Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

History As Allegory

This Associated Press wire story about the 1889 Johnstown Flood is one of the best examples I've seen of journalists using indirection to make a powerful critique of the Bush Administration:
Blame centered on the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club because it had made changes to the dam. A screen to prevent game fish from escaping the lake trapped sediment, and lowering the dam to accommodate larger carriages proved to be a fatal mistake.

"People knew it was a bad dam. People talked every spring that it was going to break. They just didn't know what the consequences would be," Burkert said.

Most criticism on the club focused not on the dam but on the wealth of the club members. An editorial cartoon in the Chicago Herald showed members drinking champagne while the poor people in the city drowned beneath them.

"The Johnstown flood was not an act of God or nature. It was brought by human failure, human shortsightedness and selfishness," author David McCullough, who wrote a history of the flood in 1968, said in a 2003 interview.
Neither Bush nor any of his underlings are mentioned. Yet the vision of a divide between rich and poor in the United States conjures them as shadowy doubles of their nineteenth century predecessors. Even better are the different ways that the flawed dam functions as a metaphor for what W and his coteries have been doing. On the one hand, their neglect has left ordinary Americans vulnerable to calamity. On the other hand, the dam they have been maintaining so poorly is one which restrains those ordinary Americans' rage. When the dam bursts, if it hasn't burst already, we could be drowning in our own discontent.

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