Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Voice From the Past

"The railroad embankment was gone and the man who had cowered behind it and finally, when the water came, clung to the rails, were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves. The biggest bunch of the dead were in the tangled, always green but now brown, mangroves behind the tank cars and the water towers. They hung on there, in shelter, until the wind and the rising water carried them away. They didn't all let go at once but only when they could hold on no longer. Then further on you found them high in the trees where the water had swept them. You found them everywhere and in the sun all of them were beginning to be too big for their blue jeans and jackets that they never fill when they were on the bum and hungry."

This isn't writing from the Katrina disaster but an extract of "Who Murdered the Vets? A First Hand Report of the Florida Hurricane" written by Ernest Hemingway for the The Masses in 1935. In simple prose, Hemingway, full of class rage, describes the different ways the rich and the poor prepare for the hurricane and the horrid destruction and death wrought by the cane afterwards.

After reading it, you'll get the sense that George Santayana was on to something to declare, " Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Yet, after the Bush Administration and the locals' response to Katrina, it should be revised to "Those in government who are indifferent to the past condemn their citizens to repeat it."