Thursday, September 01, 2005

American Refugees ... The lede from WaPo's current Katrina headline:
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 1 -- Federal and local authorities struggled Thursday to regain control of this ruined and lawless city, where tens of thousands of desperate refugees remained stranded with little hope of rescue and rapidly diminishing supplies of food and drinking water.
Note the dependent subject there: "refugees." That is not a word often used in an American context, to describe American citizens; our systemic responses to natural disasters have become so efficient that there are few catastrophic events which we cannot quickly contain. In fact, neither the terrorism four years ago nor any severe weather in recent decades -- even hurricane Andrew -- has created a situation of such vast destruction that an effective response lay beyond the capabilities of our governmental resources. Consequently the word "refugees" has largely been removed from domestic news reports and left to international news alone, where it is regularly invoked to describe the displaced persons at the margins of failed states or the victims of natural disasters in countries to poor or ill-equipped to administer the necessary aid.

So it's shocking to see "refugees" used again in relation to a domestic crisis. At risk of sounding preachy, I think its reappearance now should make us all recognize anew the awesome power nature holds. And even more, I think it should make us humble. No matter how wealthy and developed we become, we will always remain at the mercy of our environment; no matter how knowledgeable, we will all still empathize with the silence of Job.*

*For the non-clergy-offspring among you, please see Job 37:24-38:1, where Elihu concludes his remarkable speech on the sheer power of God and then God responds rather than Job.


Post a Comment

<< Home