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The Bodies of Katrina

The Bodies of Katrina

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Maybe the angriest thing I've ever written, this piece about the American political failure in the wake of Katrina was written just a few days after returning from three months in the Balkans, Middle East, and East Africa.
Maybe the angriest thing I've ever written, this piece about the American political failure in the wake of Katrina was written just a few days after returning from three months in the Balkans, Middle East, and East Africa.

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Published by: nathaniel_whittemore on Jun 17, 2011
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06/17/2011

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September 2
The bodies float by as a reporter stands agape.
Just back in the country after a few months in some of the mostfrustrating places on the planet, I have ignored Katrina for the lastweek or so. I ignored the warnings leading up to it. I watched no newsas it hit. I ignored it because there wasn’t one goddamn part of methat could stand to think about anything more pressing than what timeDie Hard 2 was going to be on TV.Yes, I ignored the shit out of that little storm and all the miserablefilth that it was kicking up. Ignorance was bliss and I wanted it. Theonly ripple in my pristine little pond was when the Mayor of Biloxisaid “This is our Tsunami.” I called it as I saw it - typicalinvidious comparative rhetorical bullshit - and got back to moving myapartment.Yet here we are, something like four fucking days later and today I wasproven wrong. Wrong in my quick dismissal of that comparison and evenmore wrong in my silly supposition that I might be able to bury my headin the deep Illinois sand and slink out of this one without choking andcoughing on the lines we’re being fed.This is, it seems now, the worst thing to happen in America for a
very 
long time. And yes, I mean the implication. And so I, too, am guilty ofthat sort of silly intellectual hubris which tells us that we cancompare tragedy, weigh lives on some sick scale, punch horror into acomputer and get out rankings.But despite this, I can’t help but feel as though the absurd andvicious (non)response of virtually
every 
political person or body withany sort of potential power or jurisdiction in a crisis like this turnswhat would already be a horrible national tragedy of proportionsunknown in the privileged world, into a depraved domestic andinternational scandal. It is nothing less than a clear unraveling ofour
own
national hubris, of our sense of politics and justice andreality. It is an insight into the chaotic fault lines of this “NewAmerican Century” and an ugly gash on whatever shattered pieces andhopes we still cling to as the remnants of our American Dream.To watch television news today is to see a world entirely beyond ourown reckoning of ourselves. It is to see an entirely differentpotential reality – the potential, that is, that we Americans may justbe liable to the same insanities, impulses, brutalities, and tragediesthat afflict the rest of our seething world – that there is somethingbeyond us (call it Nature, God, or whatever you’d like) that does notcare what our gross domestic anything is or indeed, how much freedom wehave. It is to see a reality which we have been trying desperately (andwith much success) to bury under our own mythology for centuries.The twohundred and whatever million of us unaffected sit on our coucheswatching something that can’t possibly, can’t fathomably be happeninghere. Reporters who choke up as they see
bodies
float by; rescueworkers uncovering heating ducts and finding suffocating old women;rape gangs and twitching drug addicts roaming lawless streets; phonecalls from people up to their necks in rising water saying they just

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