Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The U.S. military repairs as well as destroys

   War ships. War planes. Warriors. This month, when some of the fiercest winds in recorded history swept away entire cities, the response to the disaster demonstrated that destruction, domination and power are not the whole story of America’s mighty war machine.
    On Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan rolled across the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were left without food, shelter and water. Philippine relief efforts reportedly were slow, confused and often inadequate in the immediate aftermath.
    Unlike the U.S., most nations do not have a Federal Emergency Management Agency with its strategic and tactical resources to respond to a disaster like the disappearance of entire cities.
    Emergencies can both overwhelm by scale and paralyze by incompetence, as the fiasco of the 2005 federal response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans demonstrated.
    In addition to FEMA, America also has the U.S. military and the willingness to deploy it when natural disasters strike. If that statement seems incongruous, note that late last week the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group moved into the Philippines.
    The huge ship is serving as a logistics center and dispatching enough “firepower” to begin to make a real impact on the increasing desperation caused by the massive natural disaster. Navy helicopters and Marine Osprey cargo carriers are carrying supplies to isolated areas that had not seen outsiders since the storm hit, and ferrying survivors out. On board, desalinization systems are providing badly needed drinking water for the victims.
    Ironically, the George Washington is anchored off the island of Leyte, site of some of the largest Pacific sea battles of World War II. Japan is one of the militaries from other nations also engaged in the relief effort.
    Politicians fight over whether America should be the world’s policeman, but inevitably we willingly take on the largest role in natural disasters simply because we can. In fact, doing so is often what it means to serve in the military these days. The sailors of the George Washington were on shore leave in Hong Kong when the call came. Two days later, they were in the Philippines running their massed attack on Haiyan’s consequences.  
    Storms, earthquakes and tidal waves leave behind the kind of destruction and chaos in which militaries are built to operate. The military uses our tax dollars for more than the advancement of American power. In the face of increasing threats from climate change, our military uses those dollars for the reduction of human suffering. Perhaps it is time we celebrate that role with medals of honor and monuments on the National Mall.

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