Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pearl of Africa

Americans who have reached a certain age will remember a radio commentary by Gordon Sinclair, a Canadian broadcaster quite well-known in his own country.

In 1973, when the United States was torn apart by the Vietnam War and as the Watergate scandal was emerging as a major impediment to confidence in government, when inflation was swirling and we were on the verge of the first energy crisis, Sinclair reminded the world -- and Americans -- of the good deeds that emanated from this country:

The United States dollar took another pounding on German, French, and British exchanges this morning, hitting the lowest point ever known in West Germany. It has declined there by 41% since 1971, and this Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous, and possibly the least-appreciated, people in all the earth.

As long as sixty years ago, when I first started to read newspapers, I read of floods on the Yellow River and the Yangtse. Well who rushed in with men and money to help? The Americans did, that's who.

They have helped control floods on the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges, and the Niger. Today, the rich bottom land of the Mississippi is under water and no foreign land has sent a dollar to help. Germany, Japan, and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy, were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.

When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. And I was there -- I saw that. When distant cities are hit by earthquake, it is the United States that hurries into help, Managua, Nicaragua, is one of the most recent examples.

So far this spring, fifty-nine American communities have been flattened by tornadoes. Nobody has helped.

The Marshall Plan, the Truman Policy, all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into discouraged countries. And now, newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent, war-mongering Americans.
Sinclair continued:
I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name to me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? I don't think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake.

Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I am one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around. They'll come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they're entitled to thumb their noses at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of these. But there are many smug, self-righteous Canadians.

Sinclair's commentary swept this country. According to the University of Delaware Library,
This address was so popular that it was inserted into the Congressional Record 23 times in 1973, sometimes with portions deleted or added. It was recorded in 1974 by Byron MacGregor with the title "The Americans: A Canadian's Opinion" and was played on top 40 radio stations. According to The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, it spent 4 weeks at chart position 24, starting 1/26/74. . . . The address has also been printed in the Congressional Record in subsequent years.

Sinclair's commentary came to mind because, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, foreign countries are, in fact, coming to the assistance of Americans.

At a State Department press briefing yesterday, the department's executive secretary, Harry K. Thomas, reported:
95 countries have offered us assistance, close to a billion dollars in cash.* Eleven flights landed yesterday in Little Rock. We expect another 11 today. But our greatest -- the greatest challenge we have is to match the generous offers with the needs of the American people. The last thing we want is someone to offer something that is wonderful, but can't really be utilized. Some countries, for example, Russia, has made offers to us. We haven't refused them, but what we told the Russians was, "We need MREs" and they sent us MREs. We did the same thing with Germany. We took the MREs. The first thing we took, because we're echoing what the President said, but more importantly, it was easiest to manage was cash. And the cash donations came in and quickly went out to Red Cross and others.

Some of the contributions have been huge. South Korea, for instance, which has the third-largest deployment of troops in Iraq in support of the United States and Great Britain, has promised more than $30 million in cash and in-kind assistance. According to the Korea Times in Seoul:
South Korea pledged on Sunday to send $30 million in humanitarian aid to help the United States recover from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

The government will also dispatch 50 rescue workers to assist the evacuation of thousands of people in New Orleans and surrounding areas as part of a government task force led by Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik.

The assistance package, which includes emergency relief supplies, was announced following a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan.

"The government will cooperate with the civilian sector and the Red Cross to raise the funds needed for the aid," Lee Kang-jin, spokesman at the Office of the Prime Minister, told reporters.

South Korea is providing the fourth-largest amount of disaster aid, following on pledges of $100 million from three oil-rich Arab states, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. But even far less affluent countries are providing aid:
Other commitments have come from Armenia, Bahamas, Cyprus, Djibouti, Georgia, Hungary, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal and the Organization of American States, who are donating sums ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 dollars.

Azerbaijan, Australia, Bahrain, China, Gabon, India, Iraq, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway and Saudi Arabia groups and Taiwan are down for half a million to 7.6 million dollars.

In fact, one of the countries I work for (in my professional life), Uganda, has pledged $200,000. This news release was distributed this morning by the Ugandan Embassy in Washington:
The government of the Republic of Uganda has pledged $200,000 toward relief and rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Ugandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa said the money will be donated to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, led by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. “The Government of Uganda extends its sympathies to the people affected by Hurricane Katrina,” said Minister Kutesa.

“We know that, under the guidance of the two former presidents, money collected by the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund will go where it is needed most and where it can be used best,” said Kutesa, who is in Washington on previously-scheduled business.

President Yoweri Museveni said that “the United States has been generous in responding to natural and humanitarian disasters all over the world, including in Africa. Uganda has more than once been the beneficiary of this generosity, and justice requires us to aid the people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who have lost their homes and loved ones.”

President Museveni added: “We appreciate that, as elder statesmen, Presidents Bush and Clinton are devoting their leadership skills to raising money to help the suffering.”

Minister Kutesa noted that the $200,000 contribution will be transferred to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund immediately.

It took more than 30 years, but Gordon Sinclair's plaintive pleadings are finally being met with a positive response. The sad thing is that such a horrific series of events had to transpire to bring about this result. The ironic thing is, this gave me an unanticipated opportunity to add more Canadian content to this blog -- in addition to news about the Moffatts and Canadian baby names.

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