Weep for poor, wretched Haiti: Dire poverty, devastating annual storms, disease, misery, hunger and now the biggest earthquake in 250 years.
Port-au-Prince lies in ruins, tens of thousands are dead and more than a million homeless. There is little food, clean water or power in the capital region. Haiti's ten million people have no effective government.
The National Palace, where my old Haitian pal "Tijo' Noustas and I were crazy enough to crash a dinner party given by the dreaded dictator, Francois Duvalier, aka "Papa Doc,' has collapsed.
Papa Doc caught us -- but laughed at our escapade instead of having his dreaded secret police, the "Tonton Macoutes,' shoot us.
Our old hangout, the charming gingerbread Oloffson Hotel, the scene of Graham Green's book, The Comedians, is heavily damaged. Its bar, ruled by the legendary Cesar, was the capital's watering hole and hotbed of intrigue.
Portau-Prince always looked half ruined. Today, the damage is complete. Haiti is an island cursed by natural disasters, human folly and crime. Tijo was murdered there a decade later.
France acquired Haiti in 1697. After the native Arawak people were wiped out, France imported a million black slaves from West Africa to work the island's sugar, tobacco, coffee, cocoa and indigo plantations. Haiti's slaves suffered frightful brutality. The greatest bourgeois fortunes of Bordeaux were built on slavery, not wine.
Haiti's amazingly rich soil produced four crops a year. In 1780, the total value of Haiti's exports to Europe exceeded those of Spain's silver and gold-producing Latin American colonies, or the entire British West Indies. Today, Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, wracked by diseases including syphilis, leprosy, HIV, TB and blindness from poor nutrition. It was impossible to walk in downtown Port-au-Prince without being swarmed by desperate, diseased beggars.
In the late 1700s, Haiti's slaves revolted, led by a brilliant black general, Toussaint Louverture. After fierce fighting, he was tricked by the French and died in prison. Louverture's lieutenants, J.J Dessalines and Henri Christophe, finally defeated Napoleon's troops and liberated Haiti. Full independence was declared in 1804.
But the rival leaders of the liberation soon fell out. Christophe, driven mad by syphilis, finally shot himself in the head with a silver bullet in a massive but useless fortress he had built atop a mountain above Cap Haitien.
For the next century, Haiti was ruled by a feuding mulatto minority and petty dictators who did nothing for the people. Peasants cut down all the trees for charcoal, denuding the mountainous island. Rains then swept away Haiti's rich topsoil.
Washington sent the U.S. Marine Corps to occupy Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Though sometimes brutal, the U.S. occupation is regarded by some Haitians as their golden age. The marines proved fair, efficient, honest administrators and builders.
Then, after endless coups, came Papa Doc's reign of witchcraft and terror, followed by more chaos and a U.S. invasion in 2004 that threw out an elected leftist government.
Canada, the U.S., France and other nations are rushing aid to Haiti. Food and medical help are essential, but Haiti also must have an effective government that cares for its desperate people. A small UN contingent has achieved little. What Haiti really needs is to be again administered by the U.S. Marine Corps.
This column despises any form of imperial action as a grave violation of democratic and republican values. But the U.S. could do enormous good for Haiti, which needs a major rescue mission for a desperate people who have failed to govern themselves and have no other hope. Most Haitians, I think, would welcome U.S. humanitarian intervention.The U.S. will waste over $1 trillion this year in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can certainly afford a few hundred million dollars to rescue Haiti. France also has a special responsibility to Haiti and must open its pockets. Canada, as ever, has an important role to play and is proudly doing so.