In 1857 the steamship S.S. Central America was plying a route between Panama and New York City. On board the ship were 578 men, women and children from every strata of American society who were returning from the California Gold Rush.
Some of them had made fortunes panning for gold. Most of them hadn't. The ship's passengers were truly a collection of "haves" and "have nots."
One hundred fifty miles off the coast of the Carolinas, the Central America, with three tons of gold in her hold, got caught in a hurricane and within three days was slowly pounded to pieces.
In light of what we saw recently happen in New Orleans, it would be easy to assume that the people on board the Central America lost all sense of civility once their situation became hopeless. It would be easy to assume that they lost all self-control and tore each other to pieces.
The loss of life and property caused by Hurricane Katrina is unprecedented in American history. But it is what happened to the social fabric of New Orleans after Katrina passed that is the real story, the real tragedy of the thing.
After major disasters strike, wreckage can be cleared, homes and businesses rebuilt and infrastructure brought back on line - that is the easy part of recovering from such disasters. What is not so easy is to restore the sense of community and civility that existed before a place was ravaged by nature or man.
The ease of such social restoration is directly proportional to the sense of community and the level of civility that existed in a place before it was physically damaged or destroyed. New Orleans’ pre-disaster crime rate was ten times the national average. Given this and the fact that, during the recent crisis there, many of its citizens chose the law of the jungle over the rule of law, it is easy to conclude that the restoration of New Orleans’ social fabric will be an impossible task.
I have never lived in nor have I ever visited New Orleans. I don't first-hand know its sights, sounds or people. I must ask: What was it in that city that, after the storm had passed, quickly made men embrace savagery? What caused people there to rape and to murder, to steal from the desperate, to loot things unconnected to survival? What caused organized groups of people to attempt murder on those coming to save them? Why didn't their neighbors - the good people- band together to stop them from doing those things? The answer is simple: For the last forty years they had been taught by the creators of the Welfare State that they were permanently absolved from the responsibility of tending to their lives.
There have always been mishaps and disasters, natural and otherwise, that have tested humans to the breaking point and beyond. Many, many times, people facing extreme hardship or near-certain deaths have put the welfare of others ahead of their own. What happened on board the S.S. Central America in 1857 provides a shining example of what happens when disaster brings out the best in men.
As the ship slowly sank, the men on board worked to exhaustion pumping her out. They did this knowing full-well that they were only postponing the inevitable since the ship was taking on water faster than they could empty her. They were buying time. They were protecting the women and children on board. They were refusing to die without a fight to live.
The women on board, like the men, were worn out by sea-sickness, lack of sleep, the ship's careening and its wet sweltering interior. Nevertheless, they tended to the men, feeding their spirits with kind words of encouragement. There was not a single instance of uncivil behavior among the ship's passengers as each and every one of them looked death in the eye. Not a single instance of predation. Not a single act of cowardice among anyone on that ship as death loomed large over it.
Another ship, itself crippled by the storm, was still somehow able to send its lifeboats to the Central America. In a final act of heroism William Herndon, the Central America’s captain, and his crew loaded the women and children onto those boats and transferred them to the other ship. The lifeboats couldn't get back to pick up the men - Herndon knew in advance that this would likely be the case. Four hundred twenty six men, including Captain Herndon, drowned.
As the Central America slowly foundered, all the passengers aboard her thought they would die. They were sick, hot, thirsty, hungry and at the limits of endurance. Yet the social order on board remained intact. Civility triumphed and the good in man shined through his dark core up to the moment that the wrecked ship slipped beneath the waves.
There are, no doubt, many brave and righteous individuals in the City of New Orleans. But there is also a widespread sickening savagery afoot there, as there is in every major urban center in America. A dysfunctional helpless class of people has been created by having been taught to despise the things that bring true satisfaction in life, the things that made the doomed passengers on the S.S. Central America care for each other; the things that propelled this country to prominence and its people to greatness.
Katrina's winds laid it bare for all to see.
Rocco DiPippo, a free lance political writer, publishes The Autonomist blog and contributes to David Horowitz’s Moonbat Central group blog.
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