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Coming to the aid of others

May 25, 2008

Re "Save us from the rescuers," Opinion, May 18

To David Rieff and his viewpoint that would abandon aid to hundreds of thousands in Myanmar rather than engage in a confrontation with a hostile government, I would ask his point of view if his son or daughter were trapped in such a country. Rieff apparently takes the logical notion "to err on the side of caution" and throws it out the window with such callousness that it makes the reader wonder just where he left his moral compass.

Josef Stalin said: "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." I'd have to say Rieff seems philosophically aligned with modern history's worst brutes. Shame on him.

Gary Kaskel

Sherman Oaks

Rieff's contention that aid groups like Oxfam overstate casualties following natural disasters is despicable. He presents this claim without a shred of evidence to support it. Where does Rieff get his information? When tsunamis and cyclones hit developing nations, who is Rieff to say what an acceptable number of casualties is before we Westerners grow concerned? If the Myanmar cyclone turns out to have claimed 50,000 lives instead of 100,000, does that mean our aid dollars are misspent? At what number of deaths would Mr. Rieff rise from his easy chair and lend a hand to an effected nation? There are those of us who believe that even a few dozen people left to bleed and die are too many. There are those of us who believe that if we can help, we should. Simply because a tragedy is something short of apocalyptic does not mean that wealthy nations should do nothing.

Shame on Rieff for spreading such nonsense, and shame on The Times for allowing him space to spew his disregard for human life.

Winston Steward

Los Angeles

Rieff is both a staunch friend and a constructive critic of global humanitarianism, but his recent article is off the mark on basic issues. It is Oxfam's core business to make known the needs of people suffering in the aftermath of a major emergency.

Those affected have a human right to receive assistance. It is the mission of humanitarian organizations to speak to this right when those affected cannot.

Raymond C.

Offenheiser

President, Oxfam America

Boston

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