Benny's World

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First World Status? Depends on the Eye of the Beholder

From today:

By Lolis Eric Elie

Years ago, a young South African scholar told me about his trip to America, to Boston, specifically.

I don't know who was in charge of his trip, but either they failed to give him his script or he failed to memorize his lines.

He was supposed to tell me about how wonderful our country is. He was supposed to have been impressed with the vast wealth of this place and with the quality and quantity of the latest technology here.

He was supposed to envy our First World status.

He didn't.

What he remembered from his trip was not our wealth, but our poverty. He was shocked by the slums of Boston.

He wondered about American aid to poor countries. How can you send aid to these places, he asked, when you need such aid in your own poor communities?

What we are watching in New Orleans now is an indictment of our nation.

I can understand why we see refugees in Liberia walking miles in the hope of finding sustenance or safety; often there is little of either in that country. But why are we seeing these same images here?

Do we lack the trains, planes and automobiles to move our people to safety?

I can understand why it takes so much time to get aid halfway across the world, but why does it take so long to get aid to our own Gulf states?

I can understand why lawlessness rules the streets of many poor countries in crisis, but we have a huge standing army. Do we lack the soldiers to police American streets?

I am used to seeing images of desperate people hindering the very relief efforts aimed at saving them. I have seen news reports of refugees looting food shipments. I've even heard of warlords in some countries looting the shipments and then trying to sell food to those so desperate and poor as to be scarcely able to afford it.

But why are we seeing these images and hearing these reports of wanton looting — by at least one police officer, no less —in an American city?

I make no excuses for the looters.

What may have started out as a legitimate attempt to secure the most basic of necessities has quickly turned into a nightmarish free-for-all.

But we shouldn't be surprised that the criminal element that terrorizes New Orleans and just about every other major American city, declined to alter its behavior in the midst of this crisis.

I am surprised, however, that our leaders have failed to provide a more adequate and timely response to all of this.

I am surprised that, in light of the current crisis in New Orleans, that the United States of America can be seen to have so much in common with the poorest and most wretched places on earth.


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