“Let me tell you a story of a disaster that you have probably never heard of and the overwhelming American response that you should know about,” says one of our favourite comrades Mash. He goes on to recount a US military operation that took place in April 1991 in Bangladesh.
In late spring of 1991 a US Navy Amphibious Task Force (ATF) returning from the Persian Gulf war was diverted, on order of President George H.W. Bush, to the Bay of Bengal.
Less than two weeks ago, on the evening of April 29 1991, Cyclone Marian, a storm with top sustained winds of 160 mph (Category 5), made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm (155 mph) along the coastline of Bangladesh. The resulting 20 foot high tidal wave killed over 138,000 people and left over 5 million people homeless. Marian was one of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record.
The United States responded on May 10 1991 by launching Operation Sea Angel, a relief operation that involved over 7000 US soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen. The man leading the effort, Lt. General Henry Stackpole, declared, “We went to Kuwait in the name of liberty, and weâ€™ve come to Bangladesh in the name of humanity.”
That operation is estimated to have saved as many as 200,000 lives. Drishtipat’s Rumi Ahmed recall that fateful event (and has responses from servicemen who actually served during that humanitarian mission).
The point here, as Mash also makes, is obvious. The United States has massive operational capability in saving people during difficult circumstances and it has done so repeatedly, including offering vital help during the recent Kashmir earthquake and the one in Bam, Iran.
It is on this basis that many also supported the war in Iraq: that it would help saves lives from Saddam Hussain’s brutality. I think that was/is a laudable aim in itself. But I did not support it because, as a keen observer of American politics, I’d come to the conclusion that Bush cared little for the lives of non-Americans. He pulled out of half a dozen international treaties before 9/11, making the world more dangerous, in the name of American self-interest, and because the rhetoric for attacking Iraq was deeply dishonest. There were flaws in the reasoning, the evidence and the operations. There was no coherent planning and it showed from the start.
To classify all American intervention as good is misplaced too. They were bitterly opposed to India entering the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, one of the few wars during the 20th century that saved more lives than it cost. So not everyone who opposed their intervention in February 2003 wanted to let more Iraqis die and not everyone grateful for their help is an imperialist lackey. History shows the picture is a lot more muddled.
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Filed in: Bangladesh,Current affairs,United States