Saturday, May 10, 2008


60,000 people are listed as dead or missing in Burma as a result of Cyclone Nargis. Every sane news outlet is quick to point out that the death toll is likely already much higher than the reported numbers, and is steadily rising. It will continue to rise dramatically, due at least in large part to the restrictions the Burmese "government" has placed on receiving aid from foreign nations and the UN.

60,000. That number is fucking staggering, and doesn't even address the number of people left homeless and unable to gain access to food, shelter, clean water or medical aid in the wake of this disaster.

60,000. People. Dead. And climbing. Climbing, climbing, climbing the death toll pop charts.

The situation there worsens daily.

For once, I'm not going to point a finger at the US and European governments and scream j'accuse. From what I've read and understood of the situation, we're actually trying to help. I don't know how pure our motives are, or if we're going far enough in our efforts to assist these people, but I know that we aren't standing by twiddling our thumbs and sipping our lattes while calmly reading news reports. When I say we, though, I mean the government. For once, and just this once, probably, I am not as upset with our government as I am a couple of other entities.

Who, you ask, am I fucking furious with? Made ill by?

First, and to get this out of the way, the junta. Obviously. I'm not even going to launch into the reasons behind that anger, because I believe that if you don't already know and grasp that they are evil, sick bastards who are killing their own people through premeditated neglect, you are an idiot. And you will never understand.

Second, the media. When this first hit, there was very, very little media coverage. I watch the news every morning, switching from channel to channel, and I read the paper, and what I saw, over and over, from outlet after outlet, was the following: Presidential politics, oil prices, presidential politics, 20 seconds of Burma coverage, presidential politics, oil prices, oil prices, presidential politics, sex scandal, oil prices.

It shouldn't surprise me, still, that Americans and really, the English speaking world, care about nothing beyond their own backyard. It shouldn't. But it does. It appalls and disgusts me. That we, as a people, collectively care more about paying 3 cents more at the gas pump and the dogfight between the Democrats than we do about an entire nation helpless and suffering, makes me so sad and angry that I can hardly bear to discuss it. I'm not saying that oil prices, the economy, and the presidential race don't matter. Of course I'm not saying that. What I am saying, however, is that we seem to have lost, or maybe we never had, any sense of perspective.

The comparison I keep coming back to is this. When less than 3,000 people died in downtown New York, we saw nothing else on television for weeks. The news coverage, the outrage, was amazing and relentless.

Now, go back to the death toll that is being reported now from Burma. The death toll that everyone acknowledges is inaccurate in that it will rise. That number. That staggering 60,000. The corpses floating all over the country. The people who have lost their entire families, homes, villages. The sick, the hungry, the dead.

Where is the outrage? Some people will tell you that it's like comparing apples to oranges, that in New York we had someone to blame, a target for our anger and heartbreak, and here we don't. Those people are wrong on so many levels. The first would be that we do, in fact, have people to blame here. The death toll is rising BECAUSE THE JUNTA WILL NOT ALLOW THEIR PEOPLE TO BE HELPED. I can't imagine a better villain at which to direct your rage than that. The next level is more complex, and at the same time, revoltingly simple.

We, and I'll only speak of Americans, as they are the group with which I am most acquainted, simply do not care as much about foreign citizens as we do other Americans. It is as though we cannot force ourselves to remember that they are actual, living, breathing, loving human beings. They have families and jobs, successes and failures, hearts and minds, JUST LIKE WE DO. We forget that we are only where we are and who we are by a simple accident of birth. We forget, to use a phrase that you all know means little to me in the literal religious sense, that "there but for the grace of god go I."

To re-rail my train, let's go back to the media. There is another reason that I wish the media could be represented by one single human form, simply so that I could go to that person and punch them repeatedly in the genitals until they gained some common sense. That reason takes us back to our earlier simple math, "junta = bad, duh." Every media account that you read, watch or hear mentions, repeatedly, that the junta are bad, bad guys who won't let us, the good, good guys, in to help save their people. Okay. It's totally true. And it's a point that should probably be hammered some point. However, incessantly calling them meanie-face douchebags? Is probably not the best way to get them to allow us in to deliver aid. Is all I'm saying.

I don't know how much the average person can do to help with this situation. I do know that there are things that can be done. I know that there are groups in Burma, already on the ground, able to actually reach some of these remote areas and help the people who so desperately need it, and that ten minutes of research would have you in contact with one of these groups. I know that for as much money as you would spend on having a coffee every day, you could send a donation to one of those groups and DO something. I know that, barring a monetary donation, you could spend your time. You could talk about it. You could mention it to as many people as possible, as many times as possible, with the knowledge that increased awareness of a situation undeniably leads to increased action towards resolving that problem.

I hear, in times like these, from many people, that it's too sad to think about, it's too depressing. People simply don't want to think about it, don't want to talk about it. They want to think happy thoughts, because really, their lives are so stressful. To these people, I should direct a gentle reminder that the stress in their lives in no way compares to the stress people in countries like Burma live under every day, even without an event like a cyclone to make things worse, and that now, the stress level the people of Burma must be experiencing simply cannot be described. That's what I should do. I should be gentle and diplomatic and attempt to cajole these people into giving a shit about anything but themselves.

Instead? This is all I have to say: Fuck you. There is a not insignificant part of me that hopes that something horrific happens to those you love, and that it happens somewhere and sometime where it is impossible for you to get help. Then, I want to be able to grin at you and say "Welcome to the rest of the world, you smug, self involved cunt."

But more than that, I hope you wake up one morning and realize that your comfortable existence stands in sharp contrast to a large portion of the lives of the people in the world. And that it might not be the worst idea in the world to help out a touch.

Go even help?


No comments: