How long will America slumber in the sleep of ignorant bliss...?
Mohawk: In Important Ways, War And Flood Are Connected
Posted: September 08, 2005
by: John Mohawk / Indian Country Today
At the beginning of the current war in Iraq, President Bush was adamant that Americans would be asked to make no sacrifices, pay no price, for the war. Indeed, the war would go forward along with tax relief (mostly for the wealthy). He didn't talk much about plans for reductions in domestic spending, and there was an inadequate ring of information that somebody, someday, was going to pay.
In fact, it is future generations who will pay because the war is being
fought with borrowed money, and the debt will come due for today's children
and grandchildren. And now we have Hurricane Katrina, the second disaster
during the Bush administration. It has thus far been met with the same lack
of planning as characterized the invasion of Baghdad, and this time the
American people will pay. The death toll is unknown at this time but
certain to be high. The dollar toll is going to be immense.
The hurricane dealt two blows to New Orleans. The initial blow, the storm,
was a near-miss and the city survived it largely intact. The second blow
happened when the levee walls were breached and water spilled into the
basin that is the city, which meant, in important ways, that the event was
man-made. It could turn out to be the greatest disaster in U.S. history.
The local newspapers had long complained that the levees needed
strengthening, yet the Bush administration was spent less and less money
protecting New Orleans from the water. Some complained that the war in Iraq
had left the area with fewer National Guardsmen, and that a lot of
equipment that could have been used in the rescue was overseas. Others
complained that the guardsmen and the equipment that were available were
not deployed due to a lack of leadership. People waited days for help. It
was an experience they will not forget.
As the water rose, a man calling in to National Public Radio offered an
opinion. The people trapped in the city, he said, had only themselves to
blame for their problems. What about those too poor to flee, and too sick,
and too disabled, he was asked.
It's their personal responsibility, he said.
There have always been cold-hearted people in America, but the idea that
personal responsibility cancels collective rights has grown in recent
years. The flood has revealed to the world a dark side of American life, a
America is the most self-professed Christian nation in the world, but the
message in the New Testament that urges compassion for the poor and
powerless is unpopular. Among industrialized nations, America ranks near
the bottom in all categories on how it treats its most needy. Things are
such that just a week earlier, a national religious icon called for the
assassination of a head of state. The message in the New Testament warning
against false prophets is drowned out too.
More than one-quarter (28 percent) of New Orleans residents live in
poverty, and 84 percent of those are black. Most of the white people
escaped. Most of those left behind were black.
The last great flood, in 1927, was on the Mississippi and it left about a
million people - 1 percent of the population - homeless. The next year,
Congress passed the Flood Control Act, and the federal government assumed
full responsibility for protecting its citizens along the river. The Army
Corps of Engineers is coming under intense criticism for its management of
flood control - which has, by some accounts, been doing more harm than
People in Holland, much of which is below sea level, were astonished at the
pictures of the puny wall that protected New Orleans from the water. The
technology exists to do the job, but the administration has had other
spending priorities. It turns out that shoring up those levees would have
been money well spent. The argument that other administrations also failed
to fix it doesn't wash.
There have been strong feelings among the black community that the reason
the money wasn't spent to protect them and the reason for the slow rescue
response was racism. There was some of that, as well as discrimination
against poor people generally, but racism and classism don't explain
One can gauge the quality of leadership by how a leader wields his or her
authority, by measuring outcomes. A person who manages an institution does
so to benefit himself and his group, or to benefit the whole of society and
even the future generations. In the same week that New Orleans was filling
with water, a woman who blew the whistle on no-bid contracts awarded to
Halliburton was demoted. Bush/Cheney associates enjoy plunder, and their
critics are demoted and otherwise punished because in their view the main
purpose of government is to protect the properties and privileges of the
wealthy. This administration sees to the interests of the few at the
expense of the many.
Poor planning has also characterized the presidency of the man who takes
five-week vacations in Crawford and whose disastrous war is getting
expensive. About 14,500 U.S. troops have suffered injuries in the war that
was supposed to be a cakewalk, and the projected cost of treating those
injuries is $7 billion a year for the next 45 years. The Iraq war itself is
costing $6 billion per month and, if it lasts five more years, could cost
about $1.5 trillion.
The Bush administration, along with its allies in Congress, has facilitated
the most massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the
rich in history. They had plenty of warning that the levees could be
breached by a big hurricane; but they rolled the dice, hoping it wouldn't
happen on their watch, and didn't bother to spend the money to protect
people. Instead, they carried on with their war agenda which was
accompanied by a ''starve the beast'' strategy to defund needed public
works projects, medicines and food for the poor, and other previous
It's the federal government's responsibility to build levees that do not
breach. No one wanted the flood, but flood control was their responsibility
and they failed at it. War and flood are connected disasters with their
epicenter in the Oval Office. And now, today's Americans are going to pay
in the form of a mountain of corpses and a population of displaced people,
huge property losses and higher energy bills, and the very real possibility
John C. Mohawk Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an associate professor of American Studies and director of Indigenous Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.