Sunday Herald - 04 September 2005

Why the American dream is one of the biggest lies

Muriel Gray argues that the lessons of hurricane Katrina and its terrible aftermath are not about disaster management but about exposing the falsehoods at the very heart of modern America.

SINCE broadcasters precede any post watershed material that might shock, offend or disturb with a stern warning about content, it seems odd that this service is not extended to the news. Mind you, what would the reassuring voice of the female continuity announcer say? How about: “Viewers are cautioned that the following programme contains images that may cause them to despise the entire human race and look forward to its inevitable self destruction.”
Surely that’s not too far from the truth as we sit and watch a bewildering variety of individuals howling, wailing, weeping in agony, from Iraq to the streets of London, to tsunami-torn beaches to Beslan, to Africa to New Orleans, to anywhere really. Perhaps they’re not beating their breasts and clutching their hair in grief on the streets on Helsinki or Dunedin yet, but our rolling news makes us suspect it’s only a matter of time before some kind of apocalyptic suffering eventually visits everyone.

Long gone are the days when Angela Rippon would round up with the heart warming “… and finally” story about a skateboarding duck or a toddler who dialled 999 for a mother tumbled from a stepladder. Channels like the BBC’s News 24 are now devoted almost exclusively to reminding us what a nauseating species we are. Regardless of the latest tragedy or atrocity being brought to us in colour with subtitles, the commentators will almost always finish their lugubrious analysis with the question, “But what are the lessons to be learned from this?” The answer is that demonstrably we learn nothing and never have, which is why we continue to abuse both ourselves and our planet, but if we are forced to dissect disaster in this manner then the American hurricane crisis is as good a place as any to start.

So what are those lessons to be learned from a destroyed city with thousands dead, little or no relief for survivors, and lawlessness taking over from wind and water as the greatest threat to life? Not very nice lessons unfortunately. As the bodies of the poor, black, disenfranchised southerners bob to the surface of the rat-infested and sewage-infused waters, we’re reminded that America’s position as a big, safe, morally decent democracy with opportunity for all is one of the world’s biggest lies. The American dream that is being held up as the cause worth dying for in the Middle East is as rotten to the core as its demonic administration.

When Bush is temporarily propped up on two legs by his people, out of his natural position on all fours with knuckles resting gently on the White House carpet, to tell the world that his country’s values and people are worth fighting for, he omits to mention that he doesn’t mean poor people or black people. Not only is this huge slice of the American public kept largely invisible, in case it ruins the image of the culture which Bush’s administration demands countries in “the axis of terrorr” adopt, but even when such poverty is exposed to the world the US elite has little shame in publicly holding these stricken citizens in contempt.

Take the comments made to the press by Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When quizzed on the probable death toll, which is now running into the thousands, Brown said: “Unfortunately that’s going to be attributable to a lot of people who did not heed the warnings. I don’t make judgements about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.”

So when those with cars left the city, leaving behind those with no transport, did that mean that every available coach, truck and helicopter was made available to get them out? Apparently not. Some of those who didn’t “heed the warnings” because they had no means of exit, included charity care homes for the elderly, hospitals, whole housing schemes of poor black residents, a children’s care home, and countless thousands of dispersed penniless people living on state benefits who were trapped and killed, not because they were wilful irresponsible risk takers, but because they were poor, powerless and vulnerable.

In a breathtaking display of racism, some white British students who were trapped in the hell of the city’s Superdome stadium, being used for refugees, were removed to a safer place in a basketball arena by a white policeman who one student described as having “broken all the rules” to help them. The students were young, healthy and in no immediate distress except for experiencing mildly aggressive taunts about their colour, and yet the stadium was full of dangerously ill people, highly distressed old people, young children at great risk of dehydration, but for whom nobody “broke all the rules” on account of the fact that they were black. Meanwhile the gangs of black youths stalking the city on orgies of raping, violence and looting are not the bogeymen Islamic “enemies of freedom” but products of their own “democratic” country’s polices of exclusion and division.

The lessons we’re learning from this horror are not about disaster management or speed of response, but about exposing the terrifying falsehoods at the heart of America’s relentless and belligerent quest for world domination. With Bush turning his gimlet eye to Iran, and linking his arm through that of our own dear Tony Blair as he does so, it’s never been more timely to be reminded so dramatically that the US is a deeply dysfunctional, decadent, declining society, imploding with its own prejudices, corruptions and hypocrisies.

John F Kennedy said: “I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.”

Yes that would be nice John, wouldn’t it? I’m sure that as soon as the honourable, honest, decent people who run the country work out who it was who really shot you, they’ll get right on with the job of bringing your vision about.