Ode to Storms
The Chinese believed that great natural disasters are omens. That rulers have lost their divine mandate to rule, or that they are about to die. In the history of China, many emperors and kings have died or lost power after disasters.
More recently on September 27th 1976, a magnitude 8 earthquake struck Tangshan city in Hebei China, leaving 250,000 dead, and a 20 mile radius in the city completely destroyed. Six weeks later, Chairman Mao died. Many Chinese believed that the earthquake was an omen. That so many innocent people should die is a sign that misfortune will come to the ruler, who must bear the blame for offending the heavens. The word "disaster", after all, comes from the roots "dis", not, and "aster", stars, meaning, "not in the stars".
Though we may find this mystical belief too superstitious, it is not without its rational basis. After all, more than equal number of Chinese rulers in history have managed to mitigate the damages of natural disasters via active and preventive policies, such as building dams, canals, irrigation systems. Their discipline and hard work, have prevented deaths from flood, famine, and even locusts. As recently as about 300 years ago, the Emperor Chianglong instituted policies and reforms to fight the rampant famine in China, and his rule was eventually credited as one of the most successful in Chinese history. Thus the Chinese belief in disasters as omens is one of pragmatic view on how good and efficient governments are in fighting disaster is directly related to how good and efficient they are overall. Naturally, 100,000's have died even in Chianglong's time due to famine and drought. But the Emperor was judged upon not by the numbers of deaths and number of the saved, but by what he did. For Mao, it is not merely the quarter million who died in the earthquake, but more about all those millions who have already perished in the great famine of 1959, numbering in the 30 million.
So it is with this burden of my Chinese culture, that I set my mind to what has happened in New Orleans. While I do not believe there is even such a thing as "divine mandate to rule", I know the President certainly thinks he has one. But let us ponder upon the specific meaning of what has happened.
First, I told you so, to the Conservatives. I am happy to be proven correct on my thesis about the terrible management style of the Bush administration, which I wrote first on Cheers.org. Even several American Conservative commentators, such as William Kristol have conceded on this point recently. But to my sadness, it took the lives of 10,000 people to convince them of this point. I only wish that the point could have been realized sooner and something could have been done about it. The conceded opinions went around the big issue of overall mismanagement in the Bush administration, and went to the specifics on this particular disaster. They say that Bush mismanaged the disaster response, because he "executed poorly", and because Bush is not interested in "hitting singles and doubles" and more interested in "homeruns" (meaning that Bush only cares about big exposure PR type work, but not the small daily mundane planning and execution). Precisely as I said, Bush is a Macro-manager who doesn't want to care or know about the details.
The weakness of FEMA proved another one of my points on Bush administration, that it is extremely tunnel visioned and makes no contingency plans. One, so much of FEMA fell under the bureaucracy of Homeland Security, that it prompted a huge exodus of skilled civil servants who are trained in emergency response.
War on terrorism became such an overwhelming consumption of energy for the administration, that little attention is placed into FEMA. The mentality of "we will cross that bridge, when we come to it" prevailed in the administration on all secondary issues, which are pretty much all issues other than what is politically visible for President Bush, ie. Iraq, Pro-life agenda.
The administration went to Katrina, the same way it went to Iraq, with little thoughts on what to do in the aftermath. Emergency response is by nature, planning, preparing, drilling, for something that we don't want to happen. Doing things that we pray will not happen. And what is most unsuited toward Bush administration's inclination for sunshine scenarios, is the fact that emergency response is by nature a "contingency plan", plans for the worst possible scenario. Here, naturally, by the administration's perpetual 'feel good' public campaign of nothing ever goes wrong under God, it's defeatist and virtually treasonous to prepare for the worst possible scenario. But Katrina is not some terrorist group that one can simply bomb into submission. Most terrorist groups cannot be simply bombed into submission. If it is that simple, terrorism would not require a war. Katrina, a natural storm, is simply a worst possible scenario. There is no way to be positive about such a storm, and nothing glamorous. It's simply bare knuckles to fight for the survival of people and property who are affected.
There is something of similarity between a natural disaster and war on terrorism, and that is, there is no way to really win. We fight natural disasters, knowing we ultimately do not win, but merely hope to minimize our losses. Indeed, the greatest misconception on war is the concept of victory. In war, we risk everything to prove a point, and in the end, you may indeed prove your point, but at what cost? One's only hope in wars, is to prove one's point quickly with the least amount of losses. In fighting a natural disaster, the only point to prove is one's ability to survive.
In Iraq, we have forgotten the point we were trying to prove, or perhaps we never had a point to start with. Let's ponder for a moment, what was the point we were trying to prove in Iraq. If we were to take the word of the Bush administration and the conservatives, the point was, we could fight terrorists, we could spread democracy, and we would not give into terrorism. The third point is well conceded, because no one wants to give into terrorism. The first point is also moot, because everyone in the world knows that we could fight. The second point is, however, too grandiose, and not supported by our own history. What is more is, Conservatives do not believe in "nation building". If it was merely point 1 and 3, we have already proven those 2 points in Iraq, and we should leave. But perhaps the
continuation of terrorists in Iraq simply counter-proved our point 3, that if we leave now, we are indeed giving into the terrorists. But on this point, it becomes a never ending proof. If there are always terrorists, then we can never truly prove point #3, and we will never leave Iraq. That is, if you bought into the whole Bush idea of only "fighting terrorism in Iraq, so we don't have to fight them here in US". (A rather idiotic premise to conduct a war, to publicly announce your battlefield, hoping that your enemy would simply agree to fight on your terms.)
Were there points to prove in Iraq? Certainly, but they are all either too easy to prove or already proven, or will never be proven to any true satisfaction. Will there always be terrorists in Iraq (and indeed in the world)? YES! So forget point #3. Can Democracy be spread to the world? Give me a break, NOT in this lifetime, nor even the next two lifetimes! So practically, forget point #2, you will have an easier time trying to invent the perpetual motion machine!
The only real point, as I mentioned, is merely survival. Facing the storms of the past, and the wars of the past, the only real point is survival, of lives and ideas. Other high sounding ideals are pale in comparison to these two pragmatic things. Storms showed us that to be the truth of history. Rulers who cared for the simplicity of survival of these two things, mundane and unglamorous as they are, tend to do well and be judged well by history. Rulers, whose vanity for the higher ideals of nobility, patriotism, political correctness, divine mandate, but left the lives and ideas of their people in ruins, will be judged as vain and tyrannical.
Ideals, though important, are only as high as they are practiced by the people. Ideals cannot be merely worn as paper badges of honor by leaders who have none. And there is nothing more honorable than the survival of lives and ideas. When all other points are left improbable to prove, only this 1 point of survival is left as the test.
On this point, generals who avoided wars are often given more credit than those who foolishly asked for wars. In other words, Peace is the ultimate point of any War. We pass through the storms, so that we may live out of the storms, not to continue to live in them. So it is, we sometimes fight the Wars, so that we can have the Peace without the Wars, not to perpetuate the Wars.
Looking back to New Orleans, it is an unimaginable sadness. A storm and a flood that killed 10,000 in US. I could hardly imagine it. Sadly, most of the deaths were not direct result of the storm, but of the terrible consequences of a city left to die with little or no help from the outside.
I join the many in the opinion that I don't really care who or what was at fault for the lack of help, I only care that I know it is inconceivable that in our modern times it was that difficult to send help after a storm had passed.
And I do not really care if anyone cares to believe that this is a sign that Bush has lost his "divine mandate to rule". I only believe that God has sorely tested this government of the people, and showed the vanity of those who only toys with honor while taking the lives of their own people lightly. If this is the sign of honor left in this government, Democracy is but an indentured servant of Imperial ambitions, to which, all lives are worthless in comparison to pointless wars.