Tsunami Sympathy Fatigue

Brian Whitman, guest hosting today’s Glenn Beck Program , made an interesting observation: Despite 70,000 deaths (now over 100,000) from the tragic earthquake and tsunamis that have devastated South Asia, most Americans–himself included–really don’t seem too broken up. He contrasted our reaction to the 3,500 or so Americans killed during the 9/11 attacks, when the whole world seemed to stop for days on end, or even the sympathy for Laci Peterson or Bobbie Jo Stinnett. After 9/11, all other news stories (remember Gary Condit?) were pushed out of the papers. Even ESPN became an all-9/11 network for a few days. By contrast, we’re pretty much going about our daily lives despite a natural disaster that has caused probably 35 times the death toll of 9/11.

While proximity is certainly an issue–we’re naturally going to be more traumatized by the deaths of our countrymen than those half a world away–there is something else involved. Callers had several answers, the most compelling of which was articulated by Glenn Beck himself, who called in on his cell phone: We react differently to natural phenomena–acts of God, if you will–than to the intentional acts of humans. Beck observed that we react much more viscerally to the Nazi Holocaust than to the 1918 Influenza epidemic.

When 3,500 people die at the volition of Islamofascist terrorists, it’s an outrage. When 100,000 die from a natural disaster, it’s incredibly sad but chalked up as “these things happen.” The natural reaction to the Holocaust is “Never Again.” To a flu epidemic, merely “Let’s find a cure.”

Despite our stoicism, Americans are donating heavily to charity.

    Glenn Reynolds notes that donations at Amazon alone have topped $2 million.

    Scott Ott is collecting donations for the Bible Fellowship Church Board of Missions.

    Steve Bainbridge links to Catholic Relief Services, which has made an initial pledge of $500,000.

    Donald Sensing warns of bogus charities exploiting this tragedy using the “Nigerian widows” but notes that several worthwhile charities, including the Red Cross and United Methodist Committee on Relief are doing yeoman work.

    Bill Hobbs links to World Vision, which he suggests as a worthwhile venue for donations.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. 42nd SSD says:

    I think the Amazon donation program is awesome for many reasons, but one aspect well worth noting is that the donors aren’t necessarily religious or spiritual nuts–they’re just ordinary people, giving not because they think they’re obligated to but because they see the need.

    My only concern is that I don’t know how much of that money will actually reach the people in need, or if the money will be effectively used. (I have this problem with most charities, especially after the local United Way scandals.) My cynical take is that some people are going to skim a bit and much of it will be wasted.

  2. austin mls says:

    Drezner has a post with some links, and then most of the commenters have added various options for donations.

  3. bryan says:

    I don’t find this to be true at all. The fact is that I’ve been moved often by the tales coming out of the Indian Ocean. I think there are two things working against a more hysterical reaction in the U.S.:
    1. It happened on a holiday – and a sunday – and the true impact of it was slow to reach our side of the world. I mean, as late as Monday, I was hearing body counts below 20,000.

    2. it’s a natural disaster. While it is unanticipated, and tragic, it is something that has a greater sense of inevitability. The events of 9/11 were not natural, therefore not inevitable, therefore seen as more of a tragedy.

    Finally, I’ve been watching CNN a lot today, and the news on that channel at least has been pretty much “all tsunami all the time” since Monday afternoon.

  4. mark Vitacca says:

    My girlfriend Sarah Jane is in Indonesia but I hope the wave got her. I made lots of money out of her while she was in Australia. But this wave i s punishment for her. This is why.
    Melbourne Australia:
    The agent who manages the model Sarah Jane the 2001 “Worlds
    Most Downloaded Woman” will soon be PUNISHED ABND THE TRUTH OUTED . Sarah Jane appeared on Ralph Magazine cover in 2001 and recently at 2003 Grand prix at Phillip Island Australia.

    The managing agent for model Sarah Jane has committed fraud by using
    debt collectors to collect monies by extortion and threats from people in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. John
    Stirling of Stirling
    Entertainment which manages the Sarah Jane publicity and website, is responsible for the running of his
    business of selling DVD and soft core pornographic material by mail and
    over Ebay.
    Now he sells as seller ultimate.collectables on ebay.
    Stirling, who also uses other false names was also selling illegally copied
    videos the
    same way.
    In 2001 Mr Stirling was responsible for linking Sarah Janes soft-porn
    website with the Salvation Army’s website without their permission,
    after which they requested removal of the link.

    During 2002 Stirling was attending Court for stalking, which
    included an accusation of assault.

    He has used professional
    collection agent to fraudulently recover money using his
    company name of
    Stirling Entertainment. And he raises money for false charities so if he gets Sarah Jane to ask for donations to the tsunami appeal or wants to sho tsunami videos you know to AVOID JOHN STIRLING AND THE FALSE TSUNAMI VIDEO or CHARITIES that he will try and sell you! He is a dangerous individual living in Melbourne Australia. He will be outed and punished. His mother lives at 10 Stirling St Kew Victoria Australia. Go get him, will you.

  5. mark Vitacca says:

    sarah jane is a phoney