Catastrophic equivalencies

Catastrophic equivalencies

: We’ve been hearing a lot about equivalencies lately: People are comparing the money pledged to tsunami relief to the money spent on the inauguration. People are equating the money dedicated to tsunami relief to the money spent on the occupation of Iraq.

Well, let’s look at this tragic equivalency, too:

By the latest count, 160,000 people have died in this tsunami.

A month ago, Tony Blair said that 400,000 victims of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny and murder have been found in mass graves in Iraq.

Both are humanitarian tragedies, humanitarian issues, humanitarian needs.

But, of course, we heard little outcry demanding support, sympathy, and American resources brought to bear for Saddam’s victims; quite the contrary. Neither do we hear sufficient outcry about the scores of Iraqis killed day after day by the terrorists in their midst. Instead, we hear that everything in Iraq is America’s fault. And we hear that America is stingy. We hear political equivalencies.

It is wrong to politicize the tragedy in south Asia as if it should be seen as anything other than a humanitarian crisis without sides. And it is wrong to ignore the long-standing humanitarian issues in Iraq as if it were nothing more than a political football.

Could we have handled and be handling Iraq better? Of course. But remember that fighting a war, defeating terrorists/insurgents, and building democracy are not inexpensive.

Could we do more to help the victims of the tsunami? We could never do enough.

What’s the point of comparing all these tragedies except, each in its own way, to exploit them to make a political point?

There is one equivalency that matters: human suffering and the need to help.

: See also Matt Margolis.

: UPDATE: A commenter corrected me and I was away from the Internet until now to update this. I heard a BBC show this weekend on which Tony Blair said there were 200,000 Iraqis found in mass graves; this was cited in a larger discussion about new geopolitical realities of dealing with tyrants and terrorists without countries. When I went to find the comment, I found the USAID link above and did not realize it was from a year ago, not a month ago, and since then the number has changed.

: LATER: See much discussion in the comments on the accurate number of bodies in the mass graves in Iraq. It’s somewhere between 5,000 and the unknown. The complainers are right to push me on the accuracy but they are wrong in that they miss the point: It’s not about numbers. It’s not about equivalencies. It’s not about competition. It’s about individual human lives, no matter how many. So pick your number: 5,000 in a mass grave or 290,000 disappeared and presumed dead. Does freedom matter? Is freedom worth money? Is humanitarian relief worth money? Yes.