Trump, Beirut, and Hiroshima

Today is August 6th, 2020. Two days ago, Beirut experienced a horrific explosion. At the time, some people thought it was a nuclear blast because of the shape of the cloud of dust debris and vapor that formed. It was thankfully not a nuclear blast, but its size and devastation was still shocking and a devastating blow to a country suffering through enough hardships already. But this memorable day not only brought out some of the best in people, but sadly, it brought us one particularly notable example of the worst in us.


“…please consider helping by contributing to one of these charities.”

Reporter Vivian Yee was injured and dazed in the blast. Yesterday she wrote of how the people of Beirut treated her with kindness and compassion, finally helping her get the medical attention she needed. Eleven staples in her forehead later, she was able to write of her experience, and give the world a glimpse on what it was like to be in Beirut that day. Numerous videos were shared, all dramatic, and most leaving the viewer thankful for the good fortune of the person who took the video. I say most because at least one video was so close to the blast that it was no more than a brief glimpse of the approaching shockwave, shattering buildings and launching cars in its path, before abruptly cutting off. One can only hope that it was the same person who took that video and finally managed to upload it.

And so the world’s attention was drawn to Beirut, and many are currently trying to do what they can to help (if you can, please consider helping by donating to one ofthese charities). Most of those who have spoken up on the subject have voiced their support and compassion for the people of Beirut. But again, I am heartbroken that I can only say “most.” And I am disgusted by one particular exception.

What did our own president say? What words were offered by the man who was elected to an office that – until his presidency – was legitimately considered a position of world leadership? Did he offer words of comfort for Lebanon? No. He stood up at the presidential podium and offered what might be described as his ignorant, narcissistic, toddler’s-eye view of the world. Seemingly without thinking, he described the horrific explosion as “an attack.” The last thing Beirut needed that day was Donald Trump idly giving voice to whatever demented terror-porn fantasy might have been in his head. Conspiracy theories are particularly dangerous in a country that has lost so many to conflict and treachery, and in which the memory of terrorism and political assassinations through bombings is still vivid for too many people.

And when asked about his evidence for such a statement, what did the toddler-in-chief have to say for himself? Did he point at any evidence? No … it was just something he felt was possible. Or more precisely, he claimed that “generals” told him they felt it was an attack. Naturally, the Pentagon had no idea what he was talking about, andcontradicted that claim.

The people of Beirut, the people of America, the world .. deserves better.

But it now seems like it was likely just a terrible accident. A catastrophic failure of authorities to deal with an incredibly dangerous amount of chemical fertilizer that was improperly stored. Almost three thousand tons of this stuff was just sitting in a warehouse for six years. It was known to be dangerous, and there had been warnings about how dangerous it was. The result? Inaction, that culminated in an explosion on Tuesday that could have been approximately one tenth the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.


Firestorm cloud over Hiroshima, August 6 1945.

Today is August 6th, and two days ago the world witnessed an explosion in Beirut that should remind us all that government incompetence can be deadly. The explosion was only a fraction of the power of the atomic bomb, dropped on Hiroshima on this day in 1945. But it was still a horrific tragedy from which Beirut is still reeling. We do not know how many lives will ultimately have been lost to this tragedy, but we must do what we can to help those who survived.

We must also remember that incompetent government kills.

It breaks my heart to say this, but we can make another reference to the Hiroshima bombing today. A reference that is more empirically comparable. More than 150,000 have lost their lives to the COVID crisis in America (far outpacing any other nation, with current national death rates averaging 1000 deaths per day for the past week). And so, Donald Trump did not just stand up at a podium and pour salt on the wounds of Beirut with his irresponsible statements yesterday, but he stands as the president who has presided over a pandemic response so poor, that we can now say it has killed at least as many people as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (and that is using the high estimates for the number of people killed by the atomic bomb). And with almost 2,000 Americans being lost to this disease per day, he is well on his way to exceeding that terrible milestone.

It’s worrying to think how more than a few people could easily overlook something just as deadly as an atomic bombing … as long as it happens over a handful of months instead of a single devastating instant.

Today is August 6th, and both tragedies and Trump remind us that, in positions of grave responsibility … incompetence can fill far too many graves, and break far too many hearts.