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Posted: January 17, 2010 12:00 a.m.


A really big earthquake hit the third world nation of Haiti last week. Now, the brutal fact is that there's not a great deal of discernible difference between Haiti before the 'quake, and Haiti afterward. But the world's developed nations have immediately sent hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency assistance to the Caribbean nation, which occupies one-third of the island of Hispaniola. Fittingly, the Dominican Republic, which occupies the other two-thirds, was the first nation to offer help to Haiti.

The amount of aid pledged to assist the nine million citizens of Haiti is as staggering, in its own right, as was the amount of damage wrought by the 7.0 earthquake.

Quoting from Reuters now, the United States of America pledged $100 million, as did the World Bank. The United Nations graciously pledged $10 million; UNICEF put two aircraft and a ship en route with supplies and 500,000 emergency meals. Great Britain pledged 7 million Euros, 200 relief workers and medical staff. Canada sent $5 million plus 20 people and two helicopters. The European Union nations pledged 3 million Euros, and Germany sent an additional 2 million. France dispatched two aircraft and a field hospital, and Iceland contributed a search-and-rescue team. Russia sent two helicopters. Additional help was pledged by Mexico, Brazil and - interestingly - China.

That's right. The same China which deprives its own citizens of human rights wants to help Haiti. The same China which conducted cyber attacks upon Google's Internet resources obtaining information on Chinese citizens who demonstrate for human rights. Google is now considering closing their Chinese offices and withdrawing. And China wants to help Haiti?

Could it be that the Communist Chinese simply seek an innocuous entry point into the Western Hemisphere? My generation remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union sought to place nuclear missiles 90 miles south of Florida. Do terms of the Monroe Doctrine apply to economic aid from China to a Caribbean nation?

It's also interesting that Cuba, the communist nation a figurative stone's throw from Haiti, and Venezuela, led by the communist Hugo Chavez, have remained quiet thus far. One would expect Chavez to exploit this opportunity to thrust himself, and his leftist anti-American teachings, into the Caribbean limelight.

Conservatively estimating the value of aircraft, helicopters, the logistical support needed for relief personnel and assorted equipment and supplies, the world has pledged somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million to help the nine million inhabitants of Haiti, with one-third of it coming from the good old USA. And that doesn't include the costs for the nuclear aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, and three support ships from the Norfolk Naval Base, to sortie.

Has anyone considered for a moment what would happen if America did nothing? That's right. What if America said, "That's just too bad, Haiti. Earthquakes happen to us, also."

Hold on. Don't pop another blood pressure pill just yet. I know, I know. We're America. We're supposed to do the right thing. So we'll hemorrhage up $100 million and hustle to Haiti and minister to people who throughout their history have done little to help themselves. And we'll go the extra mile while we're at it.

But while you're feeling all warm and fuzzy about helping out Haiti, the HIV/AIDS capital of the Caribbean Sea, and the home of one corrupt government after another, consider this:

Just up I-85 a little ways in Gaffney, S.C., a small group of the homeless choose to live in the woods at Exit 90. One convenience store owner, and employees of several other stores, gives the homeless breaks on food and necessities. These homeless, some of whom maintain pets, stop in at the stores each day, more or less just to check in.

Well, last week one of the men failed to check in at the local Subway store, and concerned employees called police to investigate. The man was found dead in his tent alongside I-85; he'd frozen to death just a few feet from a warm hotel room.

Why am I telling you this, you ask?

Friend, the dead man was a United States military veteran. Kenneth William Hammett, 55, was living on the pension he received for serving his country. He had $177 in his pocket.

Yes, the earthquake in Haiti was tragic, indeed. Any human suffering, wherever it's found, is lamentable and heartbreaking.

But I heard America's president proclaim on television that Haiti would not be forsaken. And I couldn't help but wonder what he might say about an American veteran who froze to death in a tent while trying to live on a pension for service to his country.

They say the aftershocks last for quite some time. And I wonder - do they, now?

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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