Last week in New Jersey we experienced the kind of natural disaster most of us have only heard about. While my home state may be the butt of a lot of jokes, we also tend to be free from horrible things like earthquakes, tornados, mass shootings and Republicans. Nevertheless, after a hot rainy summer (which is far from over) the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped over 10 inches of rain on the already water logged ground. Twenty three people died in the floods. Some people died through no fault of their own. Four people in Elizabeth drowned in their basement apartment after a river overflowed its banks and made escape impossible. Other people died out of sheer stupidity. For some odd reason an 83-year-old man in Union felt he needed to get in his car and drive and another man in Maplewood felt it necessary to clear the debris out of a culvert near his house.
As for me, I was doing my best to get a Darwin Award. I live on the second floor of a very well-built house on top of a hill. I could have easily slept through the storm and not even realized it happened. As soon as the storm was done, however, I jumped on my bike to explore the area, because, well, why not? Not far from my house, at the bottom of two steep hills, there was a small body of water where, only the day before there had only been the street in front of the local topless bar. There were also dozens of abandoned cars, their electronics shorted out when they tried to make it through what turned out to be at least two feet of water. I road through without a hitch, my feet soaked, but my pride swollen. My bike has no electronics, and it turned out I was stronger than 2 tons of Detroit metal (well these days fiberglass) powered by a V-6. I wound up riding through three large bodies of water, each more deep than the other, the last one lapping over the side view mirrors of cars parked on the street, a couch that had formerly decorated someone’s back porch floating by as I chugged through the brackish muck.
When I got home I couldn’t help but turn on Pete Seeger performing his now all but forgotten song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.
For Seeger, the song, which tells the tale of an infantry officer who drowned on a training exercise while foolishly trying to bully his platoon to ford a tributary of the flooded Mississippi (a stream that turned out to be the Mississippi itself), was a metaphor for the Vietnam War. The same military industrial media complex that recently attacked President Biden for his surprisingly courageous decision to end the American Occupation couldn’t admit they had made a mistake intervening in the Vietnamese Civil War. Like the idiot platoon commander in Seeger’s song, they were determined to drag the American people down with them. But Seeger’s platoon was smart enough to turn back and barely make it to dry land. The American people in the 1960s were smart enough to protest the occupation of Vietnam and demand we leave.
In 2021, I wish the “big muddy” were the war in Afghanistan. But it’s not. It’s something much more dangerous, to be specific, global warming, the weather patterns that have turned the Northeast into the Southeast, complete with deadly tornados, hurricanes, and floods. And the foolish platoon commander is not the American ruling class. It’s all of us, every ordinary citizen who just has to get into his car every day to run the rat race that’s killing the planet. Will we make it out? Or will we condemn our grandchildren to a dead, flooded planet. One can only hope for the best .