Sunday, September 25, 2005


No one can say America failed to get its act together this time, in face of Hurricane Rita.
Warned and chagrined by the devastation wrought only weeks ago by Hurricane Katrina, the US was ready and set for all systems to go to cope with the worst the storm could throw at it.
As television and Internet reports showed the old and ill being evacuated from hospitals, hundreds of buses on hand to move those with no transport of their own and two million people gridlocked on Interstate Highway 45, all the resources of the Federal, State and local governments were poised ready for action.

Equally no one can deny human powerlessness against the might of Nature, which tosses and discards people like mere bagatelles when the rain falls and the wind blows, with no more regard for their importance or status than it holds for the humble amoeba.
Global warming/climate change may or may not have contributed to the ferocity of the hurricanes which have lashed the Gulf Coast of America. But they are a salutary reminder that though we may have the technology to plunder the earth, rip down rain forests, genetically modify crops, clone animals, drill the planet for oil till it runs out, pump the air full of carbon till the ice melts and explore space, we cannot manage or subdue Nature when it gears up.
Man, the most intelligent and resourceful of animals, cannot bomb a hurricane out of existence, divert its course or dissipate its energy.
For millions in the Third World the force of Nature is a constant reality. Their shabby shacks and shanty towns are regularly destroyed and blown to kingdom come by wind, fire and flood. Their crops die back into the earth when the rain fails or get guzzled in the fields by plagues of locusts, and they have no water when rivers or wells dry up.
In the cosseted physical comfort of the developed world, with our all-mod-cons homes and water, light and heat instantly available at the turn of a tap or press of a switch, most of us feel safe and protected from the ravages of Nature most of the time. And so confident in the material progress we have made, particularly in the last hundred years, that it is easy to forget that we too live on a very fine edge and our veneer of civilisation can be wiped out in hours or in a night.
When Nature strikes on a grand scale we are as naked in the world as we were in our earliest days on Planet Earth.
It strikes savage blows not only at our physical comfort and resources, but at our identity and sense of ourselves. Psychologically, we are stripped bare. Our belief that we count and matter and that our lives have a purpose seems gone with the wind.
Just who are we without our jobs and homes and material possessions?
It is a question to which thousands of Americans must find the answer.
To fight back and rebuild their lives in such circumstances, people need to believe they are more than what they possess and worth more than what they have lost. This need too has been there since the beginning along with the ability to find such inner strength.
We like to think that sometimes at least good can come out bad. We need to hope that this is so for the people whose lives have been disrupted and shattered by the hurricanes and they can make fresh starts to better lives than they had before the rains and the winds came.
If there is anything the rest of us can learn, it may be that striven-for and highly-prized material success is not all when the tectonic plates of our lives shift and no true measure of who we are.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 03, 2005


On his belated trip to the Gulf States on Day Five of the disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, US President George W Bush didn’t have the guts to meet the desperate people sweltering in the humid summer heat of downtown New Orleans.
If one fiftieth part of the American catastrophe had happened in Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair (probably in his shirt sleeves) would have been out there on Day Two, shaking the hands of the victims, with the Prince of Wales on his coat tails. And he’d have moved heaven and earth to ensure people were rescued, given shelter, taken to hospital and provided with the food and water they needed — fast.
But Bush, who had hunkered down on holiday at his Texas ranch and gone electioneering in Arizona in the first three days, chose not to hear the voices of the helpless tens of thousands crying out for help, just sheepishly peered out from the cosseted comfort of Air Force One at the lawless refugee camp the dying city has become.
Having diverted $40 million earmarked to renew flood protection to support to his ‘war on terror’ and sent nearly half the National Guard and the heavy water vehicles, Humvees and other equipment which could have helped his people, to Iraq, he couldn’t even send enough buses to get them out – or provide the food and water to keep them alive.
The devastation of the Gulf States has torn down the curtain on an America which strides the globe telling the world it would be a better place if only all nations did as the US does.
Beneath the glitz of military superpower and the conquest of space, America is a Third World country in its own backyard. The truth about the land of the free and the home of the brave is that it is a corporate state run for the benefit of the very rich and very powerful who finance its elections and do nothing for the ordinary people it holds in contempt. Just like a Third World junta.

Unless they are rich or at least comfortably off, the American Dream is a nightmare for its citizens. In a money and success-driven society, it is a harsh, cruel place if you don’t make it —you count for nothing and there is no safety net. The poor and the weak are branded losers, who are considered a waste of time and space and don’t deserve sympathy or charity.

Since the days of the notorious Huey Long, the shadow of corruption has hung over Louisiana. And it was difficult to watch the pictures of the smashed, wrinkled bridges in New Orleans, like some bizarre works of modern art, and not wonder how many corners had been cut and sub-standard materials used in the construction for the benefit of some powerful individual or company’s bank balance.

Today, as the superpower sun rises over China, America is up to its eyes in debt, in hoc to China, bogged down in a war from which it cannot extricate itself any time soon and seeking international aid. Its long, slow, terminal decline as a great power has become visible.

This did not start with George W Bush – or his father. It began in the wake of Watergate when, instead of facing up to and coming to terms with the fact that it was something rotten in American public life which had enabled Watergate to happen, the US power brokers shoved Gerald Ford on stage as President and kicked the dirt under the carpet, claiming the bad times were over and it had moved on.

Left untreated, the cancer of corruption and greed has grown silently in the thirty odd years since, showing itself only in the drip-drip of financial scandals which have been dismissed as aberrations.

Until last week the US still managed to maintain its glossy superpower image.

Then a Category 4/5 hurricane, an Act of God, revealed the extent of the metastasis of the American sickness and the Third World conditions in which so many millions of its people struggle to survive.

Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2005. All Rights Reserved