People to People Solidarity

A chocolate bar prompts American blogger Jeff Jarvis to consider the changing nature of America’s attitude towards foreign aid:

I wasn’t around when the Marshall plan was proposed but I’m sure there was plenty of carping at the time: “Why should we American taxpayers send anything to those murderous Krauts?” But that attitude neither prevailed nor remained. Instead, we look upon Marshall like a giant Hershey bar, a gift gladly given, and a wise investment.

Now unlike the Iraqis, the Germans as a people massed to kill our sons. They murdered six million Jews. They brought the world into a terrible war.

Yet we were more generous to the Germans than we are to the Iraqis.

Is it because they are more alien? Is an Iraqi victim any stranger to us than a European perpetrator?
Is it because we have changed? Have we lost that essential generosity?
Is it because even charity is seen as a sign of globalization and for reasons still quite unclear to me, globalization is presumed to be a sin?
Or is it because the anti-war crowd has managed to demonize anything having to do with Iraq? First, they condemn the humanitarian rescue of the Iraqi people from a despot. Next, they back away even from humanitarian aid and support for the people. They tell us just to leave.

No matter. The answer remains the same: We need to give away Hershey bars — in the form of support, investment, education, exchange. To be able to do that, we first need to make the place secure (using an iron hand to accomplish that) so that it will be safe to give aid. And just as important, we must humanize the Iraqi people in the eyes of Americans.

Jeff wouldn’t be Jeff if he didn’t end his post with an appeal for people to promote Iraqi bloggers as a way of carrying out that humanisation and he links to some of the articulate voices coming across the web from Baghdad that are well worth checking out.

On another point: the chocolate bar Jeff refers to was apparently regularly handed out by American troops during WW2. It might even have ended up in the food packages sent over to some British families by Americans during the war.

I remember as a kid my Dad telling me about the parcels that used to arrive during the war from a family in the States who weren’t related at all but were part of some kind of a pen-friend/solidarity initiative in the US. I don’t know how widespread this sort of activity was but as a kid I was surprised at the idea that English families were once on the receiving end of charity like that.

Jeff’s post prompted me to ask my Dad about those parcels and he remembers the contents of the gift packages: Libby’s tinned fruit cocktail, tinned milk, Armour tinned corned beef hash, Royal powdered puddings, Chiclets chewing gum, Mary Baker cake mix. All treats in the days of rations and powdered eggs.

Around 1980 the man who sent those parcels turned up at our house in Lancashire. It was almost a comic scene – a bloke in a stetson wandering up the street of terrace houses in a milltown to meet the boy to whom had sent those parcels to forty years earlier.

I know charities are busy doing their best for people in Iraq and elsewhere but it is a shame that this kind of direct people-to-people solidarity seems to have disappeared.

I am pretty sure a parcel with a letter inside from a far-away family is a better experience than standing in a queue at the charity warehouse.

If anyone knows of programmes of this kind involving Iraq or anywhere else for that matter please leave a comment and I’d be happy to use the blog to publicise such initiatives.