Yesterday was the five year anniversary of hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, and of the levees breaking in New Orleans. It's been called the worst engineering catastrophe in US history by some. I was a fat, pregnant, recently graduated baccalaureate relaxing at the Studio in the Woods in Hocking Hills, Ohio. My, how times change while staying the same.
Katrina wasn't a natural disaster, it was man-made. The winds and rain that hit NOLA were only a category 3, and would not have been a problem for the infrastructure to protect the city had it been properly constructed and kept up. What wrought huge amounts of damage was the failure of that infrastructure, and the systemic failure of the Army Corps of Engineers (among others) has been documented by Harry Shearer in a new documentary, The Big Uneasy. The breaking of the levees in the ninth ward lead to horrendous devastation of property and the loss of many lives. Many of the residents themselves compounded the problem by staying after a mandatory evacuation was issued earlier in the storm. After the rupture, the ensuing rescue attempts were fraught with complications, lack of funds and man power, ill-planned, mishandled, poorly targeted and slow. Even during the continued rebuilding, there have been serious issues with which to contend. The entire fiasco has been heart-breaking and maddening.
Personally, I am now the mama to a crazy four and a half year old boy, in the midst of graduate studies and research, not quite as fat, and living in Gertrude-Hyacinth House; Kent, Ohio. Socially, there are fewer differences. NOLA always has and possibly always will be the best and worst of the US. Unfortunately, in NOLA it seems the slowest things to come back, and those that get the least attention, are the best parts. The music, the culture, the arts, and the historical context. Maybe it's a correct analogy for our nation as well? I wish I knew.
Speaking of the US for the rest of this, because the tragedy of NOLA was a tragedy for the whole country. We still value lives of the well to do more than those of the lower class. We still feel entitled to do as we please, and entitled to rescuing when things go wrong with our plans. We still want cheap and easy instead of done right, more expensive and taking longer. We still find it necessary to vilify the other. We still see white and think "good" and see black and think "bad". We still punish merciful acts. We still hurt each other.
I can't help but think of the song Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger. The refrain begs the question "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?" On a positive note, our troops are finally out of Iraq and stationed in Kuwait. We can have peace, if we want to. Maybe we are starting to learn.