Guest Column: There is a tide in the affairs of men

Katrina’s devastation on the Gulf Coast and the citizens of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida was so hellish that words can hardly express the horror that our nation has and continues to endure.

Local and state emergency response plans crippled by insufficient funding and impaired by an administration that places little faith in the role and purpose of government, were hapless in the face of overwhelming physical and psychological destruction. The federal government’s response to the urgent needs of Katrina’s victims was criminally negligent. So negligent in fact, that the anarchy that broke out on the streets of New Orleans and Biloxi pales in comparison to the malfeasance perpetuated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and those responsible for managing our nation’s preparedness and response to natural or manmade catastrophes. The price of such ineptitude could be heard in the desperate plea of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for help and the hollow, lifeless gaze of despair and desolation seen from those too poor, young or old to evacuate before Katrina’s wrath. President George W. Bush’s response to the emergency leaves no doubt that, as a nation and civilization, we are perilously unprepared for any calamity that may arise. The uneasy feeling this leaves me with can be felt in the palpable silence of the dead floating in the streets, levees and tidewaters of the Gulf Coast.

In the coming days, weeks and months Congress will convene special committees and legislative juggernauts to investigate why those agencies and individuals responsible for this disaster did not act with greater clarity or response. Name calling and finger pointing will reach unparalleled heights, as Republicans and Democrats leverage what they can from Katrina’s aftermath for political gain. Unfortunately, this tried and true methodology of political obfuscation and mendacity won’t work this time. The underbelly of America has been sliced clean, like gutting a fish, and the sights and smells are not a pretty sight. No amount of political spin or subterfuge can deny the fact that the policies and priorities of our nation and civilization need desperate revision if we are to learn anything from Katrina. Sept. 11, 2001, showed us how vulnerable we are as a people; Katrina proved that point. To deny the obvious in the face of incontrovertible evidence, is to run down the path of history toward oblivion.

Our government failed us both on 9/11 and 8/29 because, as a nation and people, we have failed to heed both the lessons from our past, and the course of our future. To presume that we can act in the family of nations with impunity, without regard and respect for the economic and geopolitical effects and outcomes of our policies and actions, is to proceed on a course that will meet with disaster. Nothing in nature exists in a vacuum. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. The Bush administration’s focus on the war in Iraq and terrorism, and its pre-emptive allegory for international affairs and conflict resolution, imputes others for what has occurred in our history. Their attempt to paint history from a very limited palette has created a canvas tattered and shorn with inaccuracies and impuissance, and a nation lacking in vision and righteousness. Shakespeare understood this and we, as a nation, must understand this as well: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyages of their life Is bound in shallows and miseries.”

Craig G. Campbell is a local author and publisher in the fields of history, culture and consciousness.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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