http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/Columnists/Toronto/Peter_Worthington/2005/01/03/806494.html Tue, January 4, 2005 America's first, again Whenever and wherever disaster strikes on the globe, the U.S. responds immediately with relief and medical supplies as they have in Asia, writes Peter Worthington By PETER WORTHINGTON -- For the Toronto Sun Thank goodness for the Americans. What would this world would be like without the U.S.? Especially in times of natural disasters like the Boxing Day tsunami that killed so many and shocked the world into unprecedented humanitarian generosity. Such generosity often seems muted. Not this time. The world's people have responded more ardently than their governments, and in case after case governments have taken a cue from their citizens, and increased their initial aid response. Canada is just one example, but typical of the world. Prime Minister Paul Martin started by pledging $1 million, then $4 million, then $40 million and now $80 million -- not because our government now realizes as it didn't before that the catastrophe was so severe, but because Canadians from every strata of society have opened their hearts and wallets. The U.S. initial pledge of $35 million, later upped to $350 million is just the start. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell anticipates $1 billion from the U.S. -- double the $500 million pledged by Japan, which will likely also up its giving. U.S. President George Bush has recruited two former presidents -- his dad and Bill Clinton -- to head U.S. fundraising for the tsunami victims. It is one of those moments in history where the world is united -- and America is leading. As well as being the world's wealthiest nation, Americans are the world's most generous -- $249 billion given annually to various corporate and private charities. So a world that failed to anticipate or respond to the genocide of 800,000 in Rwanda, or 2.5 million displaced in Congo, and is still lukewarm in all except rhetoric about Sudan and Darfur, has reacted with humane fervor to the tsunami disaster, which is Hollywood animation come to life. Pledging money is vital, but it doesn't save lives immediately. Again, that's where the Americans shine. The first large-scale international relief to the victims was from a U.S. warship, the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln which sent relays of a dozen helicopters loaded with relief and medical supplies into the stricken area. The U.S. military has field hospitals, and soldiers, Marines, sailors who turn instantly into social workers and bleeding-heart aid workers. Every time And it's not just for this tsunami in the South Pacific. It happens every time there's a horrendous natural disaster -- an earthquake in Turkey, Iran, or the Balkans, mud slides, floods, whatever -- the Americans are invariably first with direct, on-the-spot aid, no questions asked. Some see the tsunami disaster as a chance for the U.S. to mend fences with the Islamic world with its aid -- showing the people of Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) that America is not the devil incarnate. Maybe this will happen, but not likely. Ordinary people in the under-developed world rarely view Americans as anything except what's desirable. The supposed unpopularity of the U.S. is often propaganda and rhetoric, and not shared by the people of the world who, even after 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan and the war against terror, seek to come to America to live in freedom and prosperity. Those anxious to get in have no doubts about what America is -- the most desirable country on Earth. Canada views itself as compassionate, and we are. To a point. Not so rapid But we don't react with the speed and passion of Americans. Out vaunted Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is supposed to react quickly, to "bridge the gap" until formal aid arrives at a disaster scene. The tsunami underlines that ours is a not-so-rapid response team, partly because it exists mostly in theory and partly because we have no way of getting it to a disaster zone -- insufficient transport aircraft. The announcement yesterday was that DART would begin leaving tomorrow -- 13 days late. Better luck next disaster. A world without the U.S. would be a sorrier world indeed, especially when leadership in humanitarian causes is needed.