Hurricane Katrina or the Katrina War:

An Exemplar for World Peace

 

 

Sarah Kathleen Fritz

 

It could be said that once people read something, that once they take in information, absorb facts and empirical details on a subject, that they know it(G. Wolfe, personal communication, 18 ) For instance, the subject of world peace is one that is of great interest to many people. There have been numerous scientific studies conducted on the effects of eliminating pollutants and elements of war from our world community. After reading these studies, the UN and other prominent world communities have enacted various commissions and committees to enact policies and create world peace. They believe they know world conflict, its causes, and how to create world peace.  Yet here we sit in a world fraught with conflict.

In a day and age where information is at the ready, and available in a great variety of media, most would think that we ought to be the most well-informed people that have existed. However, I pose this idea: that knowledge and how to accomplish it is perhaps as subjective a matter as the best place to get a pizza on a Friday night.

It has been said that “How you see the world depends on where you sit. People tend to see what they want to see. Out of a mass of detailed information, they tend to pick out those facts that confirm their prior perceptions and to disregard or misinterpret those that call their perceptions into question.”(Satyendra.) This quote emphasizes the reality that accomplishing world peace cannot be an easy task because each and every person consumed with the want for world peace approaches both the problem and the solution from different starting points. On a much smaller scale, a particularly current and relevant example of this complicated problem can be seen in the recent weather disaster on the Gulf Coast.

On September 1, 2005, Hurricane Katrina became a reality to the American public. Having hit Florida in a fairly familiar fashion, we breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that her menace was not going to be so severe. As the storm made its track toward the Gulf Coast, it began to increase in strength. On that early September morning, New Orleans was hammered with a category 5 disaster. However, it was not until the storm had passed that America began to feel her catastrophic ramifications. Just one day after the intense storm had dissipated from the Gulf Coast, New Orleans was faced with an even greater disaster. When the levee that kept the city from going under water broke open, the real damage began.  As rescue, recovery, and clean up began, it seemed America was waging a war.

             As residents of New Orleans waited for their rescue to come, it looked as if the death toll was growing by the day. Family, friends, and loved ones of New Orleans residents watched and waited for a word of hope or fate. Day after day the waiting continued. Despite declarations by FEMA, The Red Cross, and other humanitarian groups, that the city was surrounded by help waiting to move in (Schmid, 2005),  it was not until four days after the storm first hit that the first shipments of food and water reached the city. In some cases, residents who survived the severity of the storm died while waiting for rescue and aid to come to them (Simpson, 2005).

            Although slow response times were an aggravation to New Orleans, the federal government has been guilty of far greater a crime than being inadequately prepared. Judging by the actions of the police, the reactions of the victims of the storm, and the general feelings of the American public, the storm that will go down in history as Hurricane Katrina ought to be more adequately referred to as the Katrina War.

            In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a wide and varied response by people in the affected areas. A first major response was that many of the natives of New Orleans were reluctant or unable to leave their homes before and after the disaster hit. The idea that they were going to have to leave everything behind was simply incomprehensible. One such resident, Mr. Mike Reed said, “They’ll have to drag me out by my feet” (Egan, 2005). New Orleans had dealt with various strengths of hurricanes before. Therefore, many people felt that if they were well prepared, they could remain in their homes, hold on to their families and their possessions and ride out the storm.

            Similarly, looking at many war-torn countries, we can see die hard refugees who are willing to sacrifice and endure anything in order to remain in the place they saw as safe: their home. One particular incident of this phenomenon could be seen in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Both Israelis and Palestinians are used to a long history of war. Even when the Israeli government had agreed to pull out of the space it was occupying, and as bulldozers headed toward Israeli encampments, many refused to leave. A long history of dealing with war told them that if they would just hunker down and hold on tight, then when the noise was over and the fires extinguished life could resume. Unfortunately, for many of the steadfast occupants of the Gaza strip, the West Bank, and New Orleans, this one last war, or one last hurricane was more than they could handle.

Another menacing problem in New Orleans was that of looters. To much of the American public, there might have been a willingness to accept the plight of the mother with two children leaving Wal-Mart with confiscated baby formula. However, this sight was a rather rare one in this aftermath. Whether it was the effects of hysteria, desperation, or complete disorientation to reality, a more common sight was that of men carrying away electronics that could not be used, and were likely to be destroyed before they could be used. 

As the media reported on such looters, it seemed the response they were eliciting was one of anger and disgust with these people. I think, however, that a different response altogether is in order. The actions of “the looters” were not those of lifetime criminals, not those of hardened anarchists, and not those of indignant troublemakers. The actions of men running away with televisions and radios were acts of sheer desperation. Their lives were completely destroyed. Though it may not seem logical to many of us sitting in front of a working television or computer, just possibly being able to sit in front of a television, working or not, brought a sense of normalcy. Why should we instantaneously take on the opinion drafted by the media, when we would do the same thing in that situation?

A final response to this tragedy was one that rang out among those who were fortunate enough to be mobile enough and have financial resources adequate to evacuate before the storm. Perhaps the government thought that those who were evacuated before the storm were cared for well enough. However, to watch scenes of a mother in the Super Dome holding three children, two of whom had died for lack of adequate nutrition and medical care, seems to sharply controvert this idea.

Still I think that the government may be overlooking what could possibly be some of the most severe, outspoken, and destructive responses to the situation. When normalcy has returned in the eyes of the state and the nation, I think that shock will set in when an outcry rings among the victims that the government thinks it has cared for. Walter Kemp stated that “The post conflict phase crucially defines the relationship between former antagonists.”( Kemp cited in Satyendra, 2004) I think that Walter Kemp would look at the way that the United States is handling this natural disaster and raise a wagging finger and a scornful warning to her leaders that the post conflict phase is not being well handled and that conflict in and of itself has by and large failed to be recognized by those in authority.

It is the belief of much of American society today that what is good for the masses is good for the few. However, this creates an atmosphere where the knowledge that we have is not only an insufficient solution, but also becomes an antagonist to conflict. In the instance of the amount of vitamins needed daily or the hours of sleep needed a night, this concept may be adequate, but in such a devastating circumstance , sometimes, a case by case consideration of what is best  is a wiser approach than trying to impose a general set of rules that do not meet people’s individual needs.

Looking at the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, it was clear that there was much to be done, and there was no clear place to start the work. After water had flooded the city, and bodies began to float in the water, mandatory evacuations were deemed essential. While the need for evacuations is understood, what would be the need to stick a gun at a peaceful man’s head and escorting him from his home, prepared to shoot at him execution style should he choose not to follow? (Simpson, 2005). Even worse, perhaps, is the threat that if a family or even a single person should willful or even unknowingly deny evacuation orders, they would be denied the right to food and water given to other survivors of the disaster. Although it may seem that such coercion tactics would be effective in producing evacuations, should either one of these threats come to fruition, the only result that would be produced is another dead body in the water to cause more disease.

Often times, when dealing with conflict resolution, the reality that we are dealing with true human lives and not just a conflict that must be resolved is lost. The solution to diseased water would seem like mandatory evacuations. However, I must look at the family who does not want to be taken away and split up, and the man who has invested his entire life in his home being led away at gun point, and ask the question, what have they done to deserve this, and where have we gone wrong?

Without a doubt, scenes such as this represent a conflict that is poorly handled. But to take Walter Kemp’s quote to where it was intended, let me ask, what is being done for the split up families and the ones who lost everything in this disaster? The answer: a resounding nothing. Certainly the government can be credited with evacuating New Orleans, but tell me, once a  man is led to safety, who will rebuild his home and help him regain lost memories? After a family is split up because the busses or choppers were too full, who is going to reunite them? It is here that the American government has simply failed its people.

As one man, representing many, wades through untold amounts of paper work in order to find some kind of funds to start over again, daily another heart-wrenching tale can be seen on the morning news of young children looking for mothers or fathers. Where are they left to go? Where can they turn? Not to the trusty government, who knowingly built a wall too thin and caused them to lose everything, but to the few kind Samaritans who will help a young man get seen on T.V. or donate a few hundred dollars to  help these lost souls rebuild. Not to the government who have crossed their fingers and turned their backs hoping not to see the destruction, but to any person on the street willing to provide a bed and a few hot meals. How is it that the current administration expects that they will rise from this situation shining?  All they have done is attempt to step on and quiet down the loudest disapproval of an administration that is stale, outdated, and uninterested in what is best for the American public in order to save face. Coupled with amplifying the few voices of praise that still remain, their objective has been made quite clear: quell the general outcry and boast success, despite reality. This is no way to handle a post conflict society in order to create peace.

While I have attempted to present just a few facts about the disaster that was hurricane Katrina and the response that transformed it to the Katrina War, I do not claim that my own information is unbiased. I too have searched through a mass of information, found facts that supported my way of thinking, and possibly used and twisted facts that were contrary to my way of thinking.

Much like creating peace in Louisiana, the world community is faced with a number of extremely complex and perplexing dilemmas involved in creating meaningful and extensive peace worldwide. In both situations there seem to be varying viewpoints. According to Gary Wolfe, it then becomes the responsibility of all interested to recognize that many diverse agendas are represented. Once agendas can be recognized as filters for our perceptions and those agendas are set aside, the true work of establishing peace in a fearful and dangerous place can begin(G. Wolfe, personal communication, 24 ).

It is the responsibility of the world community not to only look for the information that they want to see. We must gain a perspective of the entire situation and then attempt to make an educated decision about what actions should be taken. However, Satyendra quotes an anonymous source stating that “the public habit of judging the relations between states from what appears in the papers adds to the confusion; if this is so, it then becomes the responsibility of the general public and the world community not just to judge our surroundings by biased news sources. As a world community, it is our duty to research, study and deduce the facts that are available and to turn those facts into commissions, actions, and policies that are the most likely to produce peace, taking into consideration both majority and minority populations that will be affected by any actions that are taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Egan, M. (2005). Thousands return to New Orleans homes. Washington

post, Retrieved Sep 05, 2005, from www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/05/AR2005090500133

Satyendra, N. (2005). Conflict resolution in empire& beyond. Retrieved

Sep. 4, 2005, from Tamil Nation Web site: http://tamilnation.org/conflictresolution/

Schmid, R. E. (2005). FEMA prepares for Katrina's aftermath. Washington

post, . Retrieved Sep 05, 2005, from www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/29/AR2005082900599

Simpson, D. (2006). A week after storm, levee break is fixed. AsiaOne,

.Retrieved Sep 05, 2005, from http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/H/HURRICANE_KATRINA?SITE=ASIAONE&SEC