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UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY

"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."

Will Hurricane Katrina awaken an America bent on spiritual death?

September 1, 2005

Hurricane Katrina has smashed the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi and devastated the entire city of New Orleans, delivering in only a few hours a catastrophic blow that it is still impossible fully to grasp. But one thing is clear. Katrina is a powerful symbol of the profound disarray of American society.

The United States is spending about $1.25 billion a week on a futile nation-building endeavor in a country the vast majority of which wants it gone. U.S. leaders have created conditions for an incipient civil war without possessing any means to contain divisive and hateful forces of which they have, it seems, no understanding. Only last weekend Sen. John Warner had the gall to lament: "Our nation has given so much to the Iraqi people, and what are they giving us in return?" (New York Times, Aug. 29, 2005).

Our leaders devise aims that are so fantastical and unrealizable that many Americans believe there must be some hidden agenda behind them, even as they neglect the needs of their own people. On Aug. 30, the day after Katrina tore up the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of Americans living in poverty had increased for the fourth consecutive year, rising 1.1 million (from 2003) to 37 million, one third of them children; the number of Americans without health insurance, meanwhile, increased by 800,000, to 45.8 million (Associated Press, Aug. 30, 2005).

Katrina was a powerful wake-up call about the deliberate character of that neglect. Six thousand members of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard were unable to help when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi because they were in Iraq. Even more significantly, it turned out that repairs of levees known to be weak had been delayed because of the war. Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote on Aug. 30: "The federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. . . . After 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars."

Sidney Blumenthal wrote on the web site of Der Spiegel on Aug. 30: "In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. . . . But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze." Now the nation will pay the price of this neglect.

Imperial arrogance — purblind militarism — blood, treasure, and precious life squandered in the sands of Iraq — neglect of the poor — willful disregard of known dangers to our cities and to the planet itself: Are these symptoms of what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he warned: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death"?

UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY

"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."