Saturday, January 08, 2005

Public Service

For a number of years, there has been public discussion and description of the United States as the world's policeman. Hopefully, you've had little occasion to require the attentions of police officers in their professional capacity, but if you've ever been involved in a situation which evolved into a police matter, you know how other people react to their arrival.

Some people are frankly glad when police officers arrive, with the expectation that justice will be done, order restored, and miscreants restrained. Other people will be convinced that the police are bound to misunderstand the situation, play favorites, meet out arbitrary penalties and end by making a bad situation worse. The tension between these two extremes of expectation leads all involved parties to attempt to sway the opinion of officers to beliefs favorable to one side or another of a dispute. Officers must parse the situation and make the best judgment they can on the basis of imperfect information, relying on the later, cooler appraisal of a court, if necessary, to judge guilt or innnocence.

Consequently, the arrival of the police can be met with any of a range of emotional responses.

Now, contrast this tableau with the reaction greeting ambulance workers.
No one except the deranged believe that emergency medical technicians have any agenda other than to treat the sick and wounded, and do their best to make sure that lives and limbs of everyone are preserved. They're healers, and they are typically greeted with relief, offers of assistance, and hurried explanations of bystanders meaning to help:
The U.S. helicopters carried about 60 survivors — including two pregnant women and some so weak they could neither walk nor talk — to the Banda Aceh hospital after the American military got permission from Jakarta to pick up those in bad shape. Many had had little food or water for eight days, and they suffered from ailments including pneumonia, broken bones, infected wounds, tetanus and trauma.

Several also were brought to the USS Abraham Lincoln on stretchers.

"I'd much rather be doing this than fighting a war," said helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. William Whitsitt of Great Falls, Mont.

Also on Sumatra, U.S. helicopters dropped off cartons of food aid donated by Singapore schools. Flying missions along a 120-mile stretch of Sumatra coastline, the extent of the damage from the earthquake and tsunami became eerily obvious.
Like torture on the other end of the spectrum, aid to the victims of disaster is morally unambiguous. If the United States spent more time, effort and money trying to be the world's ambulance instead of the world's policeman, America and its policies would be a damn sight more popular and effective than they are.

The best defense is to make sure nobody WANTS to attack you. I'm going to go out on a limb and postulate that a United States that spent $200 billion to cure disease, house the homeless, stop the bleeding and feed the hungry would be a difficult enemy to recruit against, even among those who "hate freedom". Nobody hates the ambulance. Emergency workers aren't there to judge, they're there to help. It's time for this misguided country to seize the moment and do the same.


Anonymous Bobbie Corpuz said...

Rather disputable.

1:27 PM  

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