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Great Nations Can . . . and That's Who We Are

On Friday, when I along with the rest of Southern California, was subjected to the breathless and non-stop television coverage of this rescue of a dog from the rushes of a bulging LA River (the result of our recent storms), my first reaction was to be a little bit disgusted.  It's not that I don't like dogs or don't admire the selfless work of rescuers.  I'm a big fan of both dogs and rescue personnel.  But here we were at the end of a week in which the human tragedy of a natural disaster in Haiti was palpable--where people died because there were no tools or emergency personnel available to prevent it--and Los Angeles was gripped and, then, elated by a (no doubt outrageously expensive) helicopter rescue of . . . a dog.   And then, just for good measure and because no good deed goes unpunished, the darn dog bit and severely injured his savior.  Perfect.  "Don't people see the horrible and sad irony here?" I indignantly asked myself.  Aren't the lives of those people in Haiti worth more than the life of a dog?  What an extravagant and ridiculous people we have become, I mumbled to myself. 

But what a silly, self-righteous prig I was in that moment.  Still, everyone's entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities.  This was (one of) mine.  As I thought about it or, rather, groused about it, I began to wonder and to re-think.  Is it fair to suggest that there is something off in my fellow citizens because they were so interested in the fate of a dog that they were willing to invest their tax dollars, the lives and safety of their rescue personnel, and their good wishes and captivated interest in seeing him rescued?  Was it really taking anything away from the horrible scope of the tragedy in Haiti for rescue workers in Los Angeles to attend to this matter?  In the end, I think the answer to both questions is "no."

Of course, such a daring rescue of a dog would be an unlikely event in a place like Haiti.  And one can't blame them for that.  The animal/human distinction is a good thing to remember and a thing that too often gets blurred in a rich country like ours.  Of course, it gets blurred in poor countries too . . . though in the opposite direction. 

Really, it says something wonderful (if not entirely rational) about us as a people that we CAN do this and that, when given the opportunity, we do it as a matter of course.  We have the luxury to worry about a dog to the amazing degree that we can call out a rescue team to assist it!  How does a nation get to that point?  It is not because it is a bad or a degraded place, that's for sure.  And it ought to be assuring, too, in contemplating what a natural disaster in a country like ours would look like versus what it is in a place like Haiti.  Say what one wants about the worst of the response to Katrina . . . it looked nothing like the tragedy of Haiti and that's not only because the earthquake was more violent than the hurricane.  Badly governed nations are poor and poor nations aren't known for their efficient rescue operations--even when the hearts of their people yearn for the freedom and prosperity that allows them.

Almost as if he sensed it the glaring inequity between what went down in the LA River and the efforts in Haiti, the man who rescued the dog (and, for his efforts, was willing to get bit) explained in an interview that his concern, ultimately, was less about the dog and more about the safety of the public.  Good sense mixed here with compassion.  You see, he knew what kind of people we Americans are.  Someone, if not the rescuer, would have tried to save that dog and, likely, that someone would then have been in need of rescuing.  Sometimes our hearts are bigger than our brains . . . but that's just who we are as Americans.  Anyway, we're all entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities--particularly when we are so blessed.  Very often, we do some good . . . even if we sometimes get bit.

Categories > Pop Culture

Discussions - 4 Comments

I think it was Arthur Koestler who said something like three million killed is a statistic--it is the dog run over in the street in front of you that grabs your attention. And that was before the arrival of Eyewitless News.

I had the same initial thoughts as you, Julie ("all this attention/angst over a dog, when thousands are dying in Haiti???) Then it occurred to me that we are already doing all we can for Haiti; money, personnel, supplies, equipment, etc. It is not America’s fault if the help is not doing all we hope and pray it will. The blame lies in the conditions that existed in that country before the first quake, and still continue to frustrate efforts today (corrupt government, no infrastructure, poverty, crime)
I think the frustration of not being able to do more was palpable over the weekend, and watching that frightened, helpless dog be rescued was a release, and a relief. We did what we could, and it worked! Hooray!
Maybe it was even a good object lesson. As things move forward Haiti, there will be successes, and we may even get our “hand” bit in return. But in the end, it will be worth it.

So, rescuing the dog was an act of entertainment? That was a variety of national catharsis? To the non-TV watcher the whole thing has been a mystery.

Haiti has been biting the hand that feeds it for generations. This is not the first time we have sent aid or been interested in that poor, benighted country. I hope this works. It will be a triumph of hope over experience or seeing what God would do if He had the money. Or perhaps we will really find out if throwing enough money at the poor is the answer. What is the latest figure, estimated per person (Haitian) that we will have spent when we are done? It is a national renewal project that unites us as a nation; conservative and liberal, we are all delighted with the project.

Actually Kate, I don't think any of the money we are spending in Haiti will do anything in the long term, unless by some miracle, our compassion and sacrifice are finally appreciated by the Haitian people and they wake up and start helping themselves.
What I meant by being "worth it in the end" was that the simple act of showing kindness and mercy to someone(thing) in a real (not manufactured) crisis is good for us as people, and it might even be a lesson to some who wring their hands over the "poor" in this country.

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