Missing plane lesson: Life is cheap

Written By By LAURA WASHINGTON Posted: 05/01/2014, 12:56am

Life is cheap. Even 239 lives.

For four weeks, the world has been transfixed by the horrific disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370. The mystery deepens daily, the search increasingly desperate.

As the stakes grow, nations around the world have responded with aid and resources, some in unprecedented ways.

Last week the New York Times reported that “26 nations, many of them rivals, have opened up their territorial waters and airspace or have contributed closely held technology and surveillance data” to the harrowing search.

That is as it should be. There were 239 passengers and crew aboard that state-of-the-art Boeing 777 when it vanished. Those 239 souls left thousands of devastated loved ones behind. Investigators should move mountains, and oceans, to find them. They deserve no less.

But they may be getting less. It seems the response has been somewhat short of all-out. It seems, according to media reports, that some of those same rival nations may be putting self-interest and secrecy above the 239.

The technology crucial to aiding the search for MH 370 is also crucial to international military surveillance, national security and, of course, spying. Some governments are loath to expose their technical wares to neither friends nor enemies.

According to the Times’ March 27 report, even though most onboard the flight were Chinese nationals, the Chinese government has been unwilling to share its “raw military radar data.” At one point, that information could have helped narrow down the plane’s direction and ultimate destination. “Instead, China, like several other countries, simply told Malaysian officials that its radars had not spotted the plane,” the Times reported.

Malaysian officials did not reveal that its military radar had detected the plane flying west until a week after it disappeared, according to news reports. That location was far from where the intensive search had been focused, in different areas in the South China Sea.

Thailand waited 10 days before it told Malaysia that Thai radar had detected the jet “heading west toward the Strait of Malacca the morning of March 8, when it vanished,” the newspaper reported. The explanation? “A Thai Air Force spokesman has said officials ‘did not pay any attention to it.’ ”

Experts say these critical lapses expose distrust and the imperative to hide military strengths and weaknesses.

Another culprit, I suspect, are cultural norms. Asian cultures put a high premium on saving face, not admitting to mistakes or shortcomings. Avoid shame at all costs.

These delays, dissembling and lies have undoubtedly hampered the search.

The pain and suffering endured by the loved ones of the 239 is incomprehensible and immeasurable. But it is clear that some officials have put politics and power ahead of basic human decency.

And then, there is the stupidity. Last Monday, Malaysian Airlines notified the families of the missing passengers that it “deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH 370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived.”

That information was delivered by text message.

In these callous, 21st century digital times, life gets cheaper by the day.

This is not the first time respect for human life and death has taken a back seat to expediency. Tragically, it won’t be the last.

Email: LauraSWashington@aol.com

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