The independent news organization of Duke University

Katrina: the distant tragedy

My parents, products of the baby-boom generation, knew exactly where they were when Kennedy was shot and Armstrong walked on the moon. Monumental events in American history-one deeply distressing, the other incredibly inspiring-will forever remain in my parents' memories.

Four years ago yesterday, I was sitting in second-period journalism class talking to my friend Heather about our AP English papers. One of my classmates, working on an article for the weekly paper, was checking a source on CNN.com. Before we knew it, both towers had collapsed and the principal was calling for calm over the loudspeakers.

Living in Westfield, New Jersey, a major suburb of New York City, many parents and family members worked in the City and even the Towers. My own father watched the second tower collapse from his office, which I only managed to find out after repeatedly calling my mother at home. Throughout the day, assorted students were called down to the office. We could only hope it was good news while we heard screams and tears in the hallway.

Three members of my synagogue never made it out alive. One had two small children in elementary school. In nearby Summit-an affluent suburban town with numerous professionals in the Twin Towers-more than 50 cars remained in the parking lot of the local train station, never to be reclaimed.

It is hard to imagine that four years have passed since the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Americans in New York City, Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania sky. A senior, once again, I cannot help but reflect on all that has transpired in the meantime.

I know that a number of former and current Duke students were personally affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. Some successful Blue Devils were working in the Towers alongside parents of other Dukies. Close friends of mine from Long Island and the prep schools of New York City lost countless family friends and even relatives. It is a day that will-and for good reason-live in infamy.

If only I could say the same about Hurricane Katrina. The death toll for the worst natural disaster in American history may exceed 10,000, and I have no idea where I was when the storm hit and the levees ruptured. It is true that unlike the previously mentioned events, Katrina did not exactly occur at a specific time. The levees, moreover, did not even break until about two days after the storm had subsided. Nonetheless, all I know is that the president was on vacation and my good friend at Tulane was home safe in Westfield.

When all is said and done, Katrina will likely claim three times as many lives as the attack of Sept. 11. I am not trivializing terrorism but rather highlighting the magnitude of this natural disaster. And yet in spite of all of the carnage, the campus seems fairly calm. I am not exactly sure what I expected, but I hear it was quite different on the days following 9/11. There was a powerful all-campus vigil the day following the event and this very paper was dominated by articles related to the attacks.

I do not want to take anything away from the administration's selfless service and the initiative taken by many passionate students eager to lend assistance. At a time when I am embarrassed by my president and ambivalent about my country, I can honestly say that I am proud to be a Duke Blue Devil. But it is not the food drives, town hall meetings or lectures that I am referring to but rather the general mood of the campus. I recognize that I am dealing with intangibles that are not easily measured, but the reality is that so many of us are so far removed from the devastation.

This is not just due to geography-far more students hail from New York, New Jersey, and D.C. than from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama-but rather an issue of social class. Duke students are largely wealthy or at least middle class and people with money, at least for the most part, made it out of New Orleans. I want to avoid making any sweeping generalizations regarding the loss of life, especially when many students including a very close friend of mine may have lost their entire homes and all of their belongings. But nonetheless, I feel that for many Duke students-including myself-Katrina is not very different from last year's tsunami, a tragic but distant event.

Our country, and specifically our generation, is at a crossroads for there is little true sense of shared loss. The poor are dying in Iraq, and the poor are now dying in New Orleans. Largely black in the case of Katrina, the urban poor are suffering and all the Food Points in the world-although helpful-are not going to change that. I don't have any answers, but just imagine if 10,000 Americans perished on Wall Street. I think the students would be doing more than holding an on-line food drive and collecting checks. I just want to know where the candlelight vigils, interfaith services and moments of silence are because they sure as hell weren't at the tailgate or Coldplay concert this past weekend.

Adam Yoffie is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Katrina: the distant tragedy” on social media.