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The Tentacle


September 9, 2005

Shut up and call the cavalry

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Compassion exceeds all else in importance on the Gulf Coast in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. Only the truly heartless can be left untouched. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and the rescuers.

In a country forged from the wilderness at the mercy of the elements and Mother Nature's wrath, Americans understand that at times like this, everyone needs to be doing their best by giving time, expertise, hard labor, food, clothing and money - and prayers. History has also taught us that when all else fails call in the cavalry.

In a drama as old as the planet, Mother Nature will take her toll. But death due to inadequate response and impenetrable bureaucracy is unconscionable.

In the wake of such destruction and human tragedy, many questions persist as to the nature of the response.

This is not necessarily a bad thing as it would be of greater concern if the death of any Americans did not cause reflection and concern as to how the (preventable) death of any single human being could have been avoided.

The web and The Tentacle have carried many well-written and thoughtful accounts of various aspects of this terrible disaster.

Be sure to read Roy Meachum's thoughtful September 6 column, "Killing My Childhood."

How many of us read Richard Weldon's column, "A National Disgrace" on September 5 and sheepishly nodded their head in agreement?

Meanwhile, enter stage left, the politicians, who in a moment of despair and misery want to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the depth of their bankrupt leadership once again, demonstrated their obsession with politics instead of performance. Motto: never miss an opportunity to point fingers and save the day in the blame-game.

In Edward Lulie's Tentacle column, "Death of a City" on September 6, a poignant sentence speaks volumes in response to those who wish to gain politically on the backs of human misery; "My own political thoughts about this is that anyone who stands up and seeks political gain from this should be promptly placed down in New Orleans for a first hand look at what disaster really means."

In a sea of the hot, hungry and heartbroken, senseless politically inspired criticism is empty on calories, bankrupt of hope, devoid of human spirit and vacant on leadership.

The Cajun roast show trials can wait.

Right now, what we need is an all out effort to coordinate the delivery systems for the outpouring of food, medicine, sanitation needs, and offers of shelter, hope and compassion. We need response, not recalcitrant bureaucracy or rhetoric. We need the cavalry.

My wife, Caroline Babylon was a Red Cross responder when Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida in August 1992. Looking through her collection of newspapers from her tour of duty, The Miami Herald reports on August 28, 1992, in banner headlines, "We Need Help... Metro blames feds for failure of relief efforts."

In the Hurricane Andrew relief effort, it wasn't until 2,000 airborne U.S. soldiers arrived August 28, 1992, did the relief efforts turn the corner. Caroline is full of praise for the difference the military made in response to Andrew.

The Miami Herald continued: "The [military] came after a day of bitter feuding among agencies that share responsibility for the relief effort. Dade's emergency director pleaded for federal help, one angry voice among many who spoke of victims unattended and needs unmet. Frustrated to the point of tears, [Dade emergency director] Kate Hale said the relief project was on the brink of paralysis, a victim of incompetence and 'political games'... Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?"

Another article lamented, "No single person or agency is in charge."

These words seem just as relevant, almost to the day, 13 years later.

In New Orleans, by Wednesday, August 31, two days after the levees broke and the government's response continued to lag, many looked at the TV and wondered aloud, isn't it time for the U.S. military to occupy the Gulf Coast?

The relief efforts did not make a turn for the better until September 2, when a three-star general by the name of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore arrived "with the cavalry."

When will we ever learn?

There is a reason why we call such events "disasters" and history has taught us that the U.S. military is the only organization in the world that is trained and equipped to handle an event of this magnitude. It was obvious to even the causal observer that state and local government is (understandably) overwhelmed and this response protocol called "the bureaucrats full employment act" isn't working.

It will take years to unravel all the deep questions of this tragedy and a decade or more to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, as long as there is one American in danger or in need of our collective help, leather armchair first responders need to shut-up and pass the food, water and blankets or get out of the way. Right now, send in more cavalry and let General Honore ("one person") and the military ("one agency") assume complete command.

There's work to be done.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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