Blogs > Liberty and Power > MISSISSIPPI RIVER AND IRAQ

Feb 6, 2004 10:49 pm


On Saturday Chris Matthew Sciabarra posted a blog titled ”On Grave an Gathering Threats”. In it he described how historian Victor Davis Hanson continues his support for the invasion of Iraq, even in light of the Kay report citing a lack of weapons of mass destruction. He quoted Hanson and these words reminded me of another quotation, one of my favorites. It comes from an excellent book by John Barry, titled Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America

In 1927 the Mississippi River flooded it banks covering an area equivalent in size to the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut combined. Some points 100 miles from the riverbank were covered in 100 feet of water. Thousands died and close to a million people were forced from their homes.

In the decades preceding the flood two basic approaches to controlling the river competed with one another. The first called for the use of outlets, natural and artificial, to disperse the flow of the river. The second way, the “levees only theory”, featured an attempt to confine the river. The backers of this method believed that levees all along the river would increase the current force thereby scouring and deepening the riverbed. That would allow the river to carry more water.

The second approach proved to be the more politically popular because it left far more land open for development. Officers in the Army Corps of Engineers who, as Barry points out, “had neither special background nor training in the problems of the Mississippi River” (page 157) also favored it and they made all important decisions concerning flood control.

In 1912 the Mississippi flooded reaching new high water marks, although, the river carried a smaller total volume of water than previous instances. This provided pretty conclusive evidence that the “levees only theory” was incorrect. Nevertheless, the policy preferring levees continued.

After 1912 some civilian engineers, among them James F. Kemper, tried to reopen the debate concerning the two methods of containing flooding. They proposed that the Corps build a hydraulics laboratory to study the problem. Chief of Engineers, General Lansing Beach rejected the idea stating that the “laboratory proposed would have no value whatever in solving flood control.”(page 160)

Later, Kemper remarked, ”It is so much easier to believe than it is to think; it is astounding how much more believing is done than thinking. It is more astounding that an honest study was not made of conditions resulting from [the levees-only policy]. Not only was essential data not available but it appeared as though the failure to acquire it was deliberate. The determination to carry out this impossible theory was so great that, with many, it appeared to be an obsession.”(page 160)

The facts that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction and that he bore no responsibility for the events of 9-11 can never compete with Victor Davis Hanson’s belief in a “world made safe for democracy” by George W. Bush.

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Keith Halderman - 2/3/2004

What they did during 1927 was to destroy part of the levee on the side of the river away from New Orleans. If they had not done that the city would have been under water. The city fathers promised compensation to the people who were deliberately flooded out but they in effect did not keep their word. I highly recommend Barry's book on th e1927 flood it has all kinds of fasinating details.

Robert L. Campbell - 2/2/2004

I wonder where the Old River Control Structure fits into this analogy. That's the complex of dams and artificial channels that keeps the Mississippi flowing past New Orleans--instead of making a beeline to the Gulf through the middle of Atchafalaya Swamp.

A big enough flood, and the thing will break...