Citizens of the World?

President George W. Bush has been criticized for his slow response to the tsunami disaster and for the “stingy” amount of U.S. government aid ($15 million) he was initially willing to offer the victims. The president has since raised that amount to $350 million, but governments of smaller and less wealthy nations have contributed much more proportionally than the United States. Bush is unimpressed by such comparisons and used the relief effort to slyly deprecate what government can do in such situations, extolling the private generosity-and thus the moral superiority-of individual Americans.

Americans are, in fact, a generous people, but the U.S. government’s nonmilitary aid budget is miserly at best. Fortunately, U.S. troops took a prominent logistical role in getting the outpouring of aid from around the globe to the survivors. Even in time of war, government must perform humanitarian tasks not directly related to national security at home and abroad. Franklin D. Roosevelt, another wartime president, drew lessons from his experience that President Bush would do well to heed. In Roosevelt’s last inaugural address (January 20, 1945), with victory in World War II close at hand, he was determined to broaden his countrymen’s notions of the role America must play in the world. “We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace, that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away,” he...

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