I haven’t written about the Tsunami before, because I haven’t written about much at all recently; the Christmas period has found me ridiculously busy, and when it hasn’t found me busy it has found me poorly. Also, my young son is now walking a lot more and sleeping a lot less, which impacts upon my free time and may well ultimately challenge the whole viability of this blog; but for the time being I am still here.

However, specifically relating to the Tsunami, I somewhat agree for once with Mark Steyn when he says that, initially at least, “It didn’t seem the kind of thing to have an ‘opinion’ on, even for an opinion columnist – not like who should win the election or whether we should have toppled Saddam. It was obviously a catastrophe, and it was certain the death toll would keep rising, and other than that there didn’t seem a lot to opine about.”

But of course eventually Steyn has found something to comment on, as have I; and it is about the way people have reacted to the crisis, and the issues surrounding it, specifically the whole issue of aid and how it is administered. I have been amazed about the petty, trivial issues which have aroused comment in the wake of such a terrible event.

For one thing there has been the relentless criticisms of the Government. Now, I speak as someone who thinks of Blair as a sickening, self-obsessed individual, leading a party about which the best that can be said it that they are not the Tories; but the constant sniping about whether or not Blair should have cut short his holiday just leaves me baffled with the irrelevance of it. I have my own ideas, as I’m sure does everybody, about whether Blair has acted correctly, but in the grand scheme of things, when we are dealing with a matter which has left 150,000 dead, the whys and wherefores about Blair’s holiday rate for little; and yet this theme has been returned to again and again. Then there have been the continuous updates on how much money the British public have raised for the Tsunami appeal, which is all well and good; but this is then used as a stick to beat the Government with over its own contribution. Why? Who are the people criticising how much the Government (in reality, of course, the Taxpayer) is providing? They are not the charities themselves, or the Governments of the affected peoples, who you would imagine have some idea of what sums are required, but journalists, happy to sow some discord in order to fill column inches or air time. Then when Gordon Brown floats the idea of debt relief for the affected nations, before he has even closed his mouth we hear questions about “how can we ensure this debt relief will be spent wisely?”; a valid question perhaps, but one which surely can wait until the proposal is actually accepted. It seems more important to criticise and pick holes than actually report the facts. One valid point is the questioning of the 3 minutes silence for the victims of the tsunami; why 3 minutes, it has been asked, rather than 2 minutes, or 1. This is actually something I can understand – I would say a 2 minutes silence is sufficient – but it seemed totally unnecessary for there to be criticism of the 3 minutes on the day of the silence itself; for example, the Daily Mail interviewed a war veteran, asking him his opinions in the light of there only being a 2 minutes silence on Armistice Day. Was it not possible to do the decent thing, to just observe the silence, and to hold the post-mortem some other time?

Regarding the amounts of aid money which have been provided around the world, there is something unpleasant I think in so many reports giving space to tables showing who has given what, as if there is some sort of competition going on to prove who is the most generous. This meant that originally some accused the United States of being stingy due to their small initial aid pledge; this despite the the fact that US Armed forces were some of the first to deliver aid, and that the aid pledge itself was then massively increased, making the critics look rather silly. In turn, however, this initial raw data was then endlessly analysed by people who don’t like the conclusions drawn from some of these tables, and they sought to re-interpret the figures to prove their own point. It all seemed like an unseemly scrabble to justify your position to me, and for what? Do the people who write these thing poll their friends on how much they have given to charity, then adjust the figures based on each persons income, then expenditure, then saving, and keep playing around with statistics until there is a table of generosity with themselves sat at the top?

Others have used the Tsunami to defend and support their own world view, however inappriaoriate it may all seem; so we have my dear friends at Biased BBC hitting out at what they perceive as the corporation’s anti-American bias in their coverage (presumably this is a different BBC to the one I have heard referring to the US as leading the aid effort). One way to support your world view is to talk about who is best (and as a consequence, who is worst) at administering the aid; so, Tim Worstall decides the situation is useful ammunition to criticise what he sees as failings in the UN, the EU, the State in general…basically everything he argues against anyway; Clare Short uses the tragedy to attack the US, Blair and the Iraq War; and Mark Steyn, apparently stung by what he sees as criticism of the US response, answers with some of his own, well worn anti-UN rhetoric.

Now I don’t know exactly what is going on in the relief effort in South East Asia – I’m not there – but I don’t feel I am gaining much from such reporting which generally seem light on fact and heavy on bias, is largely anecdotal, and is more comment than commentary. Of course the media do have an important role in highlighting genuine problems in administering aid, but much of what has been written seems vague and one sided. I understand that Steyn’s article, for example, was written in response to what he felt were unfair comments by Jan Egeland of the UN, but in all it begins looking like a tit-for-tat exercise, “my aid is bigger and better than your aid” and I just don’t see the point. And even if some of the criticisms are valid – and I dare say all parties could be criticised to some degree if you want to look hard enough – is this really the time to climb aboard your favourite hobby-horse? Jim of “Our word is our weapon” is surely right when he says “Why should it be so hard to say that everyone who is helping those affected by the tsunami – be they local people, Australian marines, American helicopter pilots, and yes, even United Nations staff – deserve our thanks and admiration?”. An obvious point you would have though, but one which looks like it has to be made.

It used to be said that crises brought everyone together, however diverse our opinions. Whether this was ever true I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case judging by some individuals’ take on the terrible events of Boxing Day. You would think that the silly things that divide us would count for little in the face of such a monumental tragedy. But it seems not.