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Kind of Gulf War
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 9/7/05
war on the vulnerable residents of our nation’s Gulf
coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and when the initial
attack was over, it was clear that nature had won. Man’s
fragile buildings, levees and infrastructure were no match
for the wind, seas and flooding of Hurricane Katrina.
we stood among the thousands of supporters assembled far away
in Coronado to listen to President George Bush pay tribute
to WW II veterans and reassure us that things were going well
in Iraq, it was becoming obvious that things were not going
at all well in America’s own beleaguered Gulf area. Questions
were already being raised regarding the appropriateness of
the president’s presence in Coronado while things were
going to hell in New Orleans, where Americans were perishing
by the hundreds and perhaps thousands even as he spoke. As
it became obvious that this was not the best time for pep talks,
tributes, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, the president
cut short his West Coast visit and vacation and headed to the
White House after first touring the devastated areas.
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
The somewhat belated federal effort to cope with the disaster
had a sputtering start, by most reports. Watching television
images of stranded victims on rooftops and remaining sections
of elevated highways pleading for help, while others waded in
fetid flood water up to their hips or higher, seeking higher
ground, viewers were asking why there were no early airdrops
of food supplies, why no military convoys speeding to the area
with relief supplies.
Initial relief efforts were hampered by violence, looting,
arson and general lawlessness. Armed gangs roamed the streets,
firing on rescue workers, police, helicopters and even ambulances,
diverting police from lifesaving operations. The chaos revealed
all too plainly how close to the surface is the violent side
of human nature and how quickly it emerges when security and
law enforcement is insufficient. With no places left for confining
marauding hoodlums and insufficient fuel for their vehicles,
police were often helpless to deal with the violence. The situation
clearly called for immediate martial law and a shoot-to-kill
policy in dealing with violent thugs. But where were the National
Guard forces? With so many of them committed to Iraq, there were
simply not enough of them and they were late in arriving.
The disaster paralyzed
river commerce and Gulf port traffic with severe disruptions
to the transport of oil and farm produce.
To try to get essential commerce and materials moving, the president
waived the restriction against using foreign flag vessels to
transport gods between American ports. The archaic restriction
was designed to protect American flag vessels from foreign competition.
One is tempted to ask, “What American flag vessels?” Our
merchant marine is a mere shadow of what it used to be.
It’s easy enough to second guess federal responses to
any disaster and none of us far away in the security of our dry
homes is really in a position to judge. But somehow, it seems
disgraceful that people should die of hunger and thirst on rooftops
in American in 2005 while we watch it all on TV. If the military
has in fact, undergone a transformation into a flexible, highly
mobile force able to respond rapidly to emergencies, why wasn’t
the initial response to this domestic crisis faster? Is it because
they are over-committed and undermanned? Of course, opinions
differed regarding the quality of the initial federal response.
Watching Fox news, you heard that everything possible was being
done. Watching CNN and the major networks, you seemed to hear
more criticism than praise, at least in the first few critical
In past major disasters, the determination to rebuild has often
inspired and sustained survivors. But in New Orleans, too many
people were still dying over too wide an area to speak much of
rebuilding yet. The extent of the damage and the death toll remain
unknown but surely will be staggering. People who still remained
in the battered city were living in a cesspool, awash in toxic
chemicals, vermin and filth that will remain even after the ground
has dried. Challenges facing any attempts to rebuild will be
enormous, if environmental and safety requirements are to be
met. If a city that lies below sea level in the path of hurricanes
is to be rebuilt properly, it must be provided with a system
of dikes and levees that can withstand a category 5 storm. Can
you imagine the cost involved?
Many lessons from this tragedy will be drawn in the months
ahead. Although it is fair that questions be asked, now is not
the time for assessing blame as some politicians and groups shamelessly
have already done. Now is a time to pray for the victims of Hurricane
Katrina and to send them all the help that we can spare. And
it is never too early to think about ways we can better prepare
for the next inevitable disaster. tOR
2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.