As I watched the destruction in Haiti from the earthquake, I found myself wondering if we have seen the destruction of the nation of Haiti. Never the most functional of states, I think it’s a distinct possibility that we might be seeing the death of an entire nation.
In cases like this, my mind tries to flee the horror by finding historical precedents and analogies. In this case, though, much like 9/11, there really isn’t.
The catastrophic devastation in Haiti very well could be beyond the limits of human imagination. I am reminded of the images from Japan and Germany right after World War II, and there are similarities, but even in those nations — hammered by years of attacks by the world’s greatest powers — the damage was focused on urban, industrial, and political centers.
That’s not the case in Haiti. The damage is general to the entire nation. No part was spared.
I find myself wondering what it would take for Man to inflict equal damage, and I simply have no way of calculating it. My gut says that if the United States and every other significant military power in the world (Russia, China, NATO, India, and a few others) spent a few months devoting all their energies into the destruction of Haiti, they might — might — equal what Nature did in minutes.
Hell, most of Haiti now looks like large portions of Detroit. But not even almost fifty years of enlightened, progressive, Democratic rule can inflict that kind of generalized devastation.
It’s a humbling thought. For all the harm we can inflict on each other, it all pales to what Nature/Fate/God can do in moments.
This is what Tennyson meant when he referred to “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”
Nature doesn’t love humanity. It doesn’t coddle us and protect us and nurture us in hopes that we will love and respect us back.
Nature doesn’t hate humanity. It doesn’t deliberately try to kill us, to wipe us off the face of the earth.
Nature simply doesn’t care about us. Whatever we can do to the Earth, Nature will, in the end, prevail. Even if we managed to wipe out nearly all life on Earth, Nature would just start over.
Hell, the dinosaurs ruled the earth for a couple hundred million years, but when that asteroid wiped out almost all life, Nature just kept on going.
It was Nature’s casual indifference that damned near wiped the nation of Haiti off the face of the Earth — and still might.
While we do all we can for the people of Haiti, we should also be reminded and humbled by the power of Nature. And never, ever forget that Nature isn’t either for us or against us.
We simply don’t matter to it.
Back to the dinosaurs: one big rock mattered more to Nature than everything we have ever done since we first evolved, and quite possibly more than we ever will do.
In the grand scheme of things, we are so very, very small. And every now and then, Nature gives us a stark reminder of just how small we are.
Author’s note: the word “awesome” and the word “awful” have the same root — “awe.” And originally, the two — now considered almost antonyms — were very close in meaning.