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Blood of Multitudes 

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When Job of the Bible saw his farm and livelihood ruined, his family killed, and his body covered with boils, he had but one request. “My desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book,” he said.

With more than 150,000 dead and counting (one third of them children) after Dec. 26’s South Asian earthquake and tsunami, all of humanity demands some answer as well.

Instead we get one big, blank stare from the uncaring forces of almighty nature, which never plays favorites or gives advance notice, along with a steady diet of news both good and bad. For the most part, it’s bad.

The good news is that slacker surfers in Sri Lanka have taken time out from tasting the waves to organize small relief efforts. The good news is that world powers are engaged in competition to see who can “out-charity” the other. Japan remains the champion with $500 million pledged while China, now the world’s seventh-largest economy and growing, is still playing Scrooge. This emerging “world power” wouldn’t even lift a finger of its naval power to help deliver water and supplies, and its $63 million should help redefine what U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland calls “stingy.” The good news is that our country has upped its contribution to $350 million and counting. The bad news is that, true our American nature, we keep our own best interests at heart. Secretary of State Colin Powell called our contributions “an investment in national security” or, as the Bush administration has expressed, a means by which we might align disaster-struck nations into our war on terrorism. Gotta look out for No. 1, don’t we?

The good news is that Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has received so many donations it’s asked people to stop sending money. Well, sort of. The bad news is that the world keeps serving up so many tragedies. MSF still needs funds for its efforts in Sudan, along with plenty of other relief projects worldwide. Meanwhile, as reports pour in that child-sex traffickers are snapping up as many tsunami orphans as possible, Sports Illustrated’s online version took the time and trouble to tell us that its swimsuit cover model, Petra Nemcova, narrowly escaped death.

Thankfully, there’s no end of people who want to sober us up, either. The United Nation’s Egeland reminded us of other trouble spots outside the tsunami’s wake. “In the next three to four months as many people may die in eastern Congo as died in the tsunami,” he told Newsweek. You don’t feel like thanking the messenger in times like these, do you?

Like Sept. 11, Dec. 26 reminds us once again that, whether struck from within by terrorists who despise our foreign policy or without by natural disaster, we belong to a larger world full of hurt and hope. That’s a small lesson with an enormous price tag. American writer Cormac McCarthy expressed it best in this line from his novel All the Pretty Horses: “He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost, and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity, and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.”

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