Politics Cannot Define Obligation

January 29, 2010

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!””However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
Stephen Crane, War is Kind

Around the world, terrible events take place every day, wars, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, famine, disease; the list seems endless.  Every day news organizations bring us quick views, snapshots if you will, of a small portion of humanity standing up to the longest of odds, simply to survive.  How do we respond?  Do we rush in and do all we can or simply watch from the comfort of our homes?  Perhaps something in between is called for.  No matter the response, what we really need to understand is our obligation.

As human beings, what obligation do we have to each other?  Some Christians are fond of pointing to the story of Cain and Able to give guidance, to were the famous quote “am I my brother’s keeper?”  (Gen. 4:9) comes from.  To think this obligates us is taking it out of context.  Cain killed his brother and lied about it to God.  It is a story about jealousy and deceit.  Looking at it, Cain’s question to God is rhetorical and self-serving.  Cain never intended God to answer it.

Debating God’s intentions is not required to answer the question of obligation.  In the end, the world owes us nothing, nor does the universe as Mr. Crane points out, or even God for that matter.  The government of one nation owes nothing to the people of another.  It is people that are obligated to one another; the responsibility cannot pass to another entity.  Regardless of Cain’s intention, the answer to his question is yes, we are our brother’s keeper.

While we are not obligated to aid others as if it were a debt or binding contract, we have a desire to help others.  Our internal wiring controls our actions; it is our nature as humans to provide aid and comfort to others in need.  The recent earthquake in Haiti illustrates the people of the world’s desire to aid.  Everything from giving money to actually going to Haiti is taking place.  Money, supplies, and resources have flowed in so quickly they have overwhelmed the country’s damaged infrastructure and created frustration with delays.

Last week, a French Minister named Alain Joyandet, complained about the United States “occupying” Haiti.  The source of Mr. Joyandet’s irritation is with a French relief plane forced to wait one day to land and unload its medical aid.  The United States Military took control of the airport at the request of Haiti’s government until they regain the ability to do it themselves.  While it is unfortunate that much-needed aid is required to wait in a queue due to the physical limits of the situation, it is understandable.  The French Minister’s response seems to be more aligned with Cain’s jealousy of his brother than promoting the good will of the French people towards Haiti.  The minister seems more interested in waving the French flag than in helping.

The aid a government gives is an extension of its people.  The fact that the United States is geographically close to Haiti allows that aid to include logistics.  As bad as it is, imagine the utter chaos if the airport had no control.  It is self-serving hubris on the part of Minister Joyandet to suggest our aid is an occupation.  It takes the good will of the French people and puts a national pride upon it; it supplants that good will with nationalism.  Government involvement in relief efforts must remain an extension of its people.  That is our (the United States) intent regardless of what some silly Frenchman has to say about it.

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