Naval aid

It is ironic that the most formidable, best equipped and most potentially destructive military ever imagined more often than not signals life, hope and rescue. As has happened so many other times, for people in the Philippines now suffering from the effects of a catastrophic typhoon, help comes in the form of an American warship.

It is an aspect of the U.S. military too often overlooked and too little remembered in holiday speeches. It should also be a source of great pride. The United States uses its most fearsome tools not just to intimidate its enemies but to aid the world’s most needy.

A Nimitz-class carrier is something to behold. Essentially a floating city, it carries a crew of 5,000. It defies understanding that something so big can float, let alone travel at the speeds it can reach. It also carries a destructive capacity beyond comprehension.

Few people have seen the sharp end of such an instrument. In part, that is because those who do tend not to survive, also because in such situations the carrier is typically far off and over the horizon. (That the very idea of aircraft carriers may be obsolete in the era of missiles and drones is a topic for another time.)

More often than not, though, the arrival of an American aircraft carrier signals not destruction but survival. And so it is now. The carrier USS George Washington is in route to the Philippines from Hong Kong along with its escorts, two cruisers and two destroyers. They are expected to get there as early as this evening and are to be joined by another destroyer and a supply ship.

Between them, the ships carry 21 helicopters, invaluable assets for getting supplies in and people out of the worst affected areas. They also have considerable medical resources, both facilities onboard the ships and personnel who can be deployed ashore.

Perhaps most important, the nuclear-powered George Washington has the capacity to make fresh, potable water. According to the Voice of America, the “carrier’s distilling plants can hold 1.5 million liters of water, enough to supply 2,000 homes.” In disasters such as this, the danger from unsafe drinking water is often the most immediate problem.

The U.S. military is also second to none in logistics. Nobody anywhere can move stuff – food, water, medicine, clothing, shelter, anything – as quickly and in the kind of quantities involved as the Department of Defense.

Nor is the Navy alone in this. Fox News reports that members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade were among the first outside aid into the country after the storm. A spokeswoman for the Marines told the Voice of America that the Marines also are “supplemented by Army, there’s a few Navy and Air Force folks helping out. Whatever the Philippines need and whatever they request is what we’re trying to provide for them.”

Britain, too, is sending a warship. Japan is sending a Self-Defense Forces emergency relief team, while Israel contributed a medical team from its armed forces. The United States has also committed $20 million in cash.

There are good arguments to the effect the world as a whole devotes far too much to arms and military spending. And nowhere is that more obvious than the budget of the Pentagon. All the more welcome, then, to see some of that put to a humanitarian purpose.

Americans are justifiably proud of the bravery and sacrifice of the U.S. military. But nothing should make us more proud than our nation’s unhesitating response to other countries’ suffering. There is no better use for an aircraft carrier.

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