Saturday, March 25, 2006

Out of Place

I saw this yesterday coming over the Old Hammond Highway bridge – a big American flag painted on the roof of a church.

It seemed out of place.

Not because it was a splash of red, white, and blue on a backdrop of black, white, and gray. It seemed out of place because it was a symbol of the unity of our nation offset by the most obvious example of how our nation forgot one of its own. While the flag has 50 stars together on one blue background, for three days last year, we were one star. Alone. On our own. Swallowed by the blue.

The year and a half I did not live here, I lived in another country. I was there during September 11, 2001. I watched live on CNN International as the WTC burned, as the second plane hit, and as the two towers fell. I hurt because people hurt. And I hurt more because it was happening in America.

Though I don’t see much use for patriotism, I felt it that day. I felt more American, even living in another country. I felt more connected to my country, even being far from it.

It was fleeting. Our President’s missteps after September 11, 2001, reminded me that patriotism is only good for excusing nationalistic furor. Wrapped in a flag, our President had hoped to justify murder.

It didn’t work. Murder is not an American value. The imperial wars we are fighting around the world do not make me feel more American.

And the flag set in the destruction left by the levee breach does not make me feel more American. It reminds me more of how this part of the world is different from the part of the world that is "American," that America takes care of, that America is interested in. Seeing the flag near the breach reminds me more of conquering armies planting their symbol of victory into the soil of the foreign lands they have laid to waste.

We were at war with America and didn’t know it. And we lost.

Hundreds of Americans died who would not have died if the levees had been built properly. Dozens of them died in Lakeview where this red, white, and blue mural was painted. No one can wrap those deaths in the flag and make it go away.

The United States can ensure Katrina never happens again. If it diverted the resources it dedicates to imperial wars in foreign lands to the Gulf Coast, we would be protected. If hundreds of billions of dollars were dedicated to life rather than death, I would feel more American. I would feel patriotic. I would feel that the American flag was not out of place in New Orleans.


Sophmom said...

Every levee failure was tragic and avoidable, but the 17th Street Canal somehow seems to be the greatest height of ineptitude. The flag is pure irony, especially given the events and attitudes since the flood. Perhaps we could look at this hand-painted flag as a sad salute that says, "Hey, remember us? Can we please be part of this country too?"

Excellent post.

Mark said...

I noted back in September that we were seeing some of the first casualties of the uncivil war declared by the GOP in the early 1990s.

Still, I would not say that we have lost, anymore than the Union lost the last civil war in 1861 or the Irish lost their civil war in the Easter Rising.

It has only just begun.

My thoughts from *way* back on 9/08/05:

"The leaders of the Uncivil War could not have ordered a more perfect spectacle, a better demonstration of the unfitness of the darker and poorer populations to govern themselves, their unfitness as Americans. The media sitting in their comfortable studios in New York and Washington and Atlanta obliged. They circulated every rumour, and ran the same video of a handful of looters over and over again.

"Given the task of saving a population so marginal to their view of the world they might as well have lived in a third world country, out federal leaders turned their heads. It was not so much race as pure politics. These people didn’t matter to them, dead or alive.

"These people are some of the first mass casualties of the Uncivil War. They were victims of a spoils system that put the former head of show horse farms in charge of our domestic national security. They were allowed to die because their lives and deaths could not be directly detected in the valuation of the New York Stock Exchange."

Liz said...

I couldnt agree more.

Marco said...

I really like this quote: "Our goal is to ensure that we create an environment where it makes more sense to leave rather than stay," Ebbert said.
They've already created that holocausted environment for over 250,000 people who might never return to NO.
Good post! We're with ya'.