Evacuating the irresponsible

Alright. In one of my recent posts, which you find by clicking here, I wrote about Canada’s efforts to evacuate thousands of Canadians from Lebanon.



Well, as the Globe reports, Prime Minister Harper, who had been in Cyprus “to help in the evacuation effort,” took about 63 evacuees back to Canada with him on his prime ministerial plane yesterday, and, overall, “[m]ore than 1,200 Canadians are expected to arrive in Turkey on several ships over the next day or two”.



This is what our government is doing at great cost and great risk to help our citizens — even if they have dual citizenship, even if most of them were likely in Lebanon voluntarily. And yet some of these evacuees are ungrateful: “The CBC has reported that many who arrived added more complaints about the rescue operations: citing lack of water and food, and that there was no one on board who spoke French, English or Arabic.”



You’ll have to forgive my apparent insensitivity, but: BOO-HOO! What were they expecting? A luxurious cruise out of Beirut — perhaps fine dining and dancing? This is supposedly a rescue operation. A rescue operation to extract civilians who happen to be lucky enough to have Canadian citizenship from a war zone. A war zone? Yes, in a way, but it’s not as if Beirut is like, say, Phnom Penh in 1975 (nor even like Baghdad today). There is bombing, yes, but presumably life goes on as it normally does in much of Lebanon. Normally? Yes. This is Lebanon, not Oregon. An Israeli offensive may not be normal, but it’s not as if that country hasn’t experienced more than its share of violent hardship in the recent past.



Am I insensitive? Maybe. I’m sure these people want out and even at great expense perhaps our government should do what it can to help them, just as other governments are helping their own citizens. (It would look bad not to help them.) But shouldn’t the evacuees and would-be evacuees be held responsible for being there in the first place? TNR’s Martin Peretz puts it well at The Plank:

I have just read the five Lebanon Travel Warnings issued by the Department of State from November 18, 2004 through today, July 19. OK, forget about the last one. It came too late for those trapped in Lebanon now. But people who still don’t take its advice have only themselves to blame. Or they don’t watch television. But the four statements of foreboding that came before — I haven’t gone further back than November 2004 — don’t make Lebanon seem at all inviting, and the insistent travelers — come to think of it — also have only themselves to blame.



In fact, each of the warnings tells you that U.S. air carriers are not permitted to use Beirut International Airport and that the Lebanese carrier, Middle East Airlines, is not allowed to operate in the United States. (Sort of like the warning at Logan Airport warning travelers not to go to Lagos.) The warnings also caution you about suicide bombs, terrorist activities, land mines, unexploded ordnance, and a general atmosphere of violence, predictable and unpredictable. The reader is especially warned against visiting the southern neighborhoods of Beirut, southern Lebanon (especially Sidon), Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley, etc.



Why families would take their kids for long summer vacations into this environment is beyond me. But many have, and a lot of them have been whining on television about how the U.S. government didn’t rescue them promptly (and comfortably) from the touristic mayhem they put themselves in on their own volition and despite the feds’ detailed descriptions of general and specific menace in the country. Many of those who bitched for the cameras seem to me to be especially petulant, even those who have already arrived in Cyprus. They complained about accommodations and the shortage of food, as if they were on a Greek Island cruise boat suddenly deserted by the chef. No sense of individual responsibility either for having put themselves in harm’s way despite State’s effort to keep them at home… or maybe go to Venice instead.



Responsibility. There’s a novel concept.