It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive. — W. Somerset Maugham

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been inundated by images of the destruction and suffering heaped upon the citizens of New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, among other Gulf Coast cities. The mind boggles at the scenes brought to us via TV from the massive devastation those folks have had to endure. Thank goodness we are many miles inland and not subject to the direct fury of nature gone wild that may strike the Texas coast in that fashion.

Unfortunately this event coincides with the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, not to mention the jet that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. That tragedy may be overshadowed, mainly because so much time has passed, and this is more immediate.

I’ve always said, gentle reader, that many milestones are marked in our lives and defined by whatever tragedy that occurred during our formative years. This may also make that dubious list.

While not knowing all of the facts in this situation we’ve heard stories that such a destructive scenario in New Orleans had been predicted years ago, which brings to mind the question of who knew what may happen and when did they know? Experts have said the levee system couldn’t handle a Category Three hurricane and those close to the situation had complained that federal funding for the Corps of Engineers to be able to reinforce the levees was cut several years ago by the current Bush administration. Katrina was a Category 5 when it hit Louisiana.

There have been many opinions about the lack of quick aid to many residents left in New Orleans after the hurricane because of racial undertones. Rapper Kanye West went off during a recent awards show accusing the president of not caring about the plight of Louisiana blacks because of the slow response of our governmental agencies to the situation. In a backward way it lends credence to his statement regarding speed because news outlets had no problem getting into the affected areas shortly after the disaster hit. On the other hand negative TV coverage has shown blacks looting stores and generally creating havoc. What seems to be forgotten in the coverage are the number of white people who are suffering similar obstacles, and are probably doing their own share of looting, but it appears to those of us watching the broadcasts that blacks are the only ones breaking the law.

I believe the thinking of most is while we are willing to immediately help people in other countries where is our government in our time of need?

Sure, many dollars have been raised for those hurting, but what about putting cash in their pockets? What jobs can they get to support their families right now? For some of us we are a couple of paychecks short of poverty if a major catastrophe hit us anyway. A disaster of this magnitude would literally kill us. Think about not having a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the week to count on.

But of course, as always, money talks. I heard about a couple of families (I don’t recall where) put out of their hotel rooms because of non-payment and replaced by FEMA agents who had ready cash. Gas stations in the affected areas are gouging the needy. There’s a special place in hell for them, by the way.

On Sept. 11, 2001, we experienced a national tragedy, and we banded together. At that time we had a focus for our anger, but this is something different. We can’t blame nature for its whims; therefore we have to re-channel those feelings to something useful. At best the region will recover in months; in reality the rebuilding will take years.

Both situations have been traumatic, but if Americans will stand strong and we can avoid our individual prejudices due to stereotypes we’ll remember the past and focus on the future together. It’s the only way we’ll come out on top.

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Ken Hall is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears Sundays and Thursdays. He may be reached via e-mail at kendubh1@hotmail.com.

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