Thursday, March 17, 2011

This Dangerous Planet

It has been, recently, a dangerous time to be a resident of planet Earth.  Two perils are abroad at the moment - one, natural, and the other, man-made.

If there is still anyone who hasn't seen the hypnotic, terrifying images of the tsunami wave invading Japan's shores, they must, truly, be living in a cave.  Once more, as if we needed any reminding, we have been shown how minuscule are our efforts to tame our wild planet.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, droughts: they have been accosting the planet for as long as we have been here - since before we were here - and it makes little difference if you're modern man atop a high-rise, or a prehistoric cave-dweller.  Natural disasters are just that - natural.  They are an integral part of living here on Earth, and they don't discriminate between humans and any other animal.  When nature strikes, we are all helpless victims.

Unless we chose to relocate to safer lands, those far away from where the mighty plates that make up the surface of our planet meet - and we won't - it will ever be thus.  We make a cynical calculation - that the big one won't hit in our lifetime; that our neighbours may perish, but we will be spared - and build our homes, and factories, and powerplants atop the fault, or beneath the volcano, or in the midst of the floodplain.  It is a reflection of man's inspiring, maddening optimism - without it, could we as a species have survived this long?

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the horror that people visit upon each other.  Half a world away from Japan, the lunatic Gaddafi family are intent upon annihilating the portion of the Libyan populace that won't accept the continued brutal rule of daddy Muammar, and his comparably deranged, equally vicious offspring.  What's sad is that, as we gather around our television sets (or, more likely these days, computers and smartphones) to absorb the unreality that is northern Japan being swept bare by an unstoppable ocean, we have distanced ourselves from the all too human, all too preventable tragedy that is unfolding in Libya.  How is it that we can be so sympathetic to one group, randomly victimized by the planet's tectonic writhings, and yet so callous when others are deliberately, systematically exterminated by one of our fellow creatures?

The UN Security Council has just voted for a no-fly zone in Libya, but the details of its implementation are sketchy, at best.  The military advises it will take at least a week to make it effective, but how that will help the citizens of Benghazi - the rebel stronghold in eastern Libya that is now surrounded by Gaddafi's loyalist forces - is unclear.  I hope it's not too late to prevent Gaddafi re-establishing his iron grip on the country, but it's too soon to celebrate.

It's strange: no one argues that Gaddafi is not a lunatic; no one suggests that his actions are anything less than barbaric, and criminal.  And yet.

And yet there is a willingness to stand by, to do nothing.  I realize that there are many people who, for legitimate if debatable reasons, are uncomfortable putting their military at risk in a foreign country, where we have, arguably, no national interest, and where a successful rebellion would result in the replacement of a lunatic dictatorship with - what exactly?  And yet.

A national interest we may not have, but a humanitarian one - indeed, a human one - we surely do.  Intervention, even of limited scope, is not without risk, and it is not without consequences - some of which, it must be acknowledged, we may come to regret.   But if we allow the opportunity to rid the world of one of its tyrants to pass, for how long, and to what cost, will we regret that?

I'm not, as a rule, a utopian. I will never live to see a world in which the ground never shakes, harsh winds never blow, and waters never rise.  These realities are with us for as long as we inhabit this blue orb.  But I would one day like to see a world where we offer succour to those imperiled by nature's fury, and more than mere words to people attempting to free themselves from the indiscriminate brutality of their unelected, unaccountable rulers.

1 comment:

  1. Here, here. Why is one tragedy sympathetic and the other not? I think it is exactly why you say, because it's too overwhelming to think one could be prevented, then we have to look at the possibility of failure and culpability.