Bangladesh has been hit by a cyclone

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNN) — More than 1,000 people have died in Bangladesh after a devastating tropical cyclone ripped through the western coast of the country, and the toll is expected to rise, a government spokesman tells CNN.

15,000 people hurt, 1,000 missing – it will be worse before it gets better. Villages are flattened, wells poisoned by salt water flooding, crops ruined .. ugh. Puts natural disasters in the West in perspective, hunh?

Oh and the fleet will be ashore soon

U.S. military officials said Friday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was ready to dispatch Navy vessels carrying 3,500 Marines to the region to help in recovery efforts.

It is expected that the USS Kearsarge and USS Wasp would move from the Gulf of Oman. The USS Tarawa recently left Hawaii, and it could go to Bangladesh as well, officials said.

Semper Fi – again. I’m sure the Army barracks we used at the airfield in Dhaka in 1991 are still there, as are the spiffy flush toilets connected to the open sewers.   Watch your step at night, is all I can say – in a country that is pool-table flat the sewage doesn’t flow so much as amble.

Subject line hat tip
Cross posted to Space For Commerce.

1 Comment

  1. Robert A. Wymer, cdr/mc/usn(ret)

    *Essay written for The Naval Institute, 1994.


    By: Robert A. Wymer, CDR/MC/USNR

    Recent changes in world politics have been staggering and swift. They include: the dissolution of The Soviet Empire, escalating world economic competition, and new threats to world security which have shifted from that of belligerent superpowers to smaller, though more numerous, conflicts rooted in ethnic intolerance and regional hostilities.
    The biggest bully has fallen from his perch, like Humpty Dumpty, and his shattered pieces have surrealistically taken the shape of smaller bullies and assorted outlaws to menace the peace of the world anew.

    Fueling the fires of conflict are conditions present in too many countries: anarchy, absence of clear authority, lack of government services and protections, or outlaw governments in power by force of arms. Interestingly enough, these conditions bear some resemblance to parts of our own continent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

    The questions of contemporary concern seem to be: Should we be involved in these international problems? If so, to what degree and with which modes should we intervene? Diplomatic? Military? Humanitarian assistance? Technical assistance?

    What follows is a presentation of a rationale for international engagement. It advances a practical thesis regarding the role of democracy and its attendant values — an understanding of which I believe to be prerequisite, not only to the application of sea power, but to the formulation of a sound foreign policy.

    Current world problems, despite their enormity, despite their suddenness and unexpectedness, despite their complexity, are really nothing new to this world. Therefore, history should be very helpful to us as we consider what lessons can be brought to bear from our American experience. That experience, if examined thoughtfully, brings one inevitably to focus on the concept of democracy.

    Our system is referred to here using the broader meaning of “democracy” which stipulates that government is the servant of its citizens, regardless of whether control is exercised directly or through a system of representation. Smaller nations might effectively operate with a system of citizen input that is more direct or perhaps less complicated than our system of representative democracy.

    The idea of democracy, for our nation, provided the philosophical flux that welded together a citizenry of unparalleled diversity. The citizens of these United States comprise diversity — in ethnicity, in religion, in culture — that is unique to this world in terms of its breadth, duration, general level of prosperity, and relative paucity of internal violence.

    Some may argue this point, but recall we are taking the historical view for the purpose of applying workable solutions to problems that are afflicting much of civilization.

    Some academics studying comparative cultures and civilizations are seemingly apologetic for the material successes of our nation. They cite factors such as our immense, hospitable land mass, abundant natural resources, even luck as principal causes for the disparate results throughout the world in human achievement and standard of living. Indeed, we have been blessed. However, perusal of material and human potential in other parts of the world exposes the shallowness of such conclusions.

    Is our concept of democracy one that we should recommend to all of our neighbors in this world? Are aspects of democracy of such fundamental importance to humanity that we should expect acceptance by all other nations and peoples? These are points to ponder — epic in scope, fundamental to our future and that of our children.

    Just what does the word “democracy” mean to citizens of a developing nation such as Bangladesh, Somalia, or perhaps a sub-Saharan African nation? What is it and what can it do for them? Can our values, our institutions be meaningful and functionally applicable within nations of differing cultural and social backgrounds?

    The answer to this last question is YES! Firstly, they are not “our values.” Values, in the last analysis, must be agreed upon by all, held in common, and continually developed and improved upon if ethnic and religious warring is to stop. The advantages of democracy are numerous to individuals and imperative to the long term social cohesion and stability of nations. Prerequisite values are necessary, as will be explained in paragraphs to follow.

    These are not statements of prejudicial, subjective opinion, but of fact, based on history and experience. The contemporary idea that, on an international level, all social, political and religious questions are insoluble, even foolhardy to ponder, is frankly irrational, even cowardly — an excuse for the neglect of scholarship and a cause for the paralysis of thought and advancement in these areas.

    Should we even be concerned with the conditions in other countries, on other continents? Should we expend effort, treasure, or risk the lives of our service men and women to shape or impose our solutions on other peoples of this world? Or, should we only react when our survival is threatened directly by a significant force capable of inflicting harm on our persons, our property or our livelihood?

    The answer to these questions lies in numbers: the numbers of dead in two world wars and countless other conflicts in this century. We cannot senselessly ignore problems or important developments among neighbors, allies, or trading partners. Matters that portend extreme social disorder, threats to the survival of populations — be they directed toward citizens, institutions or environments — can be a significant threat to our own well-being and survival.

    The world is too small. We do have obligations as neighbors. To put it bluntly: morally, intellectually, realistically, isolationism is not an option. Ultimately our own security and prosperity is dependent on world security and a steady growth in the prosperity of all nations.

    Unfortunately the world contains a subclass of human beings all too willing to take rather than earn, dominate rather than participate, destroy rather than build. There are three principal avenues of fighting these perversities:
    1) Opposing such tendencies by maintaining and using a credibly superior force.
    2) Teaching and sharing human values.
    3) Teaching and sharing ideals that foster opportunity and prosperity for all citizens of this world.

    All of humanity shares in the historical genesis of these values and ideals. They originate in a belief in and a commitment to individual rights; they materialize in a political philosophy called democracy, which is in turn rendered viable and operable by allegiance to requisite values and institutions.

    If our children are to have any hope for a secure and peaceful world in the future, then we must have an appreciation for and dedication toward democracy and the values that are its under-pinnings.

    Why it is that democracy does not take root in every kind of soil? Is this explained by the nature of democracy or by the nature of the soil? Of a certainty, we know that democracy will fail to take root where citizens do not respect the rights of their neighbors, where citizens do not respect or obey laws, or where there is an insufficient pool of principled leaders. Principled leaders are not always hard to find, but all too often the outcome correlates more with who has the weapons rather than who has the principles.

    On our way home from the Persian Gulf War in 1991, our amphibious task force was detoured to Bangladesh for the purpose of giving logistical support. A cyclone had resulted in almost 300,000 dead and displaced. Subsequent statistics have reported 138,000 dead.

    While ashore, I had an interesting talk with a Bengali major. I asked for his ideas concerning his country’s problems and directions. This triggered an informative list of his government’s priorities, which he enumerated with apparent concern and love for his countrymen and knowledge of his role and responsibility.

    High on his list was population control, then health, education, and economic betterment. His discussion on these topics revealed that he was an educated man with some knowledge of sociology, politics and an awareness of current worldwide economic upheavals and realignments.

    The people of Bangladesh have a thirst for knowledge and are groping for solutions to their problems. They are certainly taking note of the swift movement of events in Europe, Russia, and the Pacific Rim. The technology of communication and access to information is having a profound effect on what they think and how they think.

    The most agonizing, frustrating problems that developing nations endure are related to poverty, population, and a pitiable standard of living that does not share in the fruits of modernization.

    There are many who make the argument that primitive ways are just as good or even desirable, and that ancient cultures should be preserved. The question is: preserved at what sacrifice, for whose benefit, and at whose expense? The argument makes less sense when we are compelled to witness the miseries of these societies: poverty, war, death from disease and preventable disasters.

    Looking at the Bengali countryside, idyllic and Eden-like though it appeared (interior areas not affected by the Cyclone), the health problems this scene represented were substantial: inadequate clean water sources in many areas, lack of adequate sewer and septic systems, land cultivated by ancient methods that have definite productivity limits — not a bad thing considering the soil’s benefit and its long term capacity to sustain those who live on it.

    Nevertheless, there are limits to the productive capacity of the soil and these limits become strained for a variety of natural and cyclical causes. If the population numbers exceed, by even a small margin, the capacity of the land to grow food or to dissipate the pathogens of human disease, then the death rate climbs to restore the natural balance — the dispassionate, impersonal ratio of humans to square miles.

    The pressure of population is what induces people near coastal areas in Bangladesh to inhabit low lands. The government forbids this, but people move there anyway. Then, sooner or later, the inevitable happens and the ratio of humanity to habitable land is again restored. The Bengali major seemed to have a good understanding of this relationship between population and death due to disease and natural catastrophe.

    Population control seems to be the most direct method of attacking this problem. Understanding this brings to focus a specter of futility that hangs over the kind of relief effort displayed in Bangladesh by the hard working volunteers and dedicated medical teams from so many countries: To save a child today is to condemn another for tomorrow – a sad fact, but apparently true for these people in this particular ecosystem.

    In order to approach solutions to these problems of developing nations, there are several other relationships to grasp here in addition to the population-poverty or population-death rate relationship. One is the relationship between reproductive rates and the hope for upward mobility. Another is the relationship between productivity and standard of living.

    Reproduction rates are intrinsically related to the level of poverty. Here is a fact to be reckoned with: The political environment, as regards economic and personal freedoms has a profound effect on population levels. To put it more succinctly: The hope of upward mobility moderates reproduction better than any birth control device yet devised. It can be seen from our own economic history that the middle class, and a high percentage of lower classes, tend to voluntarily limit reproduction in order to secure the possibility of upward mobility.

    One must be careful about talking of or viewing statistics of income classes (upper, middle, lower) in the United States. Over any given time period these are not always the same people. Lower class people move up, and especially during hard times, upper class people move down. These groupings historically are in a constant state of flux.

    If a long term salutary effect on the poverty levels of developing nations is desired, we must have concern, not just for the hope, but also for the reality of upward mobility. Therefore, we should take a closer look at those aspects of society that stifle and those that enhance upward mobility.

    The social milieu prerequisite to universal access to upward mobility requires a social and political infrastructure that is not easy to come by. Our own, after more than 200 years, is still in a dynamic state of evolution and leaves much to be desired. Its key elements are not universally appreciated or understood among the peoples of this world, however — nor, sorry to say, among all Americans.

    Upward mobility is stifled by tyranny, by lawlessness, by lack of social institutions that guarantee individual rights. Additionally, it should be obvious that upward mobility cannot exist in societies that exclude: 1) The many basic freedoms we in this country take for granted: freedom of thought, association, and mobility (free enterprise cannot exist without these). 2) The countless rights we have that are protected by our system of laws and courts, and 3) The ultimate foundation from which everything above is derived: a value system that esteems the dignity of the individual.
    The antithesis of this social structure is Tyranny. And, let us be frank, the major cause of the massive poverty of most developing nations has been and continues to be Tyranny. Historically we have never lived without it. An equal opportunity perversion, tyranny can be perpetrated by any ethnic or political group, by the left, by the right, or by a small gang of local hoodlums. It makes little difference to the citizens of this world if they are baked to ashes by a rightist Hitler or frozen into ice bricks by a leftist Stalin.

    One reason tyranny enjoys fertile ground in this world relates to a shameful, philosophical cowardice among many Western intellectuals who shun the very problems and questions enumerated in this essay. Western thinkers and educators are not providing a philosophy that can energize and give direction to its citizens or its leaders.

    When tyranny is a problem within smaller nations or within local communities of our own nation, outside help is usually necessary and morally justifiable. On those who have physical or military strength falls the obligation to use it if justice requires defending. The alternative is to watch as we are consumed piecemeal by injustice in a world populated only by victims, tyrants and cowards.

    Government has a role in the genesis of prosperity and human achievement. Protecting the rights and maintaining the security of its citizens are essential government responsibilities.

    A key right Americans possess that fuels upward mobility, free enterprise and a broad level of prosperity is the right to personal property (not an absolute right in any case), a right easily and deceptively eroded by the ubiquitous and universal tendency of governments (our own included) to impose confiscatory levels of taxation. Governments cannot levy a castrating tax and then bid the geldings be fruitful.

    Governments also tend, sometimes with noble intentions, to usurp or dominate major assets or resources, either rendering them less productive or confiscating the lion’s share of their productivity. These points speak to a pivotal issue: the size of governments and the proclivity of governments to grow uncontrollably.

    Government’s role in essential areas should never be minimized or ignored. Governments have a legitimate and appropriate role in impartially protecting the rights of and regulating the activities of business, labor, financial institutions, and consumers such that principles of fairness and social justice are served and promoted. Laissez-faire Capitalism is just as unworkable and unjust a system as the Communist worker’s paradise.

    Let us look briefly at a few reasons why the Communist “worker’s paradise” fell short of our needs in this century. Karl Marx apparently felt that the rights and interests of the working class could be served and guaranteed only by the State. Marx failed to foresee two developments that impacted monumentally on the political and economic course of the Western World.

    First of all, Marx did not envision the viability or strength of the labor movements of this century or the fact that constitutional law would not only tolerate such organizations but would actually protect them.

    Secondly, Marx did not envision that law, growing out of a commitment to individual rights, would guarantee the rights of all regardless of class. His objective may have been social justice, and perhaps circumstances of the times pointed him toward his solution: to mandate a classless society, as opposed to guaranteeing by laws and by constitutions the rights of all classes.

    The extent that Western Governments have failed or were anticipated to fail in this later mission explains almost entirely the appeal of the Communist Party among Westerners in this century.

    Democracy and capitalism remain alive and well and have triumphed in a ideological struggle of epic dimensions. It is important to note that we did not win this struggle by presenting a superior case intellectually, or by convincing others that the virtues of democracy are irrefutable. Those in this world who remain unconvinced of the economic and social benefits of democracy and capitalism are legion. The real reason we prevailed over Communism can be attributed to the impracticality, inefficiency and intolerable nature of totalitarian governments.
    There is a philosophical argument that Communists advanced regarding “ownership.” They feared that ownership would tend to concentrate in the hands of the privileged, the selfish, the bourgeoisie, who will then use that property or that ownership of businesses or industries to further themselves at the expense of those who were not owners.
    This fear, which energized the Communism movement, was credible a century ago. It did not materialize because the laws, the constitutions, and the institutions of most Western Nations, effectively worked to require stewardship as a condition of ownership.
    Properties, businesses, and corporations cannot lay fallow or non-productive or non-competitive or without social benefit within an environment of the competing interests of free men. If nothing else, property produces taxes. Economic forces within our capitalist system tend to move most properties, over time, into the hands of those who can add value to them, i.e.: provide the best stewardship. The voting power and the consumer power of citizens in a free democracy tend to insure this result.
    Question: Considering the “value added” or “responsible stewardship” principle of a just transaction of property transfer, was anyone cheated when pioneers purchased Governors Island near Manhattan for two ax heads, a string of beads and a few nails? See:

    Capitalism now faces a new challenge just as threatening as Communism: the ever increasing share of productivity (and therefore wealth) attributable to capital investment as opposed to the share of productivity attributable to the labor of individuals. We can surmise that even the poorest of nations will at some point face this same dilemma.

    Whatever choices we make in the United States, right or wrong, the consequences should be instructive to developing nations. Conceivably, developing nations may make relevant choices or innovations instructive to developed nations.

    Three actions at this point would seem appropriate for our own economy: 1) Government should free up and encourage capital flow into the growth and development of business and industry of all kinds. 2) The American Business community should encourage, and make possible wide-spread ownership and participation in businesses, large and small. Loyalty and productivity are enhanced when employees are also owners. 3) American Workers must realize that if they desire affluence and security, they must educate themselves and their children so that they are prepared for the job markets of the future. They must understand that their personal security lies in what they can earn, save, invest and own.

    It can be said of any society that a significant majority of them must be productive, producing for their own and their neighbor’s needs, or that society will fail economically. These objectives require attention to personal, individual development on a scale that is unprecedented. Governments that hamper or discourage any of these activities do their citizens a great disservice.

    One of the more damaging disservices perpetrated by unenlightened governments is to monopolize capital, the life blood of any economy — through excessive taxation, waste or mismanagement.

    There is an economic truism that governments, lawmakers, and public servants everywhere should never forget: All costs, all taxes, all economic burdens of any society are finally, in the last analysis, borne by wage earners. And by wage earners I exclude no one, regardless of class or position – these are the producers, the doers, really the salt of the earth. They pay their own way; they ultimately pay the salaries of all those working in government, and they pay for the benefits given to those not working at all.
    A worrisome trend among Western governments relates to labor. Jobs in areas such as manufacturing and textiles have always afforded jobs for large segments of the population not able or willing to pursue the academic or technical skills required for many contemporary jobs.
    We are allowing corporations to send plants and facilities to nations that in effect, sanction slave labor. We can expect several results from such actions: 1) Job options will be fewer among our own citizens, 2) We will be strengthening and enriching totalitarian regimes of many nations rather than helping their citizens to improve their standard of living, and 3) we may be creating conditions that will lead to a war scenario similar to our own Civil War, but fought on a global scale. The question is (disregarding the moral issues) can economies, based on freedom sustain a peaceful relationship with economies based on what amounts to slavery, or worse, child labor?

    Regarding poverty as it relates to reproductive rates, the following assertions may be counter to the wisdom that has guided our own social policies during this century. Many are persuaded that affluence comes first (justifying evermore government largesse), then the drop in birth rates follows.
    This is not the case in most situations and is not the sequence that usually characterizes the upward mobility of those coming out of poverty within free nations. In most instances, voluntary limitation of the number of children individuals procreate precedes upward mobility, where such opportunity exists and is utilized.

    Not only must the opportunities for upward mobility exist, but individuals must choose to avail themselves of those opportunities and must choose a life style that is not in conflict with those goals. Moderating reproduction opens that door of opportunity wider. Unrestrained reproduction more often slams it shut condemning a whole family, perhaps a whole generation, potentially a whole nation, to a life of relative poverty and social dependence.

    Regarding the relationship between productivity and standard of living: Any improvement in standard of living brought into a developing area from the outside is not self-sustaining. Those improvements must be sustained by the productivity of the individuals living on that land.
    Limitation on the ratio of humans to square miles is a function of the productivity of the humans occupying that land. A square mile in many areas on the east coast of the United States sustains much greater populations than the most population dense areas of Bangladesh, India or China.

    The difference is modern plumbing, sewer systems, food distribution, trash disposal, and a plethora of other essential services, private and public, that ensure against the death and disease that limits the ratio of humans to square miles in areas without these utilities and conveniences.

    These utilities and conveniences do not come cheaply nor do they accomplish their own preventive maintenance. The inhabitants must be productive to the extent that they have surplus income to give in taxes for governments to maintain utilities or to use for directly purchasing these services from other sources.

    Therefore, a totally agrarian society, especially one using primitive methods of production, cannot possibly sustain modern utilities or what we would regard as essential services the lack of which we might find appalling or primitive. It would behoove us and developing nations to understand this relationship between productivity and standard of living. The alternative is to be perpetually dependent upon the productivity of others.

    There is a need, and we have an obligation, to teach and encourage the application of practical, time-tested solutions to the problems of developing nations. The solutions will require: 1) establishment of governments that grant broad freedoms and espouse respect for certain essential rights of individuals; 2) social institutions, courts, and representative governmental bodies that protect those freedoms and rights; 3) enforcement arms (police/military) subservient to the people and their representatives that will protect citizens from criminality (citizenry cannot pursue any of these objectives without a reasonable degree of peace and security — a major problem in many of our own inner cities); and 4) education of the citizenry to the end that a majority will value freedom, individual rights and the opportunity to be productive to such an extent that they will willingly make the personal sacrifices necessary to render such a social system workable and durable.
    What of regions or nation states that lack the material or human resources to create or sustain such institutions? They must align themselves with a larger nation or group of states in a relationship, that mirrors in the essentials, the relationship between our States and our Federal Government.
    What of regions or nations enslaved by corrupt, tyrannical leadership deemed criminal by most civilized peoples of the world? A conglomerate of free nations, united by principle and purpose can easily dispose of such situations. Unquestioned superior military strength and the resolve to use it would render almost all such encounters bloodless. Once criminal leadership is deposed, then occupation or caretaker governments can create the governmental, legal, security and commercial institutions needed to sustain a functional society. There is ample precedent for this model … both Germany and Japan, after WWII, were pacified and revitalized in this manner. Only lack of principled world leadership has prevented us from applying these methods to Iraq, to Yugoslavia, to Haiti, to numerous African nations. Again, it all rests on whether we desire to live in a world of peace and freedom, or a world where a majority of inhabitants are victims enslaved by tyrants, overseen by the rest of us who remain unprincipled cowards.


    Disaster relief and assistance in providing security will likely be an increasingly important mission for our military at home and abroad. We have the capacity to assist developing nations in areas of disease prevention and supplementation of basic subsistence, especially after natural or man-made catastrophes.

    However, it should be realized that such assistance only buys time. And if that time is not used intelligently and constructively to establish the political and social infrastructure required to bring about guarantees of individual rights and opportunities, then what has been bought, in actuality, is the status quo for a level of disease, death and perpetual warring that is characteristic for that particular society.

    Our first obligation as neighbors is to share. However, sharing only material advantage will not change or sustain acceptable standards of living among peoples of developing nations. Witness the result of tremendous wealth brought to nations like Iraq and Libya by the West’s development of their petroleum resources. More lasting and more effective will be the sharing of our knowledge, our convictions, our experience, our mistakes, such that others might profit by them. And we can hold in readiness our military strength to discourage those in this world convinced that the only way to prosper is through acts of violence, war, enslavement, or tyranny.

    Long term solutions lie in the promulgation and application of values that have proven their worth over the last 200 years: liberty, individual dignity, tolerance of the rights of others, government of, by and for citizens. These values and aspirations are fundamental to the human spirit and can be kept from surfacing among good and honest men only by deliberate deception or by force of arms. Tiananmen Square was testimony to this truth.

    America, of course, has no monopoly on democracy or democratic institutions. We could be considered more the beneficiaries of the idea rather than the originators. However, over the past two centuries we have played a key role in advancing the concept of democracy and in defending it from many bent on seeing it destroyed.

    The emergence of democracy in our culture and in our nation has been a tedious process of evolving and defining a set of political and social values; an effort not to be taken for granted; an effort employing the brains of many great minds and draining the veins of many brave men, both civilian and military.

    Remembering who these individuals were and what they stood for will help answer the oft asked question, “Who are we?” And who we really are, let us be reminded (contrary to conventional wisdom), is not related to ancestry, ethnicity, or even culture, because these are all merely externals — externals that divide more often than unite, externals that revile logic more often than elucidate truth, externals that have caused almost all wars and have generated almost all attitudes of intolerance.

    Who we are relates to what we value, what we stand for, and what we hope for — now and for the future.

    The task of forging and improving democracy has no end point in sight. Faults, imperfections and shortcomings seem always to abound. But, in the last analysis, the destiny of democracy in this world is in the hands of individuals who appreciate and understand the value and meaning of democracy, individuals who appreciate and understand the accomplishments and ideals of those who have gone before them.

    This heritage will hopefully inspire the eternal dedication and vigilance of free men and women everywhere. The knowledge and appreciation of this heritage should and must sustain and strengthen those of us in the military, giving perpetual meaning and purpose to our every mission.