When tragedy’s far from our own backyard

This past week, 298 people from more than a dozen countries lost their lives when a missile struck a passenger plane near the Ukraine-Russia border. More than 600 died as Israel prepared to launch its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The loss of any human life is devastating, and the mindless violence that’s consumed our media coverage is hard to stomach. Whether it’s hearing about the extraordinary bad fortune of the Australian family who lost relatives on both this Malaysia Airlines flight and the airline’s plane that went missing in March or seeing pictures of Palestinian children torn apart by Israeli shells, it’s enough to make us want to ignore real news and focus on the latest Beyoncé/Jay-Z breakup rumors.

However, that doesn’t work. As people, we owe it to our fellow humans to help in whatever ways we can, even when those tragedies are happening across the world and don’t affect anyone we know.

As news of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17′s crash broke on Thursday, President Barack Obama was preparing for a speech on infrastructure in Delaware.

He briefly acknowledged the growing tragedy, saying, “Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border. And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy. Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens onboard.

“That is our first priority. And I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government. The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home.”

Obama went on to continue the speech about improving the country’s economic infrastructure, and that was that. While it’s highly unlikely that the plane was shot down by anyone other than pro-Russian rebel groups, the White House has been careful to avoid saying anything other than that Russia was instrumental in “creating the conditions” that led to the plane being shot down and nearly 300 civilians dying.

The latest and most violent outbreak of fighting in the Gaza Strip has created similar political strife as the U.S. tries to balance tense relationships. Secretary of State John Kerry, who’s now in Cairo to try to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the militant group Hamas, caught flak from Fox News for commenting that Israel was conducting “one hell of a pinpoint operation,” a comment on the country’s insistence that it was conducting a limited strike.

The U.S. is in a tough place when it comes to taking action in world conflicts, as it often ends up acting as the world’s policeman. When it comes to things like spying on allied countries, we should stick to our own backyards. However, incidents like the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 or the current fighting in the Middle East demand involvement from both states and non-governmental organizations even if no member of that state or NGO was directly affected.

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