Blogs > HNN > Shouldn't We All Be Getting Our Asses to New Orleans?

Sep 6, 2005 10:02 pm

Shouldn't We All Be Getting Our Asses to New Orleans?

I’ve kept a discreet silence so far about events in New Orleans, in part because they’re too unstable to discuss right now, in part because they’re too horrible to contemplate. But in biting my tongue in silence, I find myself reverting repeatedly to the same angry set of thoughts. And I no longer find a point in holding back.

For the last two years, critics of the Iraq war have been suggesting that anyone in favor of the war is obliged to fight there. And if those in favor aren’t doing the fighting—comes the jeering question—has not the rationale for the war itself been falsified? A particularly eloquent example of this “argument” comes from my blog neighbor Mark LeVine, who finds it very clever to suggest that “we should all have gotten our asses to Iraq” --whence I derive my own clever title for the present post.

Let me borrow a page from LeVine's method of argumentation and now ask: should we, in compliance with LeVine’s “Principle,” all get our asses to New Orleans?

Have you seen the awful looting and mayhem taking place down there? You want it stopped? Well, get your ass down to New Orleans and stop it your damn self.

You want the levees fixed? Get your ass to New Orleans and fix them your damn self. But watch out for the rioters. They’re not in a good mood. I mean, it’s almost as dangerous down there as…Baghdad.

You want people rescued from boats, rooftops, hospitals or the Superdrome? Well get to it. What are you waiting for? Lives are at stake and you’re comfortably sitting here in front of a computer.

You think the dead bodies ought to be cleaned up out of the streets? Well, the corpses aren’t going to go away by themselves. If you’re in favor of corpse-free streets, put on some gloves and do some corpse-hauling with your own unsullied hands. Otherwise, shut your mouth.


The Principle here appears to be:

“If you favor a job’s being done, you’re obliged to do it.”
Well, if that’s really a principle, and not the cheap, exhausted and opportunistic rhetorical weapon it appears to be, let’s hear it endorsed in a consistent way—and acted on. Cutting checks won’t cut it. So if you accept LeVine's Principle, enough already with the maudlin appeals to this or that charity or relief agency. If the LeVine Principle is true—and how little it’s been contested here or elsewhere!--you have to go down there and risk life and limb before you can open your mouth, and you can’t open your mouth unless you’re willing to risk just that.

Further, if you don’t risk life and limb, that proves that the looting should continue, the levees should stay broken, the people should go unrescued, and the dead bodies should sit there until they decompose. In fact, it constitutes such proof even if there are people willing to risk life and limb to do those very things.

It sounds kind of stupid and vulgar to put things this way, doesn’t it? How about when you put it this way for two years running?

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Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006


You need to recognize a classic bait-and-switch when you come upon one (and before you accuse someone of not having read it).

I read LeVine's post as carefully as it would bear reading. The latter part of it, which happens to be longer than the initial segment, addresses itself in a characteristically self-promoting way to experts in Middle East studies. But the first part of is an unambiguous endorsement of the principle that if you are pro-Bush and pro-war, you're obliged to go to Iraq. And my response is, fair enough: by the same token, if you're anti-looting, why shouldn't you be obliged to go to New Orleans?

Nothing in the latter half of LeVine's post can save him from having to face that question, given what he says at the outset. (It wouldn't even save him if he happened to go to New Orleans. I am not so much asking a question about him as about the principle he claims to espouse.) Nor should it save the innumerable pundits at HNN and elsewhere who have effectively said the same thing.

Of course, I don't think they're obliged to go to New Orleans. But then, it isn't my principle.

Irfan Khawaja - 8/4/2006

My ass is in New York and New Jersey and is unapologetically staying there.

Try slowing down, reading and comprehending before you write, Mr Fell. You'll soon realize that it doesn't much matter where you've been or where you're going--you haven't understood my point well enough to criticize it. At least my cheap shots hit their intended targets. Better than one that doesn't.

Richard Fell - 9/3/2005

As far as I know your not risking life and limb either. It doesn't matter if you haven't found fault with the rescue. Because it's easy to sit on a fence and criticize someone else’s criticism. My ass was in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Tehran and it will in the next day be going to New Orleans. How about yours?

Oscar Chamberlain - 9/2/2005


If you are going to satirize something successfully, you need to read it first. LeVine's argument was directed, in large measure, to people who have skills that would improve the situation in Iraq and who had expressed dissatisfaction with the situation.