(By Ray D.)
We knew it wouldn’t take long for the German media to find a way to blame the tsunami disaster on the US. Today, N24, ZDF and Focus are all reporting on the alleged failure of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to properly warn nations of the tsunami danger after a massive earthquake shook the floor of the Indian Ocean. The story is based on reports that the “US Congress is preparing to investigate” the NOAA's alleged inability to properly and rapidly pass on potentially lifesaving information to nations in the path of the tsunami.
What is troubling about this story is not its content, but the way in which it is being packaged, presented and sold to the German public. As always, whenever there is a problem in the world, the finger of blame is inevitably pointed at the United States. Instead of asking why the EU or the UN failed to detect the tsunami and promptly warn those in danger, the German media is once again turning to the usual suspect: The world scapegoat USA.
Never mind that the United Nations would have been the most appropriate organization to set up and run a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean that could have saved thousands. Never mind that the EU (that great bastion of humanitarian soft-power) completely and utterly failed to detect and warn anyone of the tsunami. Never mind that wealthy Asian nations failed to invest in a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean in their own back yard. The German media is once again telling its audience what it so desperately wants to hear: It’s America’s fault!
The Truth: The NOAA Did Issue Tsunami Warnings
The headline, “Criticism: US Authority Did Not Pass On Tsunami Warnings,” is misleading in the extreme. It implies that the NOAA negligently failed to pass on information that could have saved thousands of lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The NOAA did, in fact, pass on tsunami warnings to several nations and made repeated attempts to warn them of the potential tsunami danger. In most cases, the nations warned either could not react in time or, as was the case in Thailand, chose not to react for fear of harming the tourist industry. It must also be noted that some nations (India for example) detected the oncoming tsunami independently of the NOAA, yet were unable to take decisive action due to a lack of time, coordination and infrastructure.
The main problem facing the NOAA was that it simply did not have the proper contact information for every nation in the tsunami’s path and, absent a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean, had no exact way of knowing where the tsunami was, where it was headed or whether it even existed. The NOAA’s inability to quickly contact the proper authorities due to a lack of coordination is the main issue that Congress would investigate. Here is an excerpt from the NOAA’s December 29 statement on the disaster:
“NOAA scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii went to work within minutes of getting a seismic signal that an earthquake occurred off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. NOAA issued a bulletin indicating no threat of a tsunami to Hawaii, the West Coast of North America or to other coasts in the Pacific Basin—the area served by the existing tsunami warning system established by the Pacific rim countries and operated by NOAA in Hawaii.
NOAA scientists then began an effort to notify countries about the possibility that a tsunami may have been triggered by the massive 9.0 undersea earthquake. The Pacific Basin tsunami warning system did not detect a tsunami in the Indian Ocean since there are no buoys in place there. Even without a way to detect whether a tsunami had formed in the Indian Ocean, NOAA officials tried to get the message out to other nations not a part of its Pacific warning system to alert them of the possibility of a tsunami. However, the tsunami raced across the ocean at speeds up to 500 mph.”
The fact that the German media has chosen to package the story with headlines that imply gross negligence on the part of the US government in this disaster is the truly troubling issue here. Legitimate criticism of the NOAA’s response time or lack of full coordination with affected nations is both legitimate and necessary. It is a problem, however, when the US and the NOAA are singled-out as a primary focus of criticism while the UN, EU and affected nations are largely let off the hook despite their many failings.
Conversely, it is interesting to note that the USA is not being singled-out for praise in the German media for its donation of $350 million in aid or for the fact that US helicopters were the first to bring aid to remote regions affected by the tsunami. This all further underscores the underlying bias prevalent in the German media.