In a speech in Gaston Hall last December, John Danforth, then-U. S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed the current situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, an expanse of suffering peoples in an embattled country. He told the audience what many already knew – that there is a genocide occurring under our watch, the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis today.

The circumstances are complicated. There has been a civil war between the northern and southern regions of Sudan for over 20 years, and a cease-fire has recently been signed. In early 2003, black African rebel groups demanded an end to the economic and political marginalization of the people in Darfur by the government, and the area descended into an abyss of violence and misery. Arab Janjaweed militias have killed tens of thousands and displaced over a million people. Many more are on the brink of death due to starvation and malnutrition.

Ambassador Danforth spoke about this dire situation and how the two organizations he represents, the U.S. government and the United Nations, have responded. Danforth invoked the spirit of America in his speech, the magnanimous spirit of America that wants to help those in need, even if Americans don’t know much about the situation.

Yet he then disparaged this American spirit as “annoying.” Americans are apparently too ignorant to truly understand the gravity of the situation. They do not understand how politics, national or international, work and thus should stop getting in over their heads.

Danforth told the audience that he was trying very hard to fix this problem. He and President Bush care about the situation very much, he promised us. They are doing all they can. Apparently, their work is all that is needed.

On behalf of the people of the United States, Mr. Danforth, I apologize for caring.

Without pressure from the people, democratic governments would do nothing. This is an issue Americans care deeply about, and so our representatives must necessarily pay attention to them.

Danforth repeated that America need not worry anymore. Our thoughtful and even, I daresay, compassionate government is taking care of us. Essentially, we little unworldly Americans should stop worrying about anything that is too big or complicated for us to comprehend. Let us put all of our faith in the government, and not question anything.

The big boys on top will do the work for us.

I wonder what Danforth would say about student groups such as STAND, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, the Darfur aid and awareness organization on campus that was started after a group of students went to a discussion at the Holocaust Museum early last semester.

I wonder if he would tell us our idealism and activism is inspiring, or merely hindering the efforts of his hard work. I wonder if he would dismiss the national conference STAND is hosting this weekend with a diplomatic wave of his hand.

Danforth said that the United Nations has helped in placing 3,300 troops from the African Union in the Darfur region. When asked to specify further on this point, he admitted that there are not yet 3,300 troops, or a number even close to that.

Another question was posed from a man who said he went to northern Darfur to film a documentary, and said he found not one soldier or aid worker. Danforth’s explanation was a beautiful concoction of garbled political vagueness. All I understood was that this was a complicated situation, and not to worry because he is trying hard.

Indeed, Danforth is working under difficult conditions. The United Nations as a functional organization needs a serious overhaul, or it is in danger of losing the last trace of legitimacy it has. Recent Security Council resolutions calling for sanctions if Sudan does not comply with other United Nations resolutions failed to even include the word “sanction” because certain member nations would refuse to pass the measures if they included that word. While the United Nations’ smaller, more specific programs, such as the World Food Program, do excellent work around the globe, its political arm has little muscle, as Danforth mentioned in his speech.

This being said, it is up to us, the people, to pressure world bodies such as these to take specific, significant steps to improve the situation in Darfur.

Idleness is not an option, though Ambassador Danforth seems to infer that it is. Too many times people are witnesses. Danforth has announced his retirement, and soon the United States will have a different U.N. ambassador.

Though unlikely, perhaps this new one will be different, and instead of being effusive with Bush-like complacency, he will challenge the American people, the world and most importantly, the United Nations, to help alleviate the suffering from the genocide in Sudan.

Evan Caplan is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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