Friday, September 02, 2005

Property Over People, or Shoot First, Make It Up Later 

NOLA grave So Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, has unleashed the troops with orders to "shoot to kill". Does this sound like an American leader addressing a problem affecting Americans?
""These troops are battle-tested. They have M-16s and are locked and loaded," (the governor) said on Thursday night of one group of 300 National Guard troops being deployed here after recent duty in Iraq. "These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will."
Before going one sentence further, remember that, along with the very real violence being carried out by opportunists and criminals, there are also many people involved in the "looting" who have been abandoned to their own devices for all intents and purposes, and who are simply trying to survive.

The last time U.S. troops opened fire on their own citizens was May 4, 1970 at Kent State in Ohio. 28 Guardsmen fired about 65 rounds into the crowd of unarmed kids, killing 4, wounding 9, and putting one, Dean Kahler, in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Though widely condemned in liberal circles, this incident was not only excused, but heartily celebrated by Americans across the country, who wrote an incredible array of poison pen letters to local papers praising the actions of the Guard.

Now we have a situation of nearly incomprehensible proportion, where criminals and madmen roam New Orleans' hellish streets, preying on the weak and desperate and traumatized, and reportedly shooting at rescue workers and authorities. (How much of the bungled and indefensible rescue effort has been truly hindered by them, and how much they are being used to smoke-screen the incompetence of those efforts, may never be known. And let's leave aside for another day the question of how much of a problem the shootings would have been in a country that didn't push deadly weapon ownership like a bad drug and make guns available on practically every corner.) But those who have been driven to "loot" by the failures of emergency measures they expected to depend on, those who have gone days without food or water, can all too easily become lumped in with the criminals, especially by strangers who wade into the midst of the situation with every expectation of being attacked. When faced with this scenario, can we expect the troops to be able to make the distinction? I don't know; I'm asking.

The parallels to Iraq are becoming almost mythical. A civilian populace in despair, trying to survive under appalling conditions, is being driven to manage its existence at the most primitive of levels. The behaviors they display, arising naturally out of those conditions, appear savage and uncivilized to their liberators, and this alienation makes it easier to keep a wall up against empathy. When you stop being able to empathize with a group it's a short step to demonizing them, or in this case, lumping the good in with the bad. As in Iraq, every civilian becomes a potential enemy, a combatant, and fair game.

If the kids at Kent State could be demonized sufficiently to, not just exonerate, but celebrate their killers' actions, how much easier will it be to do so to the hurricane victims of New Orleans, who are already being tarred with blame for not leaving, for living where they did, and for just being there, period? Michael "Not Responsible" Brown of FEMA says they should have just gotten out. The humanitarians over at NRO's The Corner have pitched the rum idea to eliminate federal flood insurance subsidies because people just need to take responsiblity for their actions. Never mind that it would leave NOLA's poor, who live by the water because in that crazy town it's the only affordable real estate, utterly homeless and bereft of everything they ever had.

Leaving aside the lessons we've failed to learn in Iraq on how to handle civilian populations under disasterous conditions, how will it play in Peoria if and when our own streets begin to resemble Baghdad's? When a nation's military is turned on its own people, we know it has descended into tyranny. But how long will Americans be content to excuse even this?

Originally posted at IMCT.

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