A tragically appropriate horrific ending to a horrendous year. I'm trying hard to think about what good happened in 2004, and must confess to be at a loss. To be sure, whatever humanly devised disasters, and there were many, everything including the high casualty levels of conflict, pales in comparison to the havoc and devastation that, without warning, befell hundreds of thousands innocents in a matter of minutes across eleven countries on the Indian Sea. The numbers of dead and displaced are the kind one can't really comprehend or personalize. The coincident death of Susan Sontag, an individual whose loss we can define and appreciate, reminds us how precious each individual life is, how much the absence of a single human being can mean. So, too, the nearly 1400 American young men and women who have given their lives in Iraq, another 17 of whose heart wrenching photos were shown this evening on the PBS News Hour – precious individuals leaving behind identifiable grieving mothers, fathers, wives and children in our neighborhoods. But the victims of the Tsunami are not the only unknown. Equally anonymous and uncounted are the Iraqi, Afghani or other victims of that pathetic euphemism called "collateral damage." Be assured someone, if not us, knows their number and mourns their loss as do the survivors of this week's disaster.
It took our President three days to interrupt his Crawford vacation long enough to make a public statement on the Tsunami tragedy. One can't imagine Bill Clinton having waited three hours. It reminds me of Bush's delayed reaction to the 9/11 attack so quickly forgotten and forgiven by those who didn't want to think that their President could be absent for so many hours in its aftermath. It's funny how much more spontaneous human empathy we got from the morally discredited Clinton than from the sanctimoniously faith-imbued Bush who is so obsessed with the right to life of the unborn, but who has no problem with putting the already born (including potential victims of assault weapons) in harm's way.
If you find these words bitter, they merely reflect the total frustration of many of us who can't understand how so many of our fellow citizens were taken in by the shell game that constituted the November election. A majority of those people believed to the end that Saddam played a key role in 9/11, a myth that the President and his associates saw no reason to correct even if they knew better. It served their purposes, helped keep them in power. Now we look ahead to four more years, to that unspent political capital and what it might mean in the context of an ultra-right political agenda. Meanwhile, even without this most recent natural catastrophe, we find ourselves at great peril, far less safe, with no end in sight -- no light much less sense of an ending tunnel. Our standing in the world remains diminished and, as Tom Friedman of the Times and others point out, we are concurrently losing our edge in science and technology. We can borrow billions to wage war, but are spending far less that is necessary on educating our young. We've crossed the bridge to the 21st Century and half the schools in the country are talking about teaching Creationism along with, or in the place of, Darwinism, the former being proven fact the latter a mere theory. We've crossed the bridge, but seem to be traveling back toward the dark past not forward to the promise of the future. I'm normally an optimist, but the realist within me sees no silver lining in that, no quick happy Hollywood ending. We have a lot of work to do in changing the course of this train that's left the station on its way to the wrong destination. We better get on with it, without delay. Where are those damned breaks?