KATRINA: Show Me Life, Not Death

Jeff Goldstein collects some examples, from Andrew Sullivan and others, of Bush critics calling for the media to photograph and display the corpses of victims of Hurricane Katrina, presumably as a means of making the president look bad. (Hat tip: Vodkapundit). Goldstein notes the ghoulishness of this strategy, and its departure from the basics of human decency and respect for the dead.
But there’s a more fundamental problem here: the victims of Katrina, like those killed by hurricanes, wars, terrorist attacks, and other catastrophes both man-made and otherwise, aren’t just hunks of flesh made to be grist for political debates. They were our fellow human beings, and they deserve to be remembered as they were in life, not as their decayed remains are in death.
The New York Times, to its great credit, did an exhaustive, months-long series of obituaries entitled “Portraits of Grief” (now available in book form), which sought after September 11 to show, not the bodies of the victims (and heroes) of that day, but the people, the lives, who were lost to us. The media has likewise served a useful purpose in the Iraq war when it gives us, rather than casualty statistics or the Koppel-esque reading of laundry lists of names, profiles of the soldiers who have given their lives for their country. (This includes efforts made more recently to profile Casey Sheehan). In each case, the simple human truth about the departed is more than enough to sadden and, as appropriate, enrage most people about the loss of each precious human life.
After the deluge in New Orleans, it will be hard, hard work for the media to track down information about the lives of Katrina’s victims, especially because so many were poor, or elderly, or sick, because reporters love to talk about poor African-Americans but don’t so much enjoy talking to them, and because those who knew them are scattered, almost literally, to the four winds. And there may well be too many stories to tell them all. But New Orleans deserves its own Portraits of Grief. Tell us those stories, about life; if we are not moved, then the dead have lost their power to move us. But let the bodies of the dead be buried in peace.

5 thoughts on “KATRINA: Show Me Life, Not Death”

  1. Have to agree with you on the NY Times “Portraits of Grief” sections. I was living in Long Island at the time (Smithtown) and vividly remember reading at least a few of those “Portraits” ever day.
    I’m wondering how long it’s going to take before all the family members are united again down there. Just awful.

  2. I don’t see any mention at all in this proclamation about requesting assistance from the Federal gov’t.
    Nothing about calling up the Louisiana National Guard, nothing about evacuations…
    Is it your belief that all a state has to do is declare a state of emergency and then the Federal government magically takes over?

  3. First of all, anybody who says Andrew Sullivan is basically just Josh Marshall isn’t worth taking seriously.
    But to argue the point anyway, here’s another quote from Mr. Sullivan:
    My view has been that 9/11 should not have been censored, the beheading of Nick Berg should not have been censored, Abu Ghraib should not have been censored and the Katrina aftermath should not be censored. By that I mean self-censorship by wimpish media or actual censorship, as in Abu Ghraib and attempted in New Orleans, by the Bush administration. We are in a war. We need to see the evidence of the enemy’s barbarism, and our leadership’s incompetence and detention policies.
    Now I’m not saying anyone has to agree with this position; I’m not even saying that I do. But assuming Sullivan’s been consistent in his position, it’s not at all fair to say he’s arguing for this just to make Bush look bad.

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