Somalia is a real-life Mad Max movie. It is post-apocalyptic, except there has been no nuclear holocaust. Somalia is what results when society disintegrates into chaos of its own accord. It is the Darwinian antithesis of civilization. From the New York Times:
DOLO, Somalia — Is the world about to watch 750,000 Somalis starve to death? The United Nations’ warnings could not be clearer. A drought-induced famine is steadily creeping across Somalia and tens of thousands of people have already died. The Islamist militant group the Shabab is blocking most aid agencies from accessing the areas it controls, and three-quarters of a million people will run out of food in the next few months, United Nations officials say.
The US frets over a few thousand people killed in a terrorist attack ten years ago. Western Europe frets over whether its currency union will survive. Japan has its own tsunami-related troubles to contend with. China is only now beginning to broaden its horizons and project its influence internationally. Somalia faces losing nearly three-quarters of a million people to starvation. I doubt many of them wonder at the meaningfulness of their lives about now (click here to understand the reference).
Even if the spirit is willing, is there anything can be done? Sadly, it’s not clear. Even aid experts don’t believe military intervention would be successful at saving lives.
What is clear is that it is a tragedy of epic proportion. While the gravest threat to public health in America is excess calorie consumption, Somali babies suckle at dry breasts, if they aren’t altogether abandoned to die, sacrificed to the hopelessness of famine.
How could this be? How could a world of iPads and Blackberry’s and sweeping 24/7 information access allow something as horrific as Somalia? How could all those do-gooder young adult Americans that see victimization behind every tree in the US, see Somalia and do nothing?
The US is still the only nation with the ability to meaningfully intervene, but when we tried to do so with the military in the early 1990’s, we abandoned the effort after it became clear that the costs were apt to far exceed any immediate gains.
The famine is blamed on drought, but starvation is rarely ever only a weather phenomenon. It usually has its roots in government, or a meaningful lack thereof. So it is in Somalia, where a weak central government is mostly confined to Mogadishu, and Shabab, an Islamist militant group, controls the southern third of the country, where the famine is most severe. Shabab has refused to allow food aid to enter areas under its control.
I honestly don’t know what could or should be done, but I have an idea.
I know it sounds a bit crazy, but perhaps the US could open its borders to Somali refugees, providing them a plane ticket to America and support for a year or so to get them on their feet. An influx of two to three million hungry (literally and figuratively) people could help revitalize America’s moribund economy, while being far less expensive than invading and trying to impose democracy upon their troubled homeland. Urbanization over the last two centuries means there are vast swaths of American land on which the Somalis could be temporarily settled. It wouldn’t be as logistically difficult as it sounds, but I fully well understand that such a thing would be virtually impossible to accomplish politically.
We in America can only imagine what starvation must be like. The bounty of this land is so great that we have never been unable to feed ourselves. In fact, more than a few of the people who settled this land came to escape poverty and starvation at home, and did so, successfully.
I firmly believe that we are all connected in this world, and that when any one of us suffers, we all suffer. If America could find a way to helping Somalis that doesn’t also require killing a bunch of them, it would make my heart proud. There is no reason, with God’s bounty spread before us in measures too great to say grace over, not to share with others in time of need. Doing so might also help relieve some of our collective angst over American purpose and meaning. There is no better way than helping others, either individually or collectively, to relieve the mind of its own burdens.
America likes to fancy itself as being great because it is good. In fact, it is great because it has ruthlessly sought greatness. But now that it is great, it has the ability, and I believe, duty, to be good. It would be nice if we could find a way to put some of that greatness to good use in trying to save Somalia from starvation.