Like most people in the world, I have been saddened by the Louisiana tragedy. One has only to see the briefest of news coverage to sense the fear and desperation that grips New Orleans.
News commentators and politicians have been quick to shake their heads at the looting and violence. They call it the sudden collapse of civilization. I think, though, that the collapse of our civilization can be found far from the Gulf Coast.
We should not be shocked by the desperate acts of those who are hungry and exhausted. Rather, the apathy and callousness of their fellow citizens and leaders are more ominous harbingers of collapsing civilization.
I am not diminishing the heroic and astounding efforts of medical professionals and rescue workers who have given their all to New Orleans. Nor do I take lightly the monetary and material donations from across the nation.
Overall, however, it is undeniable that we have failed our fellow citizens in their moments of greatest need. “The test of our progress,” Franklin Roosevelt once advised the nation, “is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Seventy years later, it seems we collectively decided that FDR was simply loony.
I know a small storm is brewing around Bush. Some are shocked that he delayed touring the gulf for so long. Others can’t believe how hollow his gestures of sympathy sound. To me, though, these things are not surprising. We saw this side of Bush on September 11. Am I the only person left who remembers that Bush did not show “real leadership” during that equally dark time? Rather, he ran away and hid in a bunker, thinking only of himself.
As tempting as it is to blame Bush and his crew for these problems, they only echo the nastiness of the larger nation. After all, Mr. Bush handily won reelection on a platform that promised more war, more hate, and more tax cuts. Most Americans, even if they didn’t agree with this vision of the United States, simply didn’t care enough to vote at all.
The United States failed those stranded in New Orleans long before now. The majority of those left in the city were poor before the hurricane hit. Most Americans really didn’t think about them until their desperation became a visual image to be consumed.
Many Americans face hunger daily. Yet, we no longer seem to feel that it is a national obligation to help our fellow citizens. Rather than working to ensure that we provide for those who have too little, we have cared only about our individual lives. It is that lack of citizenship that draws into question our civilization.