It's been five days since the tsunami, yet the voices from Indonesia sound as desperate as ever. "There is no food or water," writes Luci Ferrero, a liaison in the quake-stricken...

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It’s been five days since the tsunami, yet the voices from Indonesia sound as desperate as ever.

“There is no food or water,” writes Luci Ferrero, a liaison in the quake-stricken, waves-ravaged country who is helping a Seattle-based relief organization, Uplift International.
Roads are impassable, she e-mailed. Up to a million are homeless. There is bedlam when food boxes are dropped into flattened villages.

“In this situation we may be sending volunteers in to become victims, too. There are many good-hearted people, but not enough supplies or organization.

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“Lots of children have died and many more are traumatized. What can we do?

“I think this might as well be ground zero and we might have to start from scratch.”

At about the time Ferrero was describing how a horrific tragedy was turning worse, here in the U.S. we elected to fixate on our own navels.

This is how a disaster unprecedented in modern world history has played in dear old America:

Day one — Did any Americans die?

Day two — Could it happen here? (A CNN anchor wondered whether a tsunami could strike the Hamptons.)

Day three — Are we Americans stingy or generous?

Day four — We’re a generous people! Really we are!

Day five — We’ll show you a thing or two about generosity.

I am proud to be an American. But one of our most irritating traits is our belief that we’re the axis on which the world turns.

If ever an event was not about us, this is it.

It’s about the suffering of millions of the poorer people on Earth.

Yet this week, President Bush felt compelled to reassure the globe that America is “a very generous, kind-hearted nation.” And that a U.N. official who said the West should give more aid was “very misguided and ill-informed.”

A State Department spokesman went further: “We don’t have anything to apologize for.”

Nobody wants an apology. The World Health Organization says 5 million people around the Indian Ocean do not have the basics they need to stay alive — water, shelter, food and health care. That’s what they want.

The U.N. official was right. There’s no question we need to do much more. Nobody could stop the waves, but we do have the power to stop the starvation and disease. Instead of getting defensive about it, we ought to multiply our response by at least 10, if not 100.

And what’s with the chip on our shoulder? Charity is supposed to be selfless, an opening of the heart to people in need. It’s not about the giver.

In the end, we Americans will prove ourselves to be as kind-hearted as others around the globe. Americans have donated tens of millions in the past few days, and a similar outpouring is occurring in Europe (British citizens donated $39 million in 24 hours).

It isn’t a competition. But this being the USA, maybe they should make it one if they really want our full attention.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or