Grief soon turned to anger. My roommate had neglected to close the window! Didn't she know that this particular day was going to be windy?
My anger led my keen memory to further accusations: Hadn't she decided not to spend the money for a shelf on which to store our food in the first place? Worse, even, I began to believe she'd come back to the room and deliberately left the mess for me to clean up. Maybe she had left the cereal on the floor because of its color. Had the box contained Rice Krispies, would her prejudiced heart have salvaged them in a more timely fashion?
Clearly, my ability to view the situation rationally was long gone. The same problem has occurred in the blame game being played on every end of the political and humanitarian spectrum regarding Hurricane Katrina. Liberals blame the Bush administration; conservatives blame liberals; and African-American communities blame racism. The most common, most disturbing players are the people who have watched a grand total of two news programs and who consider themselves expert enough to blame the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and Mayor Ray Nagin, to those kids these days and their blasted rap music.
Media sources point fingers in all directions, but the primary questions are: Why was this "allowed" to happen and why was the response so insufficient?
The former question drags me away from my usual liberal, Bush-bashing ideology onto a non-partisan path. Dollar amounts are flying around regarding cuts in the federal government's budget, which is where the "what if" responses begin. The numbers that are not mentioned quite so loudly are those that New Orleans puts toward its Mardi Gras celebrations every year. What if more money had been put toward the levee system and less toward sparkly beads - would less blame rest on the federal government today?
The "maybes" stack up endlessly. Maybe if the local government had given more services to its impoverished citizens, the federal government wouldn't be accused of selectively rescuing people based on their race. This leads to another area of blame. If the media had chosen to show the noble struggles of African- Americans instead of dividing images of looters and victims based on skin color, maybe race wouldn't even be in discussion. Had FEMA prepared for this (something multiple scientific and meteorological experts had predicted for years), maybe the response would have been more efficient. If an evacuation plan had been followed instead of ushering people helter-skelter into a facility incapable of offering food or protection, maybe more lives have would been saved.
My point is not to argue one way or the other, but rather to state that the argument is pointless. Some of the loudest claims and accusations are the most poorly thought out. A great example is the public disappointment and anger that's felt over reporters and celebrities having gone to the epicenters of the crisis right away, but rescue teams and services neglecting to do so for days. Certainly, it was relatively easy to get individual helicopters with media staff and public figures in, and had the rescue effort only required individual helicopters with a handful of authorities, the same could have been done.
However, I ask you to picture the chaos and violence at one of the enormous facilities where thousands of people needed aid when 10 helicopters showed up with enough food for 100 of those 15,000 plus people. The pessimist in me believes the arbitrary distribution of that lightning-fast aid would not have helped matters but would have in fact exacerbated the crisis. Authorities had to wait until they had the ability to deliver large-scale help, and I doubt they were biding their time simply for the sake of doing so.
The fact of the matter is, the response that was and continues to be necessary is so large scale that it's almost impossible to fathom. While I agree it is our duty to show enough skepticism towards mistakes that we can analyze them and prevent them from happening again, that is not what the general public is doing right now. Pointing a finger at Bush or FEMA is not the same thing as redesigning evacuation plans for future crises. The best thing we as a nation can do is to seek out how to help, not who we can undercut for mistakes.
No, it's not acceptable for bodies to be floating in the streets, or for underprivileged refugees to starve to death while waiting for help. However, if everyone had the strength to accept accountability, the people working to address this crisis could spend less time covering their respective behinds and more time taking action.
Our tendency is to collectively diffuse our own responsibility by nominating scapegoats. It may just be our way of feeling active when we are fundamentally helpless, or it may comfort us to have a face and a name on which to place the burden of blame. Either way, now is the time for us to focus on real priorities. When it comes down to it, repairs will save more lives than reprimands ever could.
Contributing writer Lindsey Myers is a sophomore from Appleton, Wis. She majors in English and history.