Tuesday--October 22
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 405
Is Humanitarianism Dead?
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 22 -- I awoke this morning to some troubling news.  It seems the world has gone pessimistic.  

       I popped open the recent issue of Time Magazine, Oct 21 issue, and turned to an article called Kindness Kills.   It was all about how and why humanitarianism is counterproductive.   In the book review section, author David Rieff 's ten-year study of the dark side of human beings, A Bed For The Night:  Humanitarianism in Crisis, was reviewed.
         The book describes  how ugly human beings have become, and the hopeless nature of those who try to help them.  Rieff  spent the past decade observing killers and humanitarianism working side by side.   His conclusion:  "Mankind is slowly, but in a very determined way, going back to barbarism."
         The sources of his conclusion include Bosnia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Angola.  Humanitarian forces, he says, are Band-Aids rather than healing solutions to the world's Terroristic thirst.  He cited the futility of humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  In a nutshell, he says humanitarian workers serve as fig leaves, moral cover for big powers that don't want to get involved.
         To indemnify the ills of the world, Rieff notes, "there are 27 major armed conflicts taking place in the world; 1.2 billion people are living on less than one dollar a day; 2.4 billion people have no access to basic sanitation; and 854 million adults, 543 of them women, are illiterate."


         Rieff quotes United Nations first special envoy to the Balkans as saying "You don't reply to fascism with relief supplies, and you don't counter ethnic cleansing with reception centers for the displaced."   He also quotes an aide worker as saying about humanitarianism: "far from representing a bulwark against evil, {humanitarianism may become} in fact one of its appendages."
         Time's book reviewer, Lance Morrow, capped his review by concluding in his final paragraph:  "Humanitarianism would not have abolished slavery in the U.S. or shut down Hitler's gas chambers.  Sometimes what decency needs is neither optimism or pessimism but realism, a big stick and the will to use it."
         I looked up the word in question just to make sure I had the right view of it.

hu·man·i·tar·i·an·ism   Pronunciation Key  (hy-mn-târ--nzm)
  1. Concern for human welfare, especially as manifested through philanthropy.
  2. The belief that the sole moral obligation of humankind is the improvement of human welfare.
  3. Theology. The doctrine holding that Jesus was human only and not divine.

        I took issue with the idea that people attempting to help others was a retreat to barbarism.  A hundred or more years ago, the plight of people in Rwanda or the Congo would not be living room news.   The idea that humanitarianism is a Band Aid, a moral shelter to wash one's hands of the blood of Terrorism, also bothered me.  
        What I find ironic in such a book is that the present bloodletting throughout the world is minor in comparison to history's overall barbarism.   Long before there were news reporters sending live feed signals of tragic world events daily, people died in squalor without notice.   There was no forum for bringing the horror of life to the world's living rooms, and few cared what happened to a child starving in another far-off land.  Ignorance was truly bliss.

         Realistically, we have experienced only one generation of "live feed television."  These feed brought the horrors of the world to light.   I was at the dawn of that Terrorism Era. 
         During the Vietnam War, the American public and the world got a taste of "live action Terrorism"  by watching brutal battles and the sadness of war as its spectators ate dinner.  Since then, television lenses have shoved their snouts into the viscera of human ugliness, painting a picture the world had never seen before, highlighting in vivid living color man's inhumanity to one another.
          But the presence of horror and Terror in news media headlines doesn't necessarily mean that humankind is regressing back to barbarism.   Everything needs a benchmark, a comparison point from which the present and past can be viewed.   If we are regressing, then we must say, "compared to what?  To when?  To whom?"   Otherwise, such a statement is a mere opinion, not a fact.
          Realistically, a hundred or two-hundred years ago there might have been more than 27 armed conflicts raging around the world--only we didn't know about them, or track them, or position them as evidence of human de-evolution on television or upon the headlines of newspapers..
         In 1700, for example, there were only 600 million people worldwide.  By 1800, the number grew to 813 million.  In 1900 the population blossomed to 1.5 billion.  And,  by the year 2000 there citizens of the earth exploded to over 6 billion.
         If humanitarianism is "dead" or "dying" or "regressing back to primal times," then what accounts for the spike in population?   Could it be that the world has made giant strides in protecting human life through advanced science and medicine?   Could it be that countries who once ignored the plight of the weaker, backward nations have extended knowledge and expertise to assist those nations in improving their lots?
        I gravitate toward the second definition of humanitarianism:  The belief that the sole moral obligation of humankind is the improvement of human welfare.
I wonder what percentage of people did not have access to basic sanitation two hundred years ago, or what percentage was illiterate, or how many lived on far less than a dollar a day?  Or, what the average birth and death rates were?   Along the way, human beings have extended life, and made the world a far more comfortable place to exist, and offered more hope than dismay that one day peace and prosperity might rule over Terrorism.
        I think author Rieff might have been chewing nails when he wrote his book, forgetting that the evolution of human beings is measured in the minds of children, not the actions of adults.      

        Children today worldwide are globalizing their concerns for other children.   They have been for years.   Their awareness of the plight of underdeveloped nations forms a bridge between the privileged and underprivileged that has never existed before in history.   If that's slipping back to barbarism, I must be looking at history with fogged glasses.

   In just one generation, the world has been shrunk into one giant television screen.   Children can see the children of other countries ravaged by famine and other pestilences, and become inspired to act to help bring comfort to their allies, their comrades in youth as never before in history.
        Such "humanitarian" bridges are being constructed in greater or lesser degrees..   The most recent was President Bush's call for the children of America to send $1 to help the children of Afghanistan.  While the request might have been rimmed with political motives, the idea was children helping children for the children's sake   The innocent sided with the innocent.
       The belief that the sole moral obligation of humankind is the improvement of human welfare.
       This definition of humanitarianism has a ring to it.   In the evolution of human beings, there has been a concern for the elimination of war, hunger and violence since the dawn of time.   It is not idealism that drives humanitarian efforts, but instead the reality that human life has incredible social, economic and spiritual values.   When a life is lost and someone sues another in tort law, the value of a person's life is reduced to economics.   While crass to some, it is a benchmark of economic humanitarianism.   It shows that human life has purpose and value to others, and to take that life subtracts from the prosperity of the world.

        This isn't barbarism.  This is the science of human value.
        Humanity means respecting life, inhumanity means disrespecting it. 
        I find it hard to fathom that the world could grow from 1.5 billion people in 1900 to over 6 billion without some increase in humanity.  Respect for human life has expanded from the direct family and villagers, to the entire world.   Never before in history have the atrocities of a few been broadcast to so many.
        America's stand against Iraq is one example.   While it may be laced with a variety of other factors--political, social, economic--its fundamental roots wrap around the rock of humanity.   Freeing people from oppression, from tyranny is a humanitarian effort, one often that costs the blood and lives of those who assume the "sole moral improve human welfare."
        I believe the Pledge of Vigilance is another example of humanitarianism.   Its purpose is to drive Terrorism out of the minds of children, and their children's children's children by teaching a child to combat the "barbarism" that still lingers in human genes.    Such Terrorism is agitated to the surface by abuse, neglect, violence and selfish disregard for the child's emotional and physical welfare.

       The Pledge of Vigilance is a reminder to parents and loved ones to contain the "Beast of Terror," the one that Rieff claims is on the march.   I agree with that.   Only I don't agree that humankind is slipping back into the Caves of Terror.    Quite the contrary.
        Terrorism in all its forms has brought the awareness of Vigilance to the surface.   The physical manifestation of snipers shooting people, or suicide bombers killing innocent people, or a bin Laden or Saddam Hussein plotting and preparing to unleash havoc on a world, serves to focus the world's attention on the need for optimism rather than pessimism.  It is a prime motivator for the acceleration of human evolution.
        It is easy to agree with Rieff that the world appears to be going backwards when in fact it is going forwards. Such thinking is intoxicated with Complacency.
       But, when all we see or hear is the bile of human nature being promoted, we retreat to pessimism and feel the world is falling apart.   On the other hand, when we look at the willingness of the world to stop "threats of aggression," and to preemptively attack or sanction those who threaten the security of the world, we force a stand-off to see whether optimism or pessimism rules.
       That's why I believe also we are entering the Era of Vigilance rather than the Era of Barbarism as suggested by Reiff.   One could easily mark September 11, 2001, as the date of its inception.

      To suggest that humanitarianism is a Band Aid, or perhaps an appendage of Terrorism because it is a way to placate duty and moral responsibility isn't a fair or honest appraisal of human nature.   It demeans human beings, and neglects that our world is seeking stability and peace for all--evidenced by its children's concerns for all other children--a new high moral ground that has never existed before.
       I understand the pessimism.  As a combat veteran of the Vietnam war, I witnessed incredible horrors.   Such horrors taint one's thinking, as I believe it did Reiff's.   He perhaps saw far too much blood shed.
       I also believe there is a middle ground between optimism and pessimism.   Lance Morrow said it in his concluding paragraph during his reivew:  "Sometimes what decency needs is neither optimism or pessimism but realism, a big stick and will to use it."
       If Terrorism is Pessimism, and Optimism is Complacency to deal with it, then I believe Vigilance is the Reality that balances the two.  The Pledge of Vigilance,  Principles of Vigilance, and the Shield of Vigilance represent such balance, for it requires one to not fall victim to Pessimism, and provides tools to keep a watchful eye against its intrusion.
         When one has the tools to conquer Fear with Courage, and defeat Intimidation with Conviction, and replace Complacency with Right Actions--we have the "big stick" Morrow suggests we need.   
         And, if we believe in the Pledge of Vigilance, and the protection of the children's children's children, we have the "will" to use it.
         Pick up the Vigilant Stick--take a swing at Terrorism by making the Pledge of Vigilance your way of being a humanitarian.

Oct 21--Terrorists Face-Off With Vigilance

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