by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Why should we?

What compels us to go marching into Somalia now? Who do we think we are?

Why must our sons and daughters, most of whom have never been anywhere near Somalia, now risk their lives to help straighten out its mess?

Why should even one of them take a bullet? And we all know more than one of them will.

Why should we?

Why does America pour countless millions into trying to feed some distant African nation, when people here at home are sleeping in the streets and begging pennies for food?

Why do we care about Somalia in the first place? We have little history with it. We are nowhere near it. We do not depend on it for oil, technology, or trade.

Their people are not our people. Their ways are not our ways. They are mostly Muslims, and there are other Muslim nations in the world. Why don’t they help their own? Why does it come to us?

Why should we?

How do we justify sending loved ones to a place where murder is hourly, and law non-existent, where there is no government, no authority, no rules, no hope. Where food ships are shot at? Where relief workers are attacked? Where warlords squeeze one side of the population while slaughtering the other? Where the most popular way of making money is offering “protection” services to outsiders?

Go there? Help them?

Why should we? It sounds familiar

Why burden the new Clinton administration with a leech that could suck the spirit out of Inauguration Day? Why start something we cannot finish? Everyone knows that even if this “mission” is successful, eventually we will have to leave, and the chaos that turned Somalia into one big killing field could return the moment we depart. Didn’t we try this once in Vietnam? Didn’t we try this once in Korea? Haven’t we learned our lesson?

Why must we always jump in when things go wrong? Where is Britain, which so far has promised no troops to this Somalia effort? Where is Germany, which, so far, has put up no money?

Where is Japan, which thinks nothing of making a profit off the world, but is typically slow to show nonprofit commitment? Why us and not them?

Why does the world cry our name when they need help, food, or protection, then vilify us for being “imperialistic”? Won’t that happen again here?

What do we gain from involvement in Somalia? We could be there for months, maybe years. We could paint ourselves into a corner. We could lose our soldiers in a desert land, lose equipment to terrorist attacks, and lose face if it doesn’t work out.

Why should we?

Why can’t we turn out backs like most countries in the world? Say, sorry, it’s a shame, but we have our own problems to deal with? We can’t help everyone. Why Somalia and not Sudan? Why Somalia and not Bosnia? There are many places where people are starving. Many places where the helpless are ignored. Why there? Why now? Why us?

Why should we?

Here is the answer.

Because we have no choice. The alternatives

Because you cannot sit by while a nation starves to death. Because you cannot spew politics when children’s bellies are swollen. Because you cannot talk money when mothers weep and fathers take a gun in the head for trying to reach a handful of food.

Because if no one else will, we must. Because this is not about countries, it’s about the human race. I rarely quote George Bush in this column. I quote him now: “We must help them live.”

Because we can.

So while there is no assurance this relief effort will work, and while it is not fair that America lead the way while others conveniently twiddle their thumbs, and while it is wrong that anyone should die trying to deliver food,

it still must be done, because the alternative is unthinkable.

The alternative is to ignore the helpless. To go deaf to their wails of hunger and agony. If other nations do it, well, let them learn from our example. As long as you are part of the haves, and innocent victims are part of the have-nots, you cannot — despite all political and military theories
— justify not helping.

I say this with no joy. I say this with no patriotic music. I say this knowing full well that were it me on that transport plane, I would be trembling.

I say it anyhow: without mercy, you have no society. I take a simple pride in living in a country that knows this is true.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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