Thursday, September 01, 2005

on New Orleans

A beat-up minivan slowly inches ahead among thousands of people. Some have laggages, backpacks, others have nothing. All are drenched with rain, tired, and terrified. Terrified with the scenes they have seen, terrified with the scenes that might lie ahead. First one by one, then quickly in packs, they start the attempt to stop the van. They yell to stop, bang the windows, jump on the hood. A man smashes open a hole in the windshield with a baseball bat. Waves of desperate people push around the van, like millions of balck ants crawling over and covering up a dead insect. The driver of the van shouts at his horrified daughter in the rear seat to get down. He tries to plow through the crowd, now determined to stop the van. Another man, panic in his eyes, insert his bare hands into the hole of the windshield, grabs the rim, and trys to tear it open, oblivious of blood running out of his now scarred hands. His blood traces the tiny squared cracks of the glass. His eyes bluge. The bones of his knuckles protrude. The coated glass makes horrible ripping sound like an arm being ripped off from a body by sheer force. Another window gets smashed, an arm reaches in, unlocks the door. Within a blink, the rear of the minivan is packed with men struggling to secure their position in the ephemeral safety. The girl screams, in fear of being parted from her father. The father tries to reach her through the broken window, but it is blocked with a body of a man squirming in through the rugged edges of the shattered glass.

As the news reports from New Orleans grow grimmer and grimmer, my mind floated back to the especially intense scene in the "War of the Worlds." To flee from the city under Martian's attack, the father steals a minivan on the street and drives off with his two kids, only to run into desperate refugees a few hundred yards from the only bridge that connects the city to the countryside. Even without a single death, the scene is extremely intense--almost too intense to bear for a naive mind of mine. The sense of desperation, growing hatred toward the priviledged (however little the actual difference may be), and total abandoonment of civilized behavior under an extreme stress, they all make one wonder if it would happen if the same situations broke out in reality. I wondered if I would try to tear open a windshield of a vehicle with my bear hands. I wondered what I would do if I were in such an awkward (well, far more than awkward) situation of having a little advantage over others in an emergency. Say, if I had a bottle of water and a chocolate bar, would I share them, or would I hide them from others? At the end of the day, I just abandoned the questions, just hoping it would never happen to me.

But it does happen. A total chaos in suffocating heat, no food, no drinkable water, moisture of densely packed human bodies condensing on everything, unbearable odor of human feces, dead bodies left unattended in parking lots, no authoritative presence to turn to, no information as to where to go, what to do, when the help might come. Armed men ransacking stores and houses, gasolines stolen from stolled cars, shootings over god-knows-what, ten-year-old girl being raped in a refugee camp, two nights in a row. Apparently this is what happens. Even without the invasion of the blood-sucking, flesh-grinding Martians. This is what happens in what we believe to be a civilized country. Of course, the information at this point could be partial, even confused. Some of the lootings must be done in an organized way, as the last resort to feed the starving people. But others are definitely not. You don't go out and rape a girl because of a hurricane. It is depressing enough. Terrifying enough. Both the acts out of desperation and those based on calculation terrify me. For what human beings can be forced to be, and can want to be.

I just hope that help and order are on the way.


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