Sunday, September 11, 2005

reflection on 9/11 & katrina

marjorie says...

I was talking with a friend recently about a presentation he’s putting together on generational change in the non-profit sector and eventually we began talking about the great traumatic events in our national history, when people remember exactly where they were when they first heard about them. Going back to the 60’s, obviously the assassination of JFK is the big one for that generation.

For me, I really can’t think of one other moment in my life that I share almost universally with other people than the morning of 9/11/01. The images of that sad, sad day will always be with us. Regardless of anything analytical I could say about the why and what of it (and doesn’t that get old anyway?), it was a profoundly distressing moment. I know I don’t have to say much about it, because just about anyone who is reading this knows what I’m talking about.

What has always interested me about 9/11 is how quickly the images of those planes slamming into the towers disappeared from television. Pretty quickly, the networks quit airing the footage. This aspect was brought home for me the following summer when I was in Guatemala. I was sitting in the kitchen having dinner when the footage came on the television--I remember being shocked all over again, mesmerized by it. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the television. Then I realized that to the Guatemalan family I was staying with it was run of the mill footage. They had been seeing those scenes fairly regularly for almost a year at that point. That says a lot about how traumatic that event was for our country--that the images had pretty much disappeared from our media saturated culture.

As a nation we are certainly living a different reality now due to that tragedy. And I can’t say that it’s a good transformation. I don’t think being a warrior nation is a good thing. While I know we have always been one, we are certainly in hyper overdrive now, to the point of developing a brand new generation of nuclear weapons right here at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque. Why is that the direction we had to go in? Well, I realize it’s open for debate and there are all kinds of levels from which to ponder it.

We are currently living through another watershed event for our country. The death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina are profound in their implications. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the fault lines in our society have been laid bare: race and class colliding with environmental degradation--with devastating consequences.

I can only hope that the response to this tragedy will be different from the 9/11 response. The difference is clear. Before, we emerged dramatically as a warrior nation. Now we are humbled by the destruction of a great American city and the desperation of its poorest citizens, due largely to our own inadequacies. As the response to 9/11 showed, our government is willing and able to make structural changes. Let’s hope that in the aftermath of Katrina the same willpower will be evident when it comes to poverty and ensuring that our ecosystems are healthy. Unfortunately, I believe it will take a lot more pressure from the grassroots to actually make that happen. Here's hoping we are up to the task.