Thursday, January 21, 2010

If we were a peaceful country, would Haiti be more screwed?

Before the quake, Haiti's airport handled about three flights a day, some estimates are that its total capacity was around 30.

Now? 180 flights worth of food, supplies, peacekeepers and aid workers are landing per day.

How had this turnaround occurred? The Air Force has a whole bunch of engineers who are trained to rebuild airports for combat purposes, the theory being that they can rebuild the airport of a decimated city America has invaded so planes can be landed and the conquered city can more quickly become a military foothold.

Port-Au-Prince was a decimated city. So the Air Force sent its engineers there to rebuild the airport. Over 1000 planes landed in the first week.

On the radio in DC this weekend, there was a big fuss over the fact that the US Navy Hospital Ship Comfort had been getting maintenance and didn't get underway until Sunday. How dare they take so long? The military must be a bunch of jerks! One of my naval engineer readers (and I do have two at least sporadic ones) can answer this better than I can, but my guess is that getting a Navy hospital ship out of maintenance, fully staffed and on its way to Haiti in a few days is pretty good.

The ship is there now, and treating patients.

Another UU blogger asked recently if serving in the US Armed forces is honorable. I think that's a stupid question. To me it's obvious that pretty much any profession can be honorable or dishonorable depending on the way it is performed. Many would say that prostitution is not an honorable profession, for example, but as Heinlen put it, "It is possible that the precentage of honest and competent whores is higher than that of plumbers and much higher than that of lawyers. And enormously higher than that of professors.*"

Anyway, being a member of the Armed forces who is keeping the peace and distributing aid in Haiti? Honorable.

Sitting at home and sniping at the military as if they never do anything good? I'd say less so, even if you did write a check to a charity that bought supplies and put them on a plane that couldn't have landed without the US military's help.

There will always be UUs who want UUism to be a peace church and want the US to be a peaceful nation unprepared for war. But I have to say that when another country has a disaster and the Americans can fly in and make a bad time better, it makes me proud.

I don't fundamentally have an objection to cutting the defense budget, but we should be careful as we do so. Not every trade off is going to be one we want to make.

who gets that, theoretically, the US could be a really peaceful nation that just keeps a giant disaster relief program around for an occiasion such as this one, but I don't think that's really going to happen. But my experience with pacifists has been that most of them might as well preface their idealistic visions with "If human nature were completely different then..." so I don't really expect much in the way of rational argument from them. Thus, it was probably pointless to bring that up.

*Sorry, Linguistfriend


Robin Edgar said...

Well said CC. I expect that this post will be noted in this week's 'Interconnected Web' post on the UU World blog, or at least it should be.

Chalicechick said...

Very kind of you to say so, thanks!


LinguistFriend said...

Heinlein's comment about professors is necessarily a statistical generalization. It fits some, but by no means all. His own educational experience was in a military institution, which cannot be a very characteristic sample of professors. And Heinlein was generally supportive of the military, so it is a very mixed situation.

PG said...

Heinlein had a pretty serious hard-on for the military and for military service (although he never was in combat); hence his setting up a society in which only those who had served in the military were full citizens.

I agree that one can do almost any legal job (and possibly some illegal ones) in an honorable way. For example, I disagree strongly with the military's DADT policy, but I think it would still be honorable to join a discriminatory organization so long as you did what you could from within the system to end that discrimination.

However, I don't quite understand why we need to have a large defense budget in order for disaster-struck areas to receive aid. Given that there really only seem to be one or two major natural disasters at a time in the entire world, it seems much more sensible to have an international disaster response team capable of rebuilding airports, etc.

If you are speaking merely in terms of realpolitik, in which American voters are more likely to support these functions in a military than as contributions to an international organization, then you're correct. But if we weren't so politically constrained, I don't see why the military is the ideal rebuilder. Indeed, I have heard from many people in the military that they do not like to be put into rebuilding/peacekeeping operations because it's not what they were trained to do. I'm inclined to keep the "kill people and destroy their stuff" functions separate from the "help people and rebuild their stuff" ones.

Chalicechick said...

I hadn't meant to connect Heinlen to the military point particularly, just use his quote to point at the fact that professions are rarely dishonorable in themselves.

From a realpolitik perspective, I don't think a disaster relief team with the funding and training that the military gets is going to happen and meant to point at that in the last bit. At the least, no other country has done it.

As for the soldiers whose bosses make them do things they aren't trained for, that they don't want to do and don't think they should be doing, this seems like an excellent introduction to having a civilian job, or at least every job Ive ever had.

Robin Edgar said...

That is well said too PG and I almost made some very similar points but I did not have time to post a lengthy comment earlier. The Canadian military does have a track record of peacekeeping missions which include a certain amount of helping people and rebuilding. Even now in Afghanistan part of the mission includes helping people and rebuilding, as I believe is also true of the American mission in Afghanistan. I do think that the world could use a professional natural disaster response team separate from the military to respond quickly and effectively to all manner of natural disasters, or indeed man-made ones such as Chernobyl and Bhopal. This civilian response team, possibly run under the auspices of the UN, could certainly include members of the military or veterans, and try to operate with military-style coordination and efficiency (although some will debate how coordinated and efficient the militrary really is), while remaining separate from any country's armed forces.

Robin Edgar said...

BTW That is an idea that I have had for quite some time now. Maybe it is an idea that should be more widely promoted. It seems that all too often relief and rescue efforts do not make it to the disaster areas in time to save lives that *could* have been saved if the relief and rescue efforts had started hours, days, or weeks earlier. A civilian "standing army" devoted exclusively to disaster relief wouldn't be such a bad thing would it? I long ago thought that perhaps Bill Gates could devote some of his billions to help create that disaster relief and rescue "standing army" but there is no reason why national governments and the UN could not help create it too.

bvd said...

CC- from what I've read, it take 8-12 months to organize and outfit the USS Comfort for a tour. If that's true, a four-day turnaround is really, really remarkable.

Robin Edgar said...

That being said. The military could still have a role in relief and rescue efforts where necessary and appropriate and military involvement could be beneficial in maintaining order as would seem to be the case in Haiti. If the U.S. Marines had not shown up on the shores of Port Au Prince recently who is to say what might have happened in terms of escalating crime and violence?

Chalicechick said...

(((civilian "standing army" devoted exclusively to disaster relief wouldn't be such a bad thing would it?)))

In America, we've had the "National Guard" for disasters on US soil (and yes, attacks on US soil, but we don't get many of those) since 1916.

However, sometimes those folks are called away to wars on foreign soil when the other branches of the military aren't recruiting enough soldiers. But the American economy has been so bad that the armed forces are meeting their recruiting goals these days. Not so when Hurricane Katrina happened, regrettably.

((It seems that all too often relief and rescue efforts do not make it to the disaster areas in time to save lives that *could* have been saved if the relief and rescue efforts had started hours, days, or weeks earlier))

Part of that is the disaster area needs to have the infrastructure to allow for lots of people arriving. Without airports and ports and roads, having the aid ready won't help.

In Haiti's case the quake hit Tuesday night, the airport engineers arrived Wednesday and getting the airport functional while trying to land as many planes as possible took a couple of days.

At one point some aid planes were being diverted away from Haiti because there was no place for them to land. That is largely fixed now.


hsofia said...

If the US were a more peaceful country, Haiti might be better equipped to take care of itself right now.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

I'm reading this shortly after the death of my grandfather at 95. He served most of World War II as the commander of a destroyer, and his ship was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo bay. And right after the war's end, his ship was assigned to provide relief in China. He once said that this duty was one of the proudest moments of his career, "even if it don't fit people's ideas of what fighting men should be doing."

Many career military officers say that their first job is not to fight wars, but to prevent them -- whether by deterrence, or through peacekeeping missions. One could see how relief efforts are an extension of this perspective, by assuring not only physical security but the interrelated areas of economic and medical security.

Let's hope our militaries continue to evolve in this direction, away from having to fight wars, and towards assuring security in more productive and proactive ways.

Comrade Kevin said...

Well, I'm a member of a peace church, but I also know that pacifism gets nowhere by demonizing those who serve in the military. I'm more concerned with the numerous after-effects of combat, the civilian victims of battle, and the higher-ups who keep the whole system in place.

Just because I don't believe in war doesn't mean I should forsake common humanity in the process of expressing my beliefs.