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World-Herald editorial: In disasters, U.S. responds

World-Herald editorial: In disasters, U.S. responds

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It’s easy to feel powerless looking at the images of death and destruction that follow natural disasters, and few storms have wreaked such widespread devastation as Typhoon Haiyan did in the Philippines.

Still, it helps to see again that one of the first nations to respond with charitable aid and military manpower was the United States. That spirit of generosity is proof of a national character that cannot be undermined by anti-American ideologues.

While hardliners in Iran, Venezuela and Syria chant, “Death to America,” a Philippine government that once evicted U.S. forces from a major naval base invited the American military in to help the tens of thousands needing food, clean water, medicine and shelter. The U.S. immediately mobilized.

The scale of the disaster — with the island nation’s transportation, communication and other critical infrastructure all but wiped out — has made delivering immediate assistance a serious challenge. But more American help is on the way. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington was steaming toward the region with massive amounts of water and food, and the United States is providing $20 million in immediate assistance, joined by a number of other countries.

At home, Midlanders and other Americans are opening their hearts and wallets, donating to a variety of relief organizations.

The outpouring of American public support for disaster survivors in places such as the Philippine city of Tacloban is an example of our national problem-solving predisposition. Americans are eager to help where help is needed, using both our muscle and money.

The U.S. often helps because our nation is in a position to do so. American assistance almost always comes without strings, rarely offered for any long-term strategic U.S. benefit. Many regular Americans volunteer their time and money for religious or personal reasons. That is humanity at its finest, helping because we can.

It has become almost routine to turn on the television and see American military and charitable organizations put boots on the ground quickly after international disasters. This is as true in friendly countries like Haiti, after a terrible storm of its own, as it is in hostile places like Pakistan, where U.S. troops left the Afghan War to help rescue people after recent earthquakes and floods.

Many remember the U.S. Navy vessel that served as a floating hospital off Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the hurricane there. But do they remember images of American military helicopters helping the Pakistanis rescue people near Muzaffargarh? Or the similar American help after earthquakes in Turkey or the tsunami in Indonesia?

Perhaps not, but many Pakistanis, Turks and Indonesians do.

That’s why after nearly every instance when American help follows a disaster, public opinion of the American people goes up. Because Americans gave. Because our military and aid workers were ready. And because we were there.

That’s why volunteer missions like the Nebraska medical teams that went to Haiti matter so much. If you ask those volunteers, they’ll tell you their decisions had nothing to do with improving America’s standing in the world. They’ll tell you only that it was the right thing to do, that they felt better helping. The same is true of disaster aid donors who open their wallets after reading or watching the news.

That’s why the Stars and Stripes offers hope after the worst that Mother Nature can dish out.

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