BC Expert: 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
Jacobs is a political and cultural historian of the United States in the 20th century, especially the period since World War II, and his research interests focus on the connection between U.S. domestic culture and foreign policy. He also has a strong interest in U.S. foreign policy, Vietnam, and U.S.-Asian relations. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in American military and diplomatic history, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and America in the 1950s. Jacobs is currently writing a book called, Rogue Diplomats: The Proud Tradition of Disobedience in United States Foreign Policy. Past books include: The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy in Cold War Laos and Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of the Vietnam War, 1950-1963.
It was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, a deadly and catastrophic event leading to almost 2,000 lives lost, an estimated $110 billion in damages, and the displacement of more than one million people. This month, the country marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a meteorological event made much worse because of governmental mismanagement.
“It was a national disgrace,” says Boston College History Professor Seth Jacobs, a scholar of United States foreign policy and 20th century American culture. “I was appalled at how poorly the relief operations were handled, how insensitive and how dilatory the whole process was - it was very depressing.
“It exposed at the time the real tone deafness of the Bush White House to certain problems in American society,” says Jacobs. “I remember the images of Barbara Bush attempting to appear compassionate by touring the Astrodome complex that had been set aside for the relocation of people who had been made homeless by this disaster and just not connecting with anyone she encountered. She also made insensitive statements like, ‘Well, if you think about it, these temporary shelters are probably better than the houses these people normally live in.’ It really exposed a gulf between the haves and the have-nots in America.
“We did not put our best face on this policy, we presented a very incompetent bumbling image to the rest of the world and I think you would have to be very non perceptive in other countries not to have picked up on the fact that the United States, the country that took it upon itself to remake another country, Iraq, into a model of functioning democracy, yet could not cope with a natural disaster that took place on its own territory.”
Jacobs reminds us that national security and defense is more than just preparing for something the military will be used for.
“We tend to think of attacks by other countries. We tend to think in terms of war and invasions, sneak attacks, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, but not every event that impacts national security comes from the human hand, or derives from a human initiative. A lot of times, it’s a natural disaster, it’s Mother Nature. And it can be every bit as catastrophic. Sometimes the enemies that we confront or the treats to national security don’t necessarily have a human face but they can be every bit as deadly, especially if you’re not prepared for them.”
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