It seems very quaint and all 20th Century to say that a picture is worth 1,000 words. In the currency of today's social-media driven world, a dramatic or emotional image is worth so much more than that. In the midst of the Summer of Trump, Deflategate and other shark-flavored Lite News stories, America had been paying almost no attention to the burgeoning refugee crisis of mostly Middle Easterners, mostly seeking access to Europe. That changed a bit last week with news that 71 people had been found suffocated in the back of a truck that was trying to smuggle them through Austria.
Still. the news of such a tragedy -- illustrated by bland pictures of a poultry truck on the side of an expressway -- wasn't a conversation changer here in the United States. That all changed yesterday because of the death of just one lone boy, a 3-year-old Syrian named Aylan Kurdi who washed ashore on a beach in Turkey still wearing his tennis shoes and shorts, drowned as his family attempted the perilous sea crossing to Greece in a rubber raft.
The hard-to-stomach images of such a youthful corpse, left for a rescue worker to scoop from the shallow surf, hit the front page of almost every newspaper in a grief-stricken Europe, and many here in the U.S. There are conflicting reports tonight over whether the family, fleeing their war-ravaged homeland, had taken to the water only after Canada had turned down a request for a visa. But the images of a dead child did place an indelible stamp of inhumanity on a crisis that should not have reached this point.
It's natural instinct for many people -- including Americans -- to want to reach out, to help these refugees in whatever way possible. Here's a list of some ways you can get involved. Every outstretched arm is a wonderful thing, but when millions of people are on the move, more than personal philanthropy is required. The much-discussed response -- or in the case of many nations, lack of a response -- by the European Union has mostly compounded the tragedy so far. But it's also time for a conversation about how little the United States and its properous allies -- not just Canada but right next door in the Middle East -- have done.
It would be a bit too much -- even for a dirty-freaking-hippie Dick Cheney-basher like me -- to assert that U.S. caused the current crisis through its nearly 13 years of dropping bombs and firing missiles from Central Asia to Africa and countless places in between. The refugees are coming from a slew of nations -- Syria most prominently, but also Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Eritrea, and elsewhere -- for a variety of reasons, including sectarian warfare, the hangover from the Arab Spring, poverty, even droughts exacerbated by global warming (true story). Oh, and also those military campaigns launched or aided by the U.S. and our Western friends.
It's flat-out hypocritical for America not to take more responsibility. Our lousy "war of choice" in Iraq and more than a decade of military involvement in Afghanistan has forced thousands to flee for their lives. In Syria, the U.S. didn't invent the war -- but over the last year or so we've made a major effort to get involved, dropping bombs on hundreds of ISIS targets there. If we're dropping so much weaponry in a nation where each political or military group seems more evil than the next, you'd think the least we could do is take in some of the helpless families caught in the crossfire.
But we don't. America has accepted a little more than 1,000 of Syria's war refugees. That number is supposed to increase eight-fold in 2016, but the 8,000 number is just a drop in the bucket compared to the 800,000 Syrian refugees welcomed by Germany. It could be worse. America's closest allies in the region -- Syria's neighbors like Saudi Arabia and the ridiculously wealthy Gulf states -- basically aren't accepting any Syrian refugees at all. We must do a lot better, and encourage our friends to do the same. That's partly sound foreign policy, since the implosion of the EU over this refugee crisis would bring horrible fallout. But mainly we have a moral obligation. It's the right thing to do.
There may even be a broader lesson in all of this. If the initial reaction in much of Europe -- but especially in Hungary, which is building a massive wall, imprisoning undocumented migrants, with a leader who wants to keep his nation Christian -- sounds vaguely familiar in the Summer of Trump, it should. The hellish scenes of the last week -- migrants found dead in a truck or van -- are old news to folks along the U.S. border with Mexico. If there are no words when a dead 3-year-old washes ashore in Turkey, what have we done about the dozens who die on trails in our own parched Arizona desert? Do we want to follow the sad, timeworn path of Hungary? Or do we want to do better?