View Full Version : This week in America...

09-02-2005, 05:12 PM

An AP Essay: Is This Happening in America?

By JIM LITKE, Associated Press Writer
1 minute ago

Image after image of unrelenting sorrow, layered one atop the other like a deck of haunting cards. A baby held aloft, inches above a sea of desperate faces, gasping for air. The dead left where they've fallen, in plain view, robbed of even the simple dignity of a shroud. Survivors waiting, then begging, then fighting, finally, over food and water.


While the images of natural disasters and man-made ones alike, from Sri Lanka or Baghdad, cause despair, the pictures from New Orleans inspire not just helplessness, but disbelief. The richest, most powerful nation in the world can build schools, hospitals and shelters halfway around the globe, but it can't provide the basic necessities for its own days after a disaster that everybody saw coming?


Usually, we shudder, change the channel or turn the page, awaiting better news. But there is something too compelling about these pictures. The distance between us and the people in them has been narrowed, rendered uncomfortably close, and not just for those who are family, friends or neighbors. We recognize them. We all see people like them.


Authorities can't make the waters that did that retreat. They can't begin to rebuild the levee or the homes and businesses made uninhabitable, at least not now. They will never be able to restore much of what was washed away in the flood.

But if a reporter can interview a man standing outside a looted drugstore, and record his reluctance at having to go inside and steal pads for incontinence, why couldn't someone get medical supplies to the people huddled at the Superdome or the convention center in time, or the buses promised to evacuate them?

There are more questions than answers, and will be for years to come. That's the nature of disaster, and its aftermath. They expose our fragility, overwhelm our best intentions, mock our attempts to impose the sense of calm and order that prevails when life proceeds according to some rough plan.

Yet, ultimately, that's what is most unsettling about the constant stream of images: The suffering goes on not just for hours, but for days after we should have and could have ended it. And for all the commissions, reports and bravado that passes for preparedness, we didn't. It was a hand we never expected to be dealt.


There will be time enough, too, to assess blame, for politicians to point fingers, find and fire those deemed accountable. And maybe even to figure out how a handful of Southeast Asian governments, whose economies, armies and emergency resources could all be folded comfortably several times inside those of the United States, responded to a tsunami much larger and fiercer than Hurricane Katrina with swiftness and efficiency, and we could not. And so the frustration builds, not so much over what happened, but what did not.


In the meantime, the disturbing images keep rolling in, interrupted now and then by more hopeful ones. The trucks, jeeps, buses and helicopters so scarce the past few days are out moving in force. Police and National Guardsmen are on the streets, rescue workers are getting in place. The babies in the latest pictures are contentedly emptying bottles, pallets filled with water and food are being unloaded by human chains. One administration official after another turns up on the screen to offer reassurances and soothing words.

But the damage has been done, and it's no longer limited to the lives lost and ruined, or the property destroyed. Those are things, sadly enough, that can be totaled up over time.

Much harder to measure is the cost of all those searing images burned into the national conscience, and what they've done to the sense of security that was our last refuge when disasters wreaked havoc, and then, unnecessary suffering, in distant lands the certainty that it couldn't happen here.

Now we know better.

:clap: :clap: :clap: