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Calamity memory

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Talk of Non-Hobbesian apocalypses? have me digging through my notes for adjacent thinking, since everyone is in this mode I might as well get some questions up:

After some huge calamity, how long does it take people to forget? How do we remember? Who is in charge of that?

We used to say the victors write history, but rebel general statues dotting the South appears to be a clever hack.

I’m already throttling at full cynicism in that thread, so I didn’t share the incident it reminded me of from a few years ago, where I met a college graduate that had “heard of” the Berlin Wall.

Now that can be read lots of ways. There are all kinds of weird things that we all don’t have access to in equal parts. Remember, until recently it was Stranger Things times, and culture and news were syncing are lightspeed across the lands.

But it is worrisome.

It makes me wonder, thousands of years ago, what few elders there were looked around and saw people just dying for stupid reasons left and right and were like, ya know what? We need some scary stories to freak people into survival.

Well, elders with beards.

So, what are examples of calamities forgotten (like those burning coal towns in New England), covered up (:roll_eyes:) or remembered vigilantly? Also, what is the shortest amount of time a calamity can be forgotten?

I saw this happen recently in front of my eyes in a Twitter thread. Here it is, and I will summarize it briefly below for those of you who don’t want to click a Twitter link.

User @l1quidcryst4l writes that human-exacerbated climate disasters like Katrina will happen more and more, and given the violent way that government and cops responded, we should prepare for those responses. Her screenshots from news stories include: Heavily-armed Blackwater mercenaries garrisoning New Orleans; private security shooting up freeway overpasses without really knowing who they were shooting at; prisoners lost in the system post-storm with no scheduled hearings; white residents forming armed gangs to intimidate black neighbors.

I was reading a lot of Katrina reporting at the time and a couple of these stories are new to me, but I’ve heard lots of others just as bad. I won’t go through them all here, because it’s the response that’s the most interesting.

Several other users expressed disbelief that @l1quidcryst4l was unaware of any of this, until they pointed out that they were in elementary school in a right-wing rural school system that just didn’t care to teach any of this recent history.

A responder contributed a great collection of reporting and scholarly work for those looking to learn.

But I’m betting most people are in the same situation as l1quidcryst4l, and don’t know or have forgotten many of the more horrific details of the response to Katrina, like massacres by police or predominantly white housing developments near designated evacuation points forming their own death squads.

The responses to the original post started off aggrieved, because they had been trying to keep the memory of what happened alive and research and document and discuss it, but whatever their efforts, it hadn’t reached the original poster. So how long does it take? In this case about 14 years, but I’d say it probably happened for most people a lot sooner.

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Another example: I received a recent issue of The Nib as a gift, which had a feature story about a young Iraqi soldier who had been drafted into the first Gulf War, and found himself retreating from Kuwait back to Iraq along what came to be called The Highway of Death. I think the comic is called “Black Rain,” after the soot/oil clogged rain that fell, turned black from the smoke from the Kuwaiti oil fields Saddam set on fire before the troops retreated.

American forces bombed the highway, causing massive casualties among the retreating troops. I knew something about it but had never read anything so visceral, especially based on a first person account. I think it should probably qualify as a war crime, although I’m not sure it technically does.

Probably nearly nobody remembers this today, even people who were relatively grown and reading news during the first Gulf War.

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Thanks for the examples, as worrisome as they are…

General Norman Schwarzkopf stated in 1995:[15]

The first reason why we bombed the highway coming north out of Kuwait is because there was a great deal of military equipment on that highway, and I had given orders to all my commanders that I wanted every piece of Iraqi equipment that we possibly could destroy. Secondly, this was not a bunch of innocent people just trying to make their way back across the border to Iraq. This was a bunch of rapists, murderers and thugs who had raped and pillaged downtown Kuwait City and now were trying to get out of the country before they were caught.

The Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger disagreed with General Schwarzkopf’s description of the dead, stating:[16]

Television crews travelling with the Allied forces in Kuwait came upon the aftermath by chance. As the first pictures appeared on American television, the White House justified the attack by referring to the dead as ‘torturers, looters and rapists’. However, it was obvious that the convoy included not only limited lorries, but civilian vehicles: battered Toyota vans, Volkswagens, motorbikes. Their occupants were foreign workers who had been trapped in Kuwait: Palestinians, Bangladeshis, Sudanese, Egyptians and others. In a memorable report for BBC radio, Stephen Sackur who distinguished himself against the odds in the Gulf, described the carnage in such a way that he separated for his listeners, ordinary Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. He converted [them] to human beings. The incinerated figures, he said, were simply people trying to get home; he sounded angry. Kate Adie was there for the BBC. Her television report showed corpses in the desert and consumer goods scattered among the blackened vehicles. If this was ‘loot’, it was pathetic: toys, dolls, hair-dryers. She interviewed a U.S. Marine Lieutenant, who appeared distressed. He said the convoy had “no air cover, nothing”, and he added ambiguously: “it was not very professional at all.” Adie did not ask what he meant, nor did she attempt to explain why the massacre had taken place. But she did say that those who fought and died for Iraq here turned out to be from the north of the country, from minority communities, persecuted by Saddam Hussein – the Kurds and the Turks.