I confess to watching Katrina from a pub on Monday afternoon and being not exactly delighted by the spectacle, but filled with a pretty large sense of wonder and awe. I assumed, like many others, I think, that we would see a great deal of property damage and some small-scale human suffering, but nothing more. After all, that early in the morning the cable news nets had announced that Katrina had veered off to the east and New Orleans was going to be spared the cataclysm that had been feared on Sunday. Remember the phrase they used: "The best worst-case scenario."
Five days later we have this terrifying quote: "The conditions are steadily declining," said Maj. Ed Bush. "The systems have done all they can do. We don't know how much longer we can hold on. The game now is to squeeze everything we can out of the Superdome and then get out."
Ross Douthat has a useful summary of what I expect most people (including myself) are just coming to wonder: This is the United States of America, not a Michael Bay movie. How can this be happening?
(Douthat also has this intriguing thought about Katrina as the anti-9/11.)
On many levels--from the leadership of our government, to the behavior of looters, to the shocking response of some portions of the American left--the destruction of New Orleans has revealed some troubling traits of our national character. It's sobering to realize that what we saw on September 12, 2001, when American society was the picture of strength, dignity, compassion, and valor, at every level, might have been an aberation, and not the norm.
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