If you have ever watched the life flow out of someone you loved, you know it's a life-changing experience.
Every war film death, every TV murder, every bit of film presented by the gabbling heads on the if-it-bleeds-it-leads
salesmen-of-death circuit has been sanitized of the real sights, the smells, the shock of watching a human being transformed into decomposing meat.
And yet, once you have been through the real thing, every war film, every crime clip, every TV murder brings it back. Chris Hedges calls it a pornography of death
, and so it is. Sex without love and death without love are morally very much the same. Since this nation is immersed in images of death, the only spiritual defense against this abomination of the eye is to try to love, in some small way, each person passing from the earth. Even if just to treat their body respectfully.
And so the reports of the desecration of the dead in New Orleans are disturbing.
Such reports are also widespread. For example:
MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow. All right. That this man's body been laying here. And there's no reason for it. Look where we at? I mean, it's not flooded. There's no reason for them to be, left that body right here like this. You mean, just totally disrespect. You know? I mean two weeks. Every day, we ask them about coming and picking it up. They refuse to come and pick it up. You can see, it's literally decomposing right here. Right out in the sun.
And then there is a Daily Kos diarist, ELS
who drew attention to this NPR interview
[reporter] Martin Kaste: Now that whole neighborhoods are drying out, the police are beginning to revisit the places where bodies were left behind during the chaotic days after the storm. Some of the bodies' locations are fairly obvious, especially in downtown areas that were never flooded.
One notorious case was the bloated corpse curled up against the seawall near the French Quarter. The location of this body was also marked by spray paint, a sign on the seawall above it reading R.I.P. along with an insult for Katrina. Mike Brown is a bulldozer operator hired to clean up this neighborhood.
Brown: When we got ready to start the garbage pile there was some trash here, and as I was pushing to make the pile, I almost run him over, and I seen him. So we told everybody to watch it, we called the police, so they said, just don't worry about it, they'll get to him sooner or later.
Kaste: Not wanting to bury the body under garbage, Brown went in search of the media camped out nearby. After a day or two of visits by news crews, a 15-car official government convoy finally roars in to collect the body. The removal convoy includes three Georgia state patrol cars, two out-of-state ambulances, and several unmarked white vans. Several people in blue hospital scrubs surround the corpse and hesitate, while National Guardsmen move in to block the scene. Watching from his bulldozer, Brown shakes his head at the magnitude of the response.
Brown: Fifteen vehicles, one dead guy. Now what we could do is have maybe one vehicle to pick up one dead guy, and then them other fifteen could go pick up fifteen other people.
Kaste: Local and federal authorities have been stung by photos and news accounts of corpses left to rot for days in the unflooded parts of town, some of them in walking distance of the command center.
ELS also gives eloquent personal testimony:
You see New Orleans is full of Dead Guys. When I was in the local news business we had affectionate names for them: floaters, flyers, the vic, peanut butter. I was forever making sure that the young news hounds didn't actually put the pictures of the floaters still in the water on the air, and I made it a personal rule that no one shot peanut butter ever. Even if there was a new intern learning to edit tape. Not even then.
I want to make sure that these Dead Guys are counted, in their wheelchairs and their mother's arms, and on the buses and on the rooftops and in the back bedroom where their asthma got them if the water didn't. I want to make sure that each and every last one of them is counted.
I want their names written down on a big list, and read off on anniversaries and remembered as people who were loved and who loved and who struggled and lost that fight to Katrina and to time and to bureaucratic bungling.And I want us all to remember that if we don't see those names, if we know about a Dead Guy whose story has not been told, we have to do just like the guy paid to bulldoze New Orleans trash. We have to tell the story.
If you have ever watched the life flow out of someone you loved, you know that the human being who lived in that divine temple is gone. You know that one treats the body with respect not so much for the sake of the dead, who can no longer suffer, but for your sake of the living, so that they do not undergo spiritual
death, a hardening of the heart.
It doesn't matter if you are a policeman, a Guardsman, or regular Army. If your commander understands why the dead need to be treated with respect, you know it's your personal job. You are choosing life or death by how you treat the Dead Guys.
If one needed any more proof of the total godlessness of the Bush Administration, look at how the occupiers of New Orleans have treated the dead.