Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Anti-9/11

Well, I'm not the first person to have called the Katrina disaster the antithesis of 9/11 and I suspect I won't be the last. But things that are coming out now are making the anti-parallels even more striking than when the phrase was first coined.

9/11 was a day when all Americans were brought together and the sentiments were universally shared. The events of the day brought out the best in everyone, and heroes were so common as to become almost routine.

Fast forward almost four years to August 29, 2005, and what do you find? Oh, you will certainly be able to locate and identify a plethora of heroes and heroic actions out of the storm, but Katrina made visible some very ugly truths about America.

That people were poor didn't surprise me. That people were still pretty racist in the South was sad but not that big a surprise either. But that they can put a higher value on property than lives does, I admit, surprise me.

Here's Gretna PD chief Lawson explaining why they blocked the bridge and refused to allow people trapped in New Orleans from walking across into his turf, and coincidentally higher ground and leaving the chaos that was New Orleans behind... Keep in mind that he knew in advance he was going to be asked about this so this is his prepared and practiced response:

We had no preparations. You know, we're a small city on the west bank of the river. We had people being told to come over here, that we were going to have buses, we were going to have food, we were going to have water, and we were going to have shelter. And we had none. Our people had left. Our city was locked down and secured, for the sake of the citizens that left their valuables here to be protected by us. - [emphasis mine]
Empty city. No food, no water. Okay, but the people wanting to leave N.O. already have no food or water so they're hardly going to be worse off. But it's the valuables of the citizenry, you see, that's more important to him than the people who want to escape from the lawless hell-hole that four days of no intervention created.

One of the regulars on Kevin Drum's comments often quotes this excerpt from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn at moments like this (and I'd credit him only I can't find an example right now):

"It warn't the grounding--that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head."

"Good gracious! anybody hurt?"

"No'm. Killed a nigger."

"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.

Let's just say that this is an attitude I'm really sad to note has apparently survived. Quoting My New Boyfriend (MNB) again, checking back to the Mother Ship's Anchor, Anderson Cooper says: "To me, you know, it's not frustration. It's not that people are frustrated. It's that people are dying. I mean there are people dying. They're drowning to death and they drown in their living rooms and their bodies are rotting where they drowned and there are corpses in the street being eaten by rats and this is the United States of America." - [emphasis mine]

See, that's the deal. If you see it on the news in Rwanda or Somalia, it's horrible and sad and Something Must Be Done, but when you see it on the news inside the USA, it's unbelievable.

And there were people, AMERICAN people, actively making it worse than it had to be.

Helpless elderly people drown in their nursing homes and babies died of dehydration for want of the ability to drop supplies into a city that news crews could get to and aid supplies could not.

And this, I think, is going to be the defining 'legacy' of Bush's tenure. It's also a great illustration of the old Zen proverb*, "That which is created by fear will be destroyed by anger."

*... that I just made up...


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