A few days ago, in one half of the world, President Obama and other members of the U.S. government were laughing and joking at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Meanwhile, in the other half, Nepal was erupting in panic and terror. In its initial response to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, being decimated by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake, the U.S. government decided to send $1 million in aid.
It’s great that America decided to send aid at all, but the incredibly disingenuous nature of our response to Nepal reveals how little we actually care about the people themselves and how much we care about power politics.
When the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, America freaked out. We sent people. We sent money. We sent messages. We sent support.
It surely wasn’t because we genuinely felt bad for Japan—if that was the case, then Nepal would’ve received similar treatment.
No, the real reason we sent such “genuine” support was because of power politics. After we wrecked Japan with atomic bombs, Japan was in the perfectly defenseless position for us to “come to their aid” with military bases to “protect them” from invasion.
In the same way, sending an “outpouring of support” to Japan following the tsunami was the perfect way for us to get more leverage in the Pacific theater and to coerce a “mutualistic” relationship between the two of us.
We don’t have any use for Nepal, so we sent some pity money to show other developed nations that we “care” and went on with our day.
If we prepared the surprise party of a lifetime for Japan’s birthday, we sent Nepal a Hallmark card with $20 in it a day late.
Meanwhile, China not only sent $3.2 million in aid but was also the first country to have a support group set foot in Nepal, and China’s chairman, Xi Jinping, even sent a personal letter.
The U.S. government doesn’t seem to understand (or doesn’t seem to care) that it’s about more than just sending money, it’s about showing support. Yeah, Nepal can use $1 million, and they are certainly thankful for it, but when over 4,000 people die, a community deserves heartfelt support. Throwing money at people doesn’t automatically solve problems.
Don’t think I’m using China’s example as a way to bash America. China, a country that borders Nepal, clearly had ulterior motives. Just as America had with Japan.
My criticism is that even when it comes to sending support to people that are hurting, politics still plays the lead role in how we (re)act.
Why can’t we put forth our greatest effort to send support because we legitimately care? Why can’t we postpone a fancy dinner because the Nepalese people matter and deserve our respect? America is never altruistic for the sake of altruism; we always have to have some kind of personal gain.
About a century ago, China discovered what happens when you’re convinced the world revolves around you—you would think America would have learned from that.
Brandon Lynam is a sophomore international studies and Chinese major from Knoxville, TN.