Tuesday, 30 December 2008

When is Humanitarianism NOT humanitarianism?

Harry Truman is quoted as saying that -- while everyone described and describes his decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshimo as his most difficult decision and the very personification of the his famous desk sign "the buck stops here" -- the decision to drop the bomb was his easiest decision. It was so obvious what had to be done and what action would actually be the most humanitarian. The choice was the prolong the war, causing numerous casualities and hardships for more years or end the war in one strike which, while specifically brutal in the moment causing untold immediate grief to many, actually, in its context, was the more humane choice. To Truman, the humane choice was obvious so he dropped the bomb. What he understood was what humanitarianism is really about. It is not a response to the emotions of the moment and to the one who can cry the best or present himself/herself as the most oppressed or the most in need. It is especially not responding to the moment but the greater whole.

Of course, that really isn't good for the pictures. The immediate situation, especially if it can be presented in all its drama and, yes, emotions, that is what sells. And that is what gets people to keep tuned to your station or network or buying your papers or newsmagazines, especially with photos. Do you ever wonder how long the Second World War would have been prolonged if there were modern-day humanitarians with media coverage back then? Germany would be sending them into the places, filled with civilians, devastated by Allied bombs. But wouldn't these humanitarians also describe the evil done by the Nazis? Do you think the Nazis would show them those places? They knew how to take the Red Cross to Thereisenstadt but nowhere else. And do you think the media would rock the boat and potentially be thrown out. Afterall there is no freedom of the press so the press knows how to play to get the pictures. Luckily though, the Allieds did not have to contend with humanitarian groups with myopic vision and a media knowing what sells.

It is sad that Israel today does not have this fortune.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Izgad said...

"choice was the prolong the war, causing numerous casualities"

to prolong the war

Anonymous said...

The first and only responsibility of a government during a time of war is to protect its citizens and crush the enemy if it's a winning position, or to minimize losses and negotiate a favourable surrender if not. How the other side is suffering is NOT a responsibility of the government in question. It's the responsibility of the other government.
If Hamas does not want its people to suffer, it could crack down on the rocket firing militias, declare it recognizes Israel and disarm as much as possible so that Israel can reopen its borders and stop bombing it.
But Hamas wants its people to suffer because the gullible idiot Western media are happy to blame Israel for it.
The Israeli government should be thinking only thing: We must end the rocket attacks against our civilians and we don't care how it affects the Gazans. That's Hamas' problem.