September 11, 2005

Post-Katrina 9/11 editorializing.

Every newspaper must have a lead editorial today marking the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but will every newspaper find a way to connect the 9/11 attacks with Katrina? Here is the New York Times version of the seemingly inevitable Katrina-focused 9/11 editorial:
It took a day or two after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast to understand that it could affect our feelings about what happened at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania....

Given the area it affected and its potential death toll, Katrina perfectly simulated a much larger terrorist attack than the one that hit New York. It was nearly nuclear in scale....

We felt that 9/11 had changed our lives in an instant, that we had been jerked out of a pleasant dream. The difference in the blow that Katrina struck was not merely that we could see it coming. It was that, as a nation, we thought we were already fully awake.
Fair enough. Actually, it's pretty mild: "Katrina perfectly simulated a much larger terrorist attack than the one that hit New York." No, in fact, it didn't. (The second to the last sentence concedes the simulation was not perfect.) You see a hurricane forming, strengthening, and heading for shore for days. A terrorist attack — one that succeeds — comes out of the blue. And only parts of the country are especially vulnerable to hurricanes, with New Orleans being a unique case of vulnerability for which special precautions should have been made. So the lack of preparation exposed by Katrina is far less than the real lack of preparation.

Here is a piece about what it would take to evacuate New York City after an attack:
Just imagine trying to move more than eight million New Yorkers - including the high number of people without cars - through streets that are clogged on an ordinary day and then through the tunnels and over the bridges that connect New York's islands to the mainland and to one another. "It would not be easy and it would not be pretty," said Jerome M. Hauer, the city's former emergency management director.
Who has not tried to picture what would happen in Manhattan if the island suddenly became uninihabitable?

I wonder what the 9/11 editorials would have said if Katrina had not knocked our heads into a different position? I think they would have talked about Iraq. What would they have said?

(A more interesting question to me is what difference has it made — will it make — that we've turned our attention away from Iraq?)


pamvon said...

(A more interesting question to me is what difference has it made — will it make — that we've turned our attention away from Iraq?)

Cindy Sheehan might want to answer that.

CraigC said...

Ahem. One tiny difference between Katrina and a nuclear attack? Oh, how about thousands of casualties?

Melanie said...

Yi-Fu Tuan had a good commentary on the comparison with 9/11 and Katrina in his last Dear Colleague letter at

EddieP said...

Iraq is doing just fine thank you. The insurgency, while still viable, is mortally wounded.

The Sunnis are joining the democracy project big time. They just completed an intense voter registration drive, albeit one to try vote down the Constitution. This, in spite of Zarqawi's threat to kill anyone who votes. But ain't it grand that the people and Sunni leaders have chosen ballots over AK-47's?

It is wonderful to have the naysayers and handwringers and the hate Bush bunch fussing about New Orleans. I hope they uncover a couple of more so called scandals to keep 'em focused until after the Iraqi vote on October 15!

Steven said...

Bah. It wasn't "almost nuclear" in scope in physical terms, it was well beyond any plausible terrorist nuclear attack.

A one-megaton surface blast is about eighty times larger than a Hiroshima-type fission weapon or suitcase nuke, and 200 times larger than a backpack nuke. And even a one-megaton blast would have a severe damage radius of only five miles, and a moderate one of 7.5 miles.

Now, of course, you have a 100-or-so mile area around that where people will potentially be killed by fallout. But the lack of general structural damage makes it far easier to respond, and evacuations of the outlying areas would be relatively simple before the fallout falls.

More people would die from a nuclear attack than from Katrina, yes. But in terms of things that disaster-response could actually affect, Katrina was a much harder problem than a nuclear attack.

iocaste said...

The Houston Chronicle, which of course endorsed Bush in 2000 and 2004, also has a Katrina-9/11 editorial.

iocaste said...

Oh, also the Salt Lake City Tribune of deep-Red Utah.

Larry said...

Yes, in any number of ways, the comparison of a natural disaster to a terrorist attack is so faulty that it betrays its political motivations. I think it betrays something more than that, though. It tells us something about the way in which the whole phenomenon of "terrorism" is viewed (or would like to be viewed) by a prominent liberal medium like the NYT -- more as a contingent "act of God" than as a strategic act by the country's enemies. Thinking in the natural diaster frame justifies a more passive focus on "preparedness" as being the best we can do; otherwise, you might begin to think, on this day especially, that fighting back is not just justifiable but essential.

Sloanasaurus said...

There is a huge differnece between 9/11 or any terrorist attack and Katrina. First, it appears that the death toll for Katrina will be much lower than originally estimate. In the end the death toll is all that matters. People will remember their dead loved ones far longer than being thirsty for a day.

Second, Katrina hasn't terrorized anyone. People in Minneapolis didn't think twice about their daily routines because of Katrina. Terrorism on the other hand can have devastating effect. Far more people could die in the decline in economic growth caused by a terror attack than the actual terror attack.

iocaste said...

EddieP --

On Iraq "doing just fine," which papers are you reading?

Because today, for instance, I saw this story.

josh narins said...

Lefties who read this blog might want to read James Wolcott.

I won't ruin it for you and spoil the NRO guy comparing 9/11 and Katrina, but here is a good quote.

"A more vulgar effort to shrink Katrina's impact as a national tragedy was made by Jack Burkman, a member in good standing of the vile order of Republican strategists, who said on MSNBC, 'I understand there are 10,000 people dead. It's terrible. It's tragic. But in a democracy of 300 million people, over years and years and years, these things happen.'"

These things happen, folks. Nothing to look at, move along.

ploopusgirl said...

Um.. Sloanasaurus (and please refrain from instructing me how to post-I don't expect to change the opinions of any of you narrow-minded idiots, and so my sole purpose for responding to you and people like you is to rant. When I want your opinion, or care about it, I'll ask.) death toll is all that matters? East enough for you to say, sitting in your mansion in Atlanta or wherever-the-hell. Let's ask Elizabeth: Hey, Elizabeth, you're alive, so clearly you'll forget all about this in a couple weeks, right?

I'm sure losing an entire city, and losing your pets and your home aren't important at all.

You're a buffoon.

Sloanasaurus said...

Yes, in the end, at least in America, the death toll will have most lasting impact on the economy and society. In America, building stuff is relatively cheap. Stuff can always be rebuilt and replaced.

Brando said...

fighting back is not just justifiable but essential

Larry, you're partially right here, notwithstanding your predictable attempt to portray liberals as passive peacenik pussies.

No, what you and many right wingers don’t seem to get is that the question is not that we should fight back, but how we fight back. On this note, here is the money quote from NYT:

Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions.

Katrina has revealed the real George Bush, a feckless ineffectual ideologue. Hence the plummeting polls. Hence the unfolding failure in Iraq. The American people want and need substance, results and accountability; and they are waking up to the fact that Bush and the republican party offer none of these things, only spin and ideological halfassery.

Sloanasaurus said...

This site lists some of the nation's worst disasters.

If the death toll remains as it is in the "few hundreds," Katrina won't even crack the top ten in terms of American disasters.

Drudge reports that it won't crack the top 25. Probably true if we had a complete list.

This statistic will have an enormous effect on how people perceive this disaster.

Sloanasaurus said...

Brando: What if it turns out there are only 100 dead in New Orleans. How will you rationalize the foaming at the mouth done by liberals for this disaster?

The left will need lots of dead to keep this disaster going as a political story. 9/11 is 3000. How does 100 compare to 3000?

Larry said...

Brando: Larry, you're partially right here, notwithstanding your predictable attempt to portray liberals as passive peacenik pussies.

Brando, on another comment thread, once referred to Bush as a "prevaricating sack of shit" or something close, and this is such a juvenile insult (despite the big word) that it makes responding to him largely a waste of time. But occasionally there's a remark that can be useful as a kind of lefty specimen, or as a springboard to something else. Here, for example, we get the notion of liberals as "passive peacenik pussies" -- is that really what the right (or even just what I) think of them? Is it really what they are?

Well, not all, certainly. Some, as Brando points out, and as the NYT passage he quotes illustrates, insist that they're ready and willing to fight alright, but it just has to be in a "real war" which the one we're currently fighting almost never is. This "real war" argument, in other words, makes a handy cover for those who really are passive peaceniks. But there can also be substance behind it -- it can certainly be the case that the strategy behind this war, like that behind any war, is mistaken. In order to make that case, however, a critic would need to give some indication that he or she understands the strategy in the first place -- a test that all the Bu$h Lied! human bumper stickers (e.g., Brando) simply fail.

So, leaving aside the serious critics of the war for now -- those who at least display some understanding that there might have been more involved than missing stockpiles of WMD -- what are the real deficiencies of the left in its anti-war stance? Let me count the ways:

First there's a lack of what might be called moral or philosophical courage (as opposed to physical), which is the courage to follow your thought where it leads even if the conclusions are unpleasant or disturbing to you.

Second, there's a lack of strategic vision, or indeed any vision, other than "Afghanistan" (since they think that's a done deed by now), and business as usual.

Third, there's a lack of balance in judgement, so that every problem or reversal (and all wars have them) gives rise to fright and depression, and becomes magnified into disaster and quagmire.

And fourth, there's a lack of determined persistence, which is not the same as inflexibility, but is a simple willingness to see an unpleasant but necessary job through to the end.

There are other problems as well, of course, (such as the frequent schadenfreude over any problem or difficulty for the US, since they think it hurts the hated Bush), but this'll do for now. I don't know if that makes the reflexively anti-war crowd, which is the most vociferous strand on the left these days, "passive peacenik pussies" as Brando puts it, but it does make them weak-minded, and simply part of the problem.

Sloanasaurus said...

Larry: Perhaps the "real war" you refer to would be the war against the "white male establishment." To prove their self-loathing of themselves and America, and in their never-ending attempt to avoid being envied, they could be willing to take up arms against the perceived evil establishment.

Brando said...

First there's a lack of what might be called moral or philosophical courage (as opposed to physical), which is the courage to follow your thought where it leads even if the conclusions are unpleasant or disturbing to you.

How highminded. And it amounts to courage to follow through on your conclusions even if your premises are faulty or ill-conceived? Sounds more like recklessness to me.

True philosophical courage is cause for a significantly larger dose of skepticism and reality-testing than George "I feel it in my gut" Bush is willing allow.