It bothers me a great bit seeing such theatrical similarities between the uniform and bandanna wearing warriors, killing innocent civilians by government sponsored tanks and planes, or insurgent supported slaughters. Their goals are so same, and their mutual friendship amid bmbed apart tranquility gets more elaborated as days are passing. Katrina's violent force not only killed, maimed and displaced hundreds and thousands many, it also placed the unfolding reality both in America and Iraq in its proper context.
Ignorance and abdication that amounts to madness
All political leaders sometimes parry with the truth, but with Bush the disconnections are systematic
Thursday September 15, 2005
As a consequence of the catastrophe that occurred in New Orleans, people in the US and throughout the world have started to re-examine the record of the present leaders of the first world superpower. A shift in opinion has taken place almost overnight. History, throwing us all back into our seats, suddenly opened its throttle.
Katrina - everyone refers to the hurricane by her name as if she were some kind of avatar - revealed that there is dire and increasing poverty in the US, that black people are typically treated as unwanted second-class citizens, that the systematic cutting of government investment in public institutions has produced widespread social disequilibrium and destitution (40 million Americans live without any aid if they fall ill), that the so-called war against terrorism is creating administrative chaos, and that within and against all this, voices of protest are being raised loud and clear.
All this though was evident before Katrina to those living it, and to those who wanted to know. What she changed was that the media were there for once, showing what was actually happening, and the fury of those to whom it was happening. With her terrible gesture she wiped the opaque screens clean for a little while.
In some gnomic way the as-yet-innumerable dead on the Gulf coast spoke not for but with the 100,000 Iraqis who have died as a consequence of the ongoing disastrous and criminal war. Time and again in the US press, Katrina and Iraq are being mentioned together. Yet Katrina was regular. She belonged to the familiar weather conditions which affect the Gulf of Mexico. She was not hiding in Afghanistan. And merciless as she was, she did not belong to any axis of evil. She was simply a natural threat to American lives and property, and she was heading for Louisiana.
It was in the self-interest (as well as the national interest) of the president and his chosen colleagues to meet the challenge she threw down, to foresee the needs of her victims and to reduce the ensuing pain and panic to the minimum possible. If they, the government, happened to fail to do this, they would be able to blame nobody else, and they themselves would be blamed. A child could foresee this. And they failed utterly. Their failure was technical, political and emotional. "Stuff happens," murmurs Donald Rumsfeld.
Is it possible that this administration is mad? Let us try to define the variant of madness, for it may be that it has never occurred before. It has very little to do, for example, with Nero when he fiddled while Rome burned. Any madness, however, implies a severe disconnection with reality, or, to put it more precisely, with the existent.
The variant we are considering touches upon the relationship between fear and confidence, between being threatened and being supreme. There is no negotiation between the two. Their "madness" operates like a switch which turns one off and the other on. And what is grave about this is that it is in the long periods of negotiating between fear and confidence that the existent is normally surveyed and observed in its multitudinous complexity. It is there that one learns about what one is facing.
Five days after Katrina had struck, when President Bush finally visited the devastated city, he astounded journalists by saying: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." On the same day, in the wrecked small town of Biloxi, the president's flying visit was preceded by a team who quickly cleared the rubble and corpses from the route his cortege would take. Two hours later the team vanished, leaving everything else in the town exactly as it was.
The calculations of the present US government are closely related to the global interests of the corporations, and what has been termed the survival of the richest, who today also vacillate abruptly between fear and confidence.
The lobbyist Grover Norquist, who is a talking head for corporate interests and to whom Bush and co listened when planning their tax reforms for the benefit of the rich, is on record as saying: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
All political leaders sometimes parry with the truth, but here the disconnections are systematic and crop up not only in their announcements but in their every strategic calculation. Hence their ineptness. Their operation in Afghanistan failed, their war in Iraq has been won (as the saying goes) by Iran, Katrina was allowed to produce the worst natural disaster in US history, and terrorist activities are increasing.
An ignorance about most of what exists, and an abdication from the very minimum of what can be expected of government - are we not approaching disconnections which amount to what can be called madness when found in the minds of those who believe they can rule the planet?
· John Berger is a novelist and critic