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At our best - and worst - after the storm - Bob Paslay

My soul soared like an eagle and then suddenly crashed and began to bleed. I saw the stories of people opening their hearts to help the devastated families after Hurricane Katrina ripped the coast apart. And then I saw the ugly face of darkness, the looting, people taking what they could from liquor to appliances, pushing along carts of stolen items through the flooded streets of New Orleans.

Teller machines were smashed open, as television cameras recorded the incidences in broad daylight whole stores were sacked.

For the record, I didn't see anyone looting the libraries of New Orleans. The books in the libraries and book stores apparently were untouched.

And so now as I watch the cleanup, the ugly face of looting is starting to subside as the stories of heroes rescuing the stranded and volunteers coming to help are being told.

Mob rule is an ugly thing, like a forest fire that burns uncontrolled. People in a pack will do things they would never do individually. So as we face the heart of darkness, we must ask ourselves this question: Are we safe in our homes and as we walk the streets only because those who would attack us are constrained by the fear of arrest?

Does no internal value system restrain people? A colleague pointed out that some were looting food and asked what I would do, would I not take if I wanted food? The short answer is I don't know. Would I take food if I was hungry or thirsty, knowing it would probably spoil anyone. Six hundred miles away in an air-conditioned office, surrounded by restaurants, I can't honestly say what I would do.

This, in my estimation is not a valid argument in New Orleans' case because the government and volunteer agencies are not going to let people starve to death. This is not the siege of Moscow in World War II in which you were forced to eat anything to survive the hunger. These were people taking because it was there and because the rule of law had been replaced by the rule of disorder.

William Golding sets up this scenario in his 1950s novel that most school students eventually end up reading, "Lord of the Flies." A group of very proper British students, trained on discipline and the rule of law find themselves on an island after a nuclear war and crash of the plane flying them to safety. Before our eyes we see the breakdown of any order so that the biggest and strongest rule and the vulnerable are trampled. Some turn into savages basically. It is only at the end when an adult lands on the island that they halt the killing and become children again, understanding the authority figure is back in control.

Ultimately the smudge of looting will be such a small part of the story of courage and dedication that my soul will soar again. One network showed a young couple who came just to help. They carried children to safety, working 30 hours among the heat and stench and deprivation. For every looter there are hundreds of good decent people.

Germany has offered to send portable water treatment facilities and other help.

I make no secret of my love of New Orleans. It was love at first sight, love at first bite. The music surges through my body. I have been at all times of the year. I in fact was going this Friday night until Mother Nature hurled its viscous missile on the region.

I have read on the area and I know fully the tensions of the haves and the have-nots in that region and I guess deep down I understand any pent-up feelings that might lead to the looting. Understanding it and forgiving it are two different things.

Just to make it clear there are thousands of people who could be counted in the have-nots who are doing nothing more than trying to deal with the hand that was dealt them this week. They are not looting, they are just trying to survive.

I have sent what money I can spare and I wish I had more. If I had several weeks off I would be down there trying to help put the Big Easy back together. And because so many people have been to that wonderful city, it is easy to focus totally on their plight and forget the horror that nature hurled at Mississippi. Old homes are gone, people are dead, lives are shattered.

But as one woman standing in the midst of her shattered home debris said, "We lost the battle, but we didn't lose the war."

Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at bpaslay@news-daily.com or at (770) 478-5753.