Thursday, September 15, 2005
A Sad American Story
A front page article in today’s Chicago Tribune gives horrific details about what went on inside the Superdome and the convention center in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, and it just turns one’s stomach. And, politically correct or not, the truth is that my mind reels at this information with an uncomfortable mixture of pity and sorrow, and of disgust, despair and revulsion.
On the one hand there is an obvious amazement and horrification that these incredibly third-world-looking scenes took place in America, in a very public place in a major American city. It’s hard to accept that this degree of despair and mass pain and panic and suffering could happen here, directly under all our eyes (without even addressing the tardy governmental response, which has justly been noted). I am ashamed and sorry and depressed at this.
But--I hate that there’s even a “but”--I’m lying if I don’t say at the same time that I am taken aback by the extent to which civilization departed this crowd, at how completely a lord-of-the-flies kind of mob violence took over. Is this what our police forces are keeping us from becoming? People died of knife and gunshot wounds, and from dehydration, women and children were raped, the elderly were robbed, gang fights raged, huge areas of the facilities were wantonly destroyed, possibly beyond reclamation.
I feel like I’m searching in vain for some explanation as to how what must surely be a small, maurauding group of miscreants could basically cause the descent of 20,000 people into brutal survival mode. How could the great, upstanding majority of this crowd not have banded together to protect people? How could the weak and helpless and elderly be victimized under the noses of surely more numerous, able-bodied, well-meaning people?
I’m heartened to read that there were people trying actively to counter the thugs and criminals. But it’s little comfort that these people seemed to need some serious balls to stand up to the maurauders. How could the criminal element not be seriously outnumbered and thrown out on their ears for their bad behavior? As it was, people literally were dying while each person was looking out for themselves. There was not enough compassion to extend to those who needed help. Those few who dedicated themselves to helping others were simply overwrought and outnumbered.
Are we really no further from our basest nature than this? Is this, as I hate to say has been suggested to me, just a glimpse behind a door we try to keep tightly locked at all times? Or was the situation simply that dire? I’m terrified that I’m blaming the victims, passing judgment on people who’ve been thru hell; but the descriptions make it seem as though people were suffering at the hands of others as much or more than they were suffering from the effects of a horrible natural disaster. I guess I just don’t know how to process this. These scenes are absolutely heartbreaking, and I’m not ready to abandon my sense that people are basically decent.