In the last week, we have been deeply moved by the heartbreaking images of the devastation in Haiti: parents searching through rubble for sons and daughters; children, frightened and alone, looking for their mothers and fathers. At this moment, entire parts of Port-au-Prince are in ruins, as families seek shelter in makeshift camps. It is a horrific scene of shattered lives in a poor nation that has already suffered so much.
In response, I have ordered a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives in Haiti. We have launched one of the largest relief efforts in recent history. I have instructed the leaders of all agencies to make our response a top priority across the federal government. We are mobilizing every element of our national capacity: the resources of development agencies, the strength of our armed forces, and most important, the compassion of the American people. And we are working closely with the Haitian government, the United Nations, and the many international partners who are also aiding in this extraordinary effort.
We act for the sake of the thousands of American citizens who are in Haiti, and for their families back home; for the sake of the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history, even as they have shown great resilience; and we act because of the close ties that we have with a neighbor that is only a few hundred miles to the south.
But above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America’s leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up—whether it was rebuilding our former adversaries after World War II, dropping food and water to the people of Berlin, or helping the people of Bosnia and Kosovo rebuild their lives and their nations.
At no time is that more true than in moments of great peril and human suffering. It is why we have acted to help people combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa, or to recover from a catastrophic tsunami in Asia. When we show not just our power, but also our compassion, the world looks to us with a mixture of awe and admiration. That advances our leadership. That shows the character of our country. And it is why every American can look at this relief effort with the pride of knowing that America is acting on behalf of our common humanity.
Right now, our search-and-rescue teams are on the ground, pulling people from the rubble. Americans from Virginia and California and Florida have worked round the clock to save people whom they’ve never met. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen quickly deployed to the scene. Hand in hand with our civilians, they’re laboring day and night to facilitate a massive logistical enterprise; to deliver and distribute food, water, and medicine to save lives; and to prevent an even larger humanitarian catastrophe.