You don't need me to tell you that Hurricane Katrina was a natural catastrophe. Pictures in the media illustrate that better than any of us could in words alone. To see pictures beamed from America that looked more like they were coming from a third world country was as sobering as it was shocking. The death toll could be in the thousands, but right now no one knows, and in truth that issue is still not the priority. Six days after nature once again illustrated its frightening power to us, the main concern is still to simply find and evacuate those affected by this most devastating of devastating storms.
Just as in the aftermath of the tsunami that rocked South East Asia and India last December, the world stepped up to help its stricken neighbor. The only difference this time is that the neighbor in need was one whom most of us probably wouldn't have imagined would ever need this kind of help. But when someone's house is on fire you don't stop to ask how the fire started, do you?
A long list of countries rallied to offer financial aid and resources. France was among first and most generous, setting aside the whole 'freedom fries' debacle. And from the other side of the world, two of the hardest-hit countries by last year's tsunami, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, also came forward with offers to help their Goliathan neighbor who they, momentarily at least, now have something in common with.
Of course, most of the world could only stand by and witness the horror unfold as the hurricane swept away the homes of a million people. Aside from giving money to the Red Cross or other such charities on the scene, there seems little anyone can do but watch.
We feel compassion of course, and maybe even a little guilty for feeling thankful that it wasn't us, but somewhere in there we're reminded of just how fragile we really are, that in an instant our lives can so dramatically change and that we are essentially powerless to do anything about it.
As the days passed by and the world watched the people trapped in New Orleans with no power and little food or water, questions were bound to be asked. These questions, at least, to begin with, weren't motivated by anything other than a genuine compassion for our fellow man. Where is the help? Why is it not arriving faster? Who is in charge? and how on earth in the richest most well-equipped country in the world has it taken so long for anything to be done?
Some are calling these questions 'the blame game' as if playing games was on anyone's mind in these hours. But from where I am, on the outside looking in, I don't think it's at all unreasonable or unexpected that people are asking questions about the lack of adequate response, especially when you have people like the President himself saying it was too slow to arrive.
It doesn't seem unreasonable for Americans to feel like this terrible event could have been handled far better than it was. In the wake of 9/11 President Bush set up the Department of Homeland Security, and along with FEMA surely you would have thought they would have a plan to deal with disasters like this. Fair enough this wasn't an attack on America so we're not expecting Bush to call for a 'War on Hurricanes', but what if it had been an attack?
It's surely not a waste of time asking these questions, especially if you're a tax-paying American. People asked the same kind of questions in the wake of 9/11 but back then there was at least an enemy to focus anger upon. I suppose, maybe because there is no enemy, in this case, the questions might feel to some like attacks from within. Clearly some people feel it's too soon to canalize the preliminary rescue efforts, but when exactly would it be the right time?
My point is that questions have a place here and now, and yes when it's still going on, and yes when it's still raw, and yes when the body count has not yet begun. We surely owe it to those affected, those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost everything, and even those who have died. Questions need to be asked so that answers may be found, lessons can be learned, and maybe in the future lives can be saved.
I'm not interested in the trivial details of whether or not George W. Bush was on vacation or whether he was just running the country from his ranch in Texas, we can bicker over those things later. But for now, as the rescue workers do their job on the ground, we need to make sure that they've got what they need to get the job done, while at the same time we begin to learn what we can from this tragedy so that should such a thing happen again we maybe a little better prepared.