In the middle of the worst of the New Orleans chaos, when people were being raped and strangled in the SuperDome, when people there worried about their children being preyed on in the middle of the night, when someone shot at a rescue, there was a certain feeling of incredulousness, a feeling of surreality that this couldn’t be happening in America.
New Orleans started to remind me eerily of Iraq. One TV reporter said that the army had arrived to restore order but that they were being fired at and that it was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Sounds like Iraq, I thought.
My wife was very troubled by some of the stories. She said she likes to think people pull together in a crisis. It seems like everything is coming apart instead. What’s wrong, she wondered.
Part of it was that people were under incredible stress. If you think your children are in danger you’ll do some pretty unpleasant things to protect them. But part of it, part of the reason things seemed so desperate is that a few evil people can do a lot of damage. This too is like Iraq. Whether our presence in Iraq is a good thing or a bad thing, is not to be judged solely by whether there are suicide bombers. They take a lot of the fun out of daily life and it only takes a few. The same I am sure was true in the SuperDome. Most people tried to get along. But a handful of evil folk can terrorize thousands.
There have been a lot of arguments across the blogosphere about the role of centralized vs. decentralized rescue efforts. But one thing the government usually does well is maintain order. For reasons that probably have a lot to do with New Orleans politics and patronage and corruption, the government abdicated its duty in this role. The policemen ran away or contributed to the looting. The Governor failed to ask for the National Guard. The absence of the police or the guard allowed a few thugs to wreak a lot of havoc.
Here is an essay by Bill Whittle (ht: David Dalva) that says these things in ways you rarely hear them said. It’s a superb polemic, probably the best I’ve read in a few years. The language is crude in places. There’s a lot of anger, too. It’s very long. But there is a great deal of wisdom about how to deal with the fact that there are some bad people in the world, the role of the police and the military in a civil society and about where best to place responsibility and decision-making to make sure people respond well in a crisis. I don’t agree with all of it—and you won’t either, probably, regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum—but it may help your thinking as it did mine about the issues of where fault lies in this tragic mess.