Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On a First-Name Basis

It’s hurricane season in Florida, as this state has welcomed me by constant reports and weather warnings focusing on the next tropical storm that is making its way from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic. These storms, starting with Faye – and working its way down the alphabetical list to the current monster, Ike – are mulled over by tropical weather teams on the local news channels all over south Florida. Where are they headed? Are they a tropical storm, or a hurricane? If a hurricane, what category? And – the most important question, by far – where is it headed?

These are important questions, no doubt. But the insistence of our media to focus on the United States – and the United States alone – is really getting to me. When asked by a member of my church what was one of the interesting things I’ve found living in Florida so far, I told her that I’m amazed how much attention is given in the news to two countries: Haiti and Cuba. These are two places that may as well not exist as far as the U.S. is concerned, but they figure prominently in hurricane talk – and for one reason:

How have they affected the tropical storm/hurricane? Have they slowed it down, or increased its wind? Nevermind that the infrastructure in both countries is shaky at best, and pitiful at worst. In Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, they continue to be pummeled...without mercy. Cuba gets hit again and again. Food sources are destroyed. People starve, if they haven’t drowned.

And according to Channel 9 News of Tampa, the deaths and misery leveled on these people by Gustav and Hanna, Faye and Ike, matter only in the sense of how they’ve affected the current strength and direction of the hurricane. Nothing more.

The important thing is where in the United States it will hit. Now, I’m not saying that the people in our country don’t matter, or that their suffering (especially in New Orleans post-Katrina) is somehow less important. But as Gustav showed, with enough pre-warning, these people have places to go.

Haitians and Cubans continue to be mercilessly rained down upon this hurricane season, and they have nowhere to go.

It is in this situation that I hear echoes of the occupation of Iraq, when we are given up-to-date, detailed accounts of every American citizen who has died or been injured, but hardly a mention of the Iraqi people who continue to be killed and maimed, usually hidden beneath euphemisms like “collateral damage” or “smart bombs.”

It’s ironic to me that we personalize these hurricanes so much by giving them first names. It’s just more euphemisms. Haiti wasn’t destroyed by a hurricane with winds up to 115 mph last week; Gustav was simply weakened to a category 2 hurricane as it passed over the mountainous region of Haiti.

Mmm. That sounds so much better, doesn’t it?


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