So there I was. It was 1967 and I was eyeball-to-eyeball with my black-and-white TV. As I watched, a group of very distressed Africans stared back at me. It was the start of civil war in Nigeria.
The nation of Biafra had been born, and all hell was about to break loose as members of the Igbo tribe waged a doomed war for independence. Each year things got worse.
People were going hungry and dying because they lacked proper medicine, food, clothing and shelter. Politicians, members of the clergy, social activists, etc., decried the death and violence — but the aid that came always seemed to be so small for such a large amount of suffering. Since everyone knew that things were going to get worse, I couldn't see why it hadn't been stopped ahead of time. It was my first introduction to the world's response to African suffering.
As I turn on my TV today it seems that not much has changed. The only thing that's different is that the pictures are in color now.
I wish that I could say that things are about to change but alas, that is not the case. In our collective existence there are certain events that are the absolute definition of a wake-up call. One of those events was Hurricane Katrina, because it showcased that we could be as inept at dealing with our own disasters as we have with the disasters of other nations. Perhaps that is because war-making — and its tools — are our highest priority.
Since the end of World War II, there has been a fundamental change in our humanitarian priorities and capabilities. In his farewell speech in 1964, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions." He was right — we annually spend more on our military than the net income of all U.S. corporations. This conjunction of our immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence —- economic, political and even spiritual —- is felt in every city, every state house and every office of the federal government."
Ike's speech is one of the greatest presidential speeches of all time. It foretold, with great accuracy, the military direction of our nation. And it came from a president that had been a general himself — obviously, he had a professional understanding of what was coming.
I pause only momentarily to lament this reality. There is too much to do to take time to grieve for too long. Let us now acknowledge that what has not been done for ourselves must be done by ourselves.
We must get help for Africa. As Malcolm used to say — by any means necessary.
Samuel Justiss Vance is a columnist for BlackNews.com and the CEO of Talkinggreen.com which produces the syndicated radio segment A Positive Moment.