A Force for Good: US Contributions to Humanitatian Aid

BY LAINEY SCHMIDT

In discussing the United States’ role as a global police force, as your faithful correspondents have been tasked with this quarter, it is easy to narrow our focus to a strict definition of what a global police force is in itself. We often examine ways that the US has exerted influence (covertly or overtly) in other governments, times the US has militarily backed governments or resistance efforts, or how the US responds to perceived threats abroad. However, a police force has responsibilities beyond aggression and defense; they have responsibilities to the community. In this sense, the US has at times acted in a humanitarian role to relieve global suffering and give protection. What is important here is the fact that these actions do not necessitate an opposing force; rather, in these cases, the United States provides protection to a different country simply for protection’s sake.

In March of 2011, Japan suffered from a devastating earthquake and following tsunami. In response, there was an incredible outpouring of support from the international community in the form of humanitarian efforts and assistance. One of the biggest players was the US military itself. The United States responded to the disaster with its best resources to try to help those affected across the globe.

Called Operation Tomodachi (meaning “friend”), the US military operation worked to provide support to Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Not only did they provide food, drinking water, blankets, and other essentials, but they provided manpower and technological assistance. Troops worked to search out survivors that were stuck under the wreckage, they helped clear debris in order to reach remote coastal towns, and they transported supplies to those stuck. Military equipment was also put to use: aircrafts helped monitor radiation levels, and many aircraft carriers provided much needed drinking water.

While oftentimes the United States’ role as a hegemon is criticized throughout the international community, the overwhelmingly positive response to initiatives like these show the positive side of being such a globally involved power. Though it is true that there were also some selfish interests in these actions – it is, after all, never a bad thing to boost your reputation abroad – the effects of the operation speak for themselves.

The United States’ role as a global police force extends beyond military intervention, but also beyond executive decisions from the top of the chain: US citizens themselves felt a need to reach out to Japan after the disaster. Identifying as a US citizen can bring a feeling of international responsibility, and this often leads to a positive global impact.

The United States’ actions as a global police force should not go without criticism. The fact that the US even occupies this role should be questioned as well. But it is important to look at the effects this power has that extend beyond force and aggression. Yet this aspect of US involvement abroad is often overlooked: a police force has the fundamental responsibility to protect its community, and in this sense, the US is a potent force for the betterment of global citizens’ lives under duress.

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Lainey Schmidt is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at akschmidt@wustl.edu

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