AS WE GRIEVE
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
January 10, 2005
There is no space wider than that of grief, wrote the poet Pablo Neruda. "There is no universe like that which bleeds." In the planet of sorrow, "there is no street, no one has a door. The sand opens up only to a tremor. And the whole sea opens the whole of silence." 
Poetry, said Italo Calvino, is the art of putting the ocean into a glass. Imperial truth: pretending the glass of water is an ocean.
Imperial love: America's first offer of aid to tsunami victims: $15 million. Cost of one F-22 Raptor jet: $225 million. Cost of Kerry and Bush campaigns: $400 million. Cost of America's occupation of Iraq per day: $280 million. 
Relief from empire arithmetic: subtract US from Iraq entirely and throw entirety of sum to reconstruction needs of South Asia and the Middle East. Imperial relief: tsunami = opportunity to buzz around scene of disaster, put on shock-and-awe screen-saver face and save face.
"It turns out that the majority of those nations affected were Muslim nations," said US Secretary of State Colin Powell after touring earthquake and tsunami-stricken Banda Aceh, Indonesia from the air. "We'd be doing it regardless of religion," said Mr. Powell, referring to the US government's niggling aid contribution. "But I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world ... an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action." 
The world shamed the US government to increase its tsunami assistance from the initially indifferent $15 million to the wholly inadequate $350 million. The White House insists no, no, there's more. Whatever. Just give; it's horribly needed. But please stop the preening.
"I cannot begin to imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this noise coming and had their lives snuffed out by this wave," sniffed Mr. Powell as he surveyed the devastation in Aceh. "The power of the wave to destroy bridges, to destroy factories, to destroy homes, to destroy crops, to destroy everything in its path is amazing."
Very observant, Mr. Powell. But some tides have yet to recede from the region.
"The damage done by the deluge far exceeded the hopes of everyone," reported the US Fifth Air Force gleefully in May 1953 after wave upon wave of American fighter-bombers destroyed and emptied the 2,300-foot Toksan dam, an earth-and-stone reservoir in North Korea. Floodwaters from the dam surged and washed out bridges and roads and swept away railway lines. The massive flashflood destroyed hundreds of buildings and devastated rice field after rice field.
"Go massive. Sweep it all up, things related or not," snorted Donald Rumsfeld on September 11, 2001 as he ordered his aides to come up with a plan to attack Iraq a mere five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon. Yes sir! Back to the future! 
In 1953, a US commanding general in Korea described the annihilation of the Toksan dam as "perhaps the most spectacular [strike] of the war" and "immediately scheduled two more dams for destruction." Five more dams lay in ruins when the work was done. Five dams which together "supplied water for the irrigation system of an area that produced three-quarters of North Korea's rice."
US Air Force accounts joyously described the intended consequences of their campaign. "To the average Oriental," wrote one report "... an empty rice bowl symbolizes starvation."
The Oriental "could stand the loss of industry" stated another. He "could sustain great loss of human life, for life is plentiful and apparently cheap in the Orient." But not rice. "The Westerner," the report declared, "can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this stable food commodity has for the Asian - starvation and slow death ... Attacks on the precious water supply had struck where it hurts most."
"The last time an act of this kind had been carried out, which was by the Nazis in Holland in 1944," said Korea historians Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings,"it had been deemed a war crime at Nuremberg." 
"I hope that as a result of our efforts, as a result of our helicopter pilots being seen . . . [America's] value system will be reinforced," Powell said after stepping out of a helicopter.
No need for reinforcement. It was never in doubt.
Soon after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge, which had inundated Cambodia with four years of slaughter, America the generous extended its generous hand and provided, among other forms of assistance, $85 million in direct support to a red-crossed group headed by someone named ... Pol Pot. 
 Luis Poirot, Pablo Neruda: Absence and Presence, W.W. Norton and Company, 1990.
 "US stingy? It's all relative," David Lindorff, counterpunch.org, December 29, 2004. Different comparative figures and incisive commentary from "The other tsunami" by John Pilger in the New Statesman, January 6, 2005. See also George Monbiot's "Killing vs. helping," in The Guardian-UK, January 4, 2005.
 "Powell views devastation in Indonesia," ABC News International, January 5, 2005.
 "Plans for Iraq attack began on 9/11," CBS News.com, September 5, 2002.
 Footnotes to Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, ed. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, an electronic companion piece to the book that is just as valuable as the main book. Go to www.understandingpower.com to access the notes. See also the excellent North Korea by Bruce Cumings, The New Press, 2004.
 "Pol Pot and Kissinger: On War and Criminality," Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, September 1997.