Last week, I happened to see a news clip of an Army Corp of Engineers representative being interviewed regarding the flooding. He described the intended plan to blast away a long section of levee near the convergence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. At the cost of destroyed homes, property and farmland to one hundred-and-fifty Missouri farming families, the little town of Cairo, Illinois would be spared from more severe flooding.
I’m not always sure the “greater good” is what it claims to be. Sometimes, it seems, that claim has justified taking away the homes of the lesser poor to make transportation more convenient for indifferent others. In this particular case, I don’t know how much property damage was prevented for the twenty-four hundred or so residents of the small river town. I do know what I saw happen when the Missouri River flooded in ’93.
Thousands upon thousands of acres were ruined when the levees gave way near Columbia. Soybean and cornfields were turned into wasteland when the piles of sand and debris covered the bottoms. Today, wild brush is growing where farmers lacked the means of reclaiming the once-fertile land. So, having seen that and having seen families driven from ancestral homes and farms in Kentucky’s Land between the Lakes to make way for public recreation has made me a bit cynical about the greater good.
More than that, though, it was the Corps spokesman’s particular language that really caught me. Speaking of the farm families, he said, “Their sacrifice will really help spare these other families.”
I’m sure he meant “the sacrifice they are making.” But what is taken away from people who have no choice is not a sacrifice they are making; they are the sacrifice. It will be interesting to see if several hundred of those folks in Cairo volunteer to spend a few weeks helping reclaim the farmland that spared their belongings.
Just as it’s always interesting to see what sort of real gratitude we show for the sacrifice that saved us.