The Uses of Disaster: Notes on Bad Weather and Good Governments
By: Rebecca Solnit (Harpers 10/2005)
…The days after 9/11 constituted a tremendous national opening, as if a door had been unlocked. The aftermath of disaster is often peculiarly hopeful, and in the rupture of the ordinary, real change often emerges. But this means that disaster threatens not only bodies, buildings, and property but also the status quo. Disaster recovery is not just a rescue of the needy but also a scramble for power and legitimacy, one that the status quo usually-but not always-wins. The Bush Administration's response after 9/11 was a desperate and extreme version of this race to extinguish too vital a civil society and reestablish the authority that claims it alone can do what civil society has just done-and, alas, an extremely successful one. For the administration, the crisis wasn't primarily one of death and destruction but one of power. The door had been opened and an anxious administration hastened to slam it shut.
You can see the grounds for that anxiety in the aftermath of the 1985
The initial response made it clear that the government cared a lot more about the material city of buildings and wealth than the social city of human beings. In one notorious case, local sweatshop owners paid the police to salvage equipment from their destroyed factories. No effort was made to search for survivors or retrieve the corpses of the night-shift seamstresses. It was as though the earthquake had ripped away a veil concealing the corruption and callousness of the government. International rescue teams were rebuffed, aid money was spent on other programs, supplies were stolen by the police and army, and, in the end, a huge population of the displaced poor was obliged to go on living in tents for many years.
“Not even the power of the state,” wrote political commentator Carlos Monsivás, “managed to wipe out the cultural, political, and psychic consequences of the four or five days in which the brigades and aid workers, in the midst of rubble and desolation, felt themselves in charge of their own behavior and responsible for the other city that rose into view.”
To read the whole article go to: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2005/10/0080774