Our stories on the confusion that marked the response to Hurricane Katrina drew mail from readers who found fault at all levels of government. Some who wrote, however, argued against finger pointing
Thank you for "4 places where the system Broke Down" [Sept. 19]. You provided balanced reporting on how officials responded to Hurricane Katrina. The recovery efforts by the Federal Government were disorganized and sluggish. The disaster has revealed the inefficiency of bureaucracy in times of crisis. FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] was ill-prepared to handle the magnitude of the devastation. Its incompetent performance under the leadership of Michael Brown, who had no credentials or experience, reflects poorly on President George W. Bush, who was responsible for Brown's appointment. The majority of the blame, though, lies with local officials. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has a lot to answer for. Much of the grief his city experienced could have been prevented by responsible preparation.
Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.
TIME's cover headline, "System Failure," suggested a self-deception as old as humankind. There was no system available. Believing that government agencies, however competent, can prevent human suffering and loss only causes more of both.
Peter L. Sloan
New York City
It is easy to assign blame for the Katrina relief fiasco—there are plenty of targets. It is much harder to accept responsibility. What went wrong? The American people persist in voting for political demagogues who promise them continued services for lower taxes. Government is not, despite what former President Ronald Reagan claimed, the problem. Nor is it, as others have asserted, a beast that must be starved. Government is society's means to collectively address problems that are too large or costly for individuals to handle. In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. By shortsightedly choosing lower taxes and minimal services, we now have only the precarious protection of a hobbled government.
Forestville, California, U.S.
Abraham Lincoln understood what post-Civil War Reconstruction would demand. Franklin Roosevelt understood what recovery from the Depression would require. This President doesn't seem to understand what recuperating from Katrina is all about. I wish he were as interested in helping the country come to grips with it as he appears to be in saving his own political skin.
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
The blame for the Katrina tragedy lies with the people who chose to live in the devastated region. The idea of living below sea level in a hurricane-prone area is insane. The Federal Government should eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program, which encourages construction in flood-prone areas. People shouldn't build fragile houses in tornado alleys, homes on hillsides that are vulnerable to mudslides, or cities in earthquake zones. People should make better choices. I hope, against all probability, that New Orleans will not be rebuilt. It would be a waste of lives, resources, effort and money.
West Topsham, Vermont, U.S.
Why try to assign blame? If we expended half as much effort in attempting to learn from the Katrina disaster as we have in trying to find whom or what to blame, more people would be out of danger and beginning to rebuild their lives.
While reading about the gulf coast hurricane disaster, I thought about 9/11. In both tragedies, failures of hyperbureaucratic structures resulted in the loss of lives. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, there were loads of information and hints about terrorist activities before the attack. It was the same with Katrina. Meteorologists knew at least 48 hours before the storm hit the Gulf Coast that an exceptional force of nature was aimed at New Orleans. Military and medical aid should have been set up in anticipation. I cannot believe that a civilized and highly developed, rich nation was unable to provide people with water, food and medicine over a few days until a broader rescue operation was in place.
Vera K. Mathiszik
Caught in a Web
The people of New Orleans were trapped by more than water [Sept. 19]. Long before Hurricane Katrina struck, many of the residents were enmeshed in a web of poverty. The majority of the nation seemed to have the false sense that everything was just fine in America, including New Orleans. Now we know that it was not. The best way to honor the dead and help people put their lives back together is to use the devastation caused by Katrina to make people see the marginalization of the poor—the real national disgrace.
When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck Southeast Asia last December, private citizens went into action without waiting for instruction. We organized medical teams and obtained relief supplies for victims. New Orleans was left in a mess for so long because of a lack of proper and timely leadership.
Learning from New Orleans
I am a 62-year-old white woman responding to the pitch-perfect words of my black brother Wynton Marsalis. In his Essay "Saving America's Soul Kitchen" [Sept. 19], he wrote, "We always back away from fixing our nation's racial problems. Not fixing the city's levees before Katrina struck will now cost us untold billions. Not resolving the nation's issues of race and class has and will cost us so much more." America, listen to those words or reap the consequences. If the cries of human suffering don't move us, perhaps enlightened self-interest and the bottom line will. Whatever the motivation, we must act now.
Nicole Daines Gibeaut
Fallbrook, California, U.S.
Marsalis' essay struck a chord; in addition to his musical talents, he has amazing insight. Perhaps musicians share an understanding that easily transcends racial and class lines. Musicians seem to embrace the soul in one another, the soul of life. They appreciate something that treats race, gender and religion as being as incidental as the clothes we wear. Marsalis is right on the mark. Perhaps if enough people speak out, as he has, they might pierce the tone-deaf arrogance of the powerful.
Matthew Cooper, in his article about President Bush's mishandling of the Katrina disaster [Sept. 12], noted, "In a crisis he can act paradoxically, appearing—almost simultaneously—strong and weak, decisive and vacillating, Churchill and Chamberlain." Please stop comparing Bush to British Prime Ministers. If Bush lived in Britain, he could not get elected to a town council.
Candid to a Fault
I was absolutely baffled by the remarks of former First Lady Barbara Bush after she toured the Astrodome complex in Houston, where evacuees from Hurricane Katrina were sheltered [Sept. 19]. She said, "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas ... And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Is she scared because poor and black people might want to stay in Texas? I encourage her to live in the Astrodome for a week and then ask herself how she feels.
Rene L. Dalem
Your report about China's use of forced abortions and sterilizations as part of its one-child policy [Sept. 19] painted a horrific picture. Congratulations to brave legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who, despite being blind and living under the threat of personal danger, has worked unselfishly to file a class action against officials to protect women and children. His dedication is something that anyone can respect and strive to emulate.
Carol E. St. Amand
Ludlow, Massachusetts, U.S.
Chinese women are forced by local officials to undergo sterilization and late-term abortions so bureaucrats can meet party requirements and advance their political careers. Government and local leaders do not care about the quality of life of these women. I admire the activism of Chen and I hope that other Chinese will join in the fight for the health of the women and their children—born or unborn.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
No doubt many readers are as disgusted as I am by China's use of coerced sterilization and abortion. But perhaps we should temper our shock by recognizing that China, with more than 20% of the earth's population, has a real and extremely serious population problem for which there may not be any painless or entirely humane solutions. The Chinese have a collective cultural memory of famine and mass starvation. We need to be aware of the reasons and rationale for China's population-control policies.
Marietta, Georgia, U.S.
I was horrified by the incidents described in your story. How can any government justify such barbaric treatment? I understand the need to curb population growth, but that surely could be accomplished in a more humane way.
Williamsburg, Ohio, U.S.
My response to TIME's "10 Questions" interview with ex-convict Martha Stewart, whom you described as "the indomitable domestic diva" [Sept. 19], is simply this: crime does pay.
Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.
For Stewart to Err, as the saying goes, was human. To forgive her is divine. But to glorify her is ridiculous.
Worthington, Ohio, U.S.
Sitcom with a Message
As our Milestone of actor Bob Denver noted [Sept. 19], he played the role of Gilligan in the popular 1960s TV comedy Gilligan's Island. Ten years ago, we profiled the creator of the show, Sherwood Schwartz, in a piece called "The Inventor of Bad TV." Here's an excerpt from that story [March 13, 1995]:
"Television in the 1960s and early '70s did not lack absurdities ... Yet of all the ridiculous TV shows of the era, two stand out for their enduring, unfathomable allure: The Brady Bunch, the sitcom about an adage-spewing stepfamily cavorting on an Astroturf lawn, and Gilligan's Island, the tale of seven mismatched castaways on an island that seemed oddly close to Hollywood. Both shows had a goofy otherworldliness painfully out of step with their tumultuous times. Both spawned fanatical cult followings and countless spin-offs. Both, amazingly, were created by the same man, Sherwood Schwartz ... [He] called Gilligan's Island a 'social microcosm' when he pitched the idea for the show. Schwartz still calls it that. 'I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications,' he says. 'On a much larger scale this happens all the time. Eventually, the Israelis are going to have to learn to live with the Arabs. We have one world, and Gilligan's Island was my way of saying that.' ... In the world of Sherwood Schwartz, it makes perfect sense."