Why the Liberal Media Scolded the Cajun Navy Instead of Thanking Them

The “Cajun Navy“—the volunteer flotilla of hundreds of sport fishermen and duck hunters from the Louisiana bayous (plus a whole lot of Texans) who towed their bass boats and other shallow-water craft to Houston to help rescue stranded flood victims—had to be one of the most beautiful stories to arise from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. There were plenty of other tear-inspiring incidents of people selflessly helping other people in devastated Houston last week: the local mattress king who opened his stores as shelters for hundreds, the Latino bakers who turned out sheets of free pan dulce to feed hungry victims, the human chain that formed to help a woman in labor get into a rescue truck. But it was the photos of the bass boats, jon boats, airboats, and even jet skis fanning out over freeways, roads, and lawns that had become rivers and lakes after Harvey poured nearly fifty-two inches of rain onto the city and its environs that made the most moving impression.

Strangely enough, though, not everyone is happy about the Cajun Navy. It seems that among many liberals and progressives, the idea is that rescue should be the sole province of government professionals, and that the volunteer Samaritans of Houston, often attired in military-looking duck-hunter camouflage and occasionally armed with guns, were just a step above vigilantes. A petulant article by New Yorker staff writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells conceded that the boatmen were “heroes,” but complained that Texas’s “libertarian” culture, leading to an “insufficiency of Houston’s city planning” and “willful ignorance of climate change” on the part of politicians, had made it necessary to rely on private citizens. “There is a cyclic pattern to the erosion of faith in government, in which politics saps the state’s capacity to protect people, and so people put their trust in other institutions (churches; self-organizing volunteer navies), and are more inclined to support anti-government politics,” Wallace-Wells wrote.

Slate columnist Katy Waldman mocked the idea that the generous responses of individual citizens to the Houston crisis represented the “best of America,” as both President Trump and a Washington Times editorial had put it. “National disasters shouldn’t be used for the purpose of national mythmaking,” Waldman scolded. “What if America is less a glorious nation of do-gooders awaiting the chance to exercise their altruism than a moral junior varsity team elevated by circumstance?” she wrote. A strange article by Jalopnik contributor Erik Shilling, headlined “The ‘Cajun Navy’ Descends on Houston, for Better or Worse,” faulted a Cajun Navy organizer for claiming on CNN that one of the volunteer boats had been shot at by likely looters and implied that “some people” among the volunteer rescuers had “itchy trigger fingers” and were spoiling for gunfights. Meanwhile, Shilling wrote, “Officials…said that police officers had completed over 2,000 rescue missions over the weekend, and The New York Times said Tuesday that over 30,000 people were in shelters, with rescues continuing and 12,000 National Guardsmen activated. The professionals, in other words, remain hard at work.”

Waldman and Shilling may well be right. Next week or next month, as Houston clears itself of wreckage and tries to rebuild, most of the volunteer guardian angels are likely to be back home evidencing all the human failings large and small—selfishness, self-indulgence, greed, pettiness, propensity toward physical or moral violence—that make the human race so exasperating to contemplate. But in Houston, they and other individuals, both volunteers and “professionals,” demonstrated that people really do have a “best” to which they are capable of spontaneously and selflessly rising. The Cajun Navy recalls Dunkirk in 1940, when 700 fishing boats and pleasure yachts alerted by radio and word of mouth arrived on the French beach under German fire to rescue 300,000 stranded British soldiers; it also calls to mind the 9/11 boatlift, when the ferrymen and tugboat operators of New York harbor evacuated some 500,000 people trapped in the south end of Manhattan after fleeing the burning World Trade Center towers in 2001.

Furthermore, as nearly every “professional” in Houston working on the ground to battle Harvey’s devastation—in contrast to the armchair progressives commenting on it—has gratefully acknowledged, the volunteer boatmen proved to be an essential component of the rescue operations, and not because the “libertarian” government in Texas was somehow deficient or because the Cajun Navy horned in on the National Guard. They proved essential because they were boatmen—men with years of experience reading the waters and the skies and navigating their craft over stumps and logs that might have made freeways seem like a piece of cake. As Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote in what may be the finest piece of writing to emerge from Hurricane Harvey, “They’re used to maneuvering through the cypress of Caddo Lake or the hydrilla and coontail of the Atchafalaya, where the water might be four feet or it might rise to eighteen, and the stinking bog is called ‘coffee grinds’ because of the way boots sink in it. Spending hours in monsoon rains doesn’t bother them, because they know ducks don’t just show up on a plate, and they’ve learned what most of us haven’t, that dry comfort is not the only thing worth seeking.”

So rather than malign these men, or tut-tut that they are too libertarian, why not thank them for risking their lives to help others (a service for which none of them were paid). I doubt the judgmental journalists scolding the Cajun Navy would have been willing to do the same.

Image: Facebook

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13 responses to “Why the Liberal Media Scolded the Cajun Navy Instead of Thanking Them

  1. The response illustrates what might be called the “Great Pickup Divide” in American society. A fuss among journalists a few months back illustrates one side—how few of them even know someone who owns a pickup. In contrast, there is the other America, where pickup trucks are common. There must be half-a-dozen on my street alone.

    Why? Because people who build and fix things know the value of trucks, while those in our chattering classes who can only whine, complain and (wrongly) blame do not. They rejoiced when Obama’s ‘clunkers’ rebate turned older but still useful F-150 pickups into soup cans. I told friend that such deeds were almost a ‘crime against humanity.’

    That’s long been true. After the 1940 release of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the party apparatchiks in the Soviet Union began to show the film to prove just how terrible life in America was. That backfired. As the average Russian watched, he was amazed. In America, he thought, even obviously poor people are so rich they own a pickup truck. What you could do to make money with one of those.

    In this case, to pickup trucks add various shallow-drafted fishing boats. This hurricane illustrated what you could do with those too—assuming you know how to work with your hands and muscles.

  2. Terry Pratchett once said, “To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”, meaning, we aren’t perfect, we live in a flawed and at times, horrible world. But we can choose to make the things around us better, not by government fiat, but by our own choice and action. It’s a shame that there are people out there who seem to have ceded that option to the sole realm of the government.

  3. I doubt the judgmental journalists scolding the Cajun Navy would have been willing to do the same.

    It’s precisely because they aren’t willing – and don’t want to be expected to be willing – to volunteer themselves, that they are miffed that people don’t just rely on government alone.

    They wanted this to be another Katrina, so that they’d have a nice story. The stuff about using a crisis for mythmaking purposes is how they used both Katrina and Sandy (following the advice of a famous Democrat: “never let a crisis go to waste”).

  4. Because if those people had to wait on the likes of the Author at the New Dorker, they would all be dead. Government has protocols that must be met in order to send in the NG or other Military units. State level Militia would be the fastest as it only requires the Governor. However the Cajun Navy were prepared ahead of time and moved as soon as it was semi-safe for them to drive the road. This sectarian divide between the left and the right holds no water in a time of need. But, as is common the left will denounce the good being done by the good ‘ol boys while screaming for the government. It’s a literal Occam’s razor the simplest way to solve it is to help your neighbor, not to wait and plead with someone 2000 miles away for help. The author at the New Dorker has obviously never lived in an area where helping your neighbor was a right neighborly thing to do.

    And now to batten down the hatches as I wait on Irma to readjust my palm trees.

  5. In addition, there is the simple math of peak demand. To imply that government should stockpile enough boats somewhere and have enough people who are trained in their proper operation to meet a 500 year flooding event is to be grossly ignorant of the costs and failures of such central planning.

    1. I thought being “grossly ignorant” was part and parcel of being a journalist nowadays…

      (I was tempted to say “of being a leftist”, but I do know some non-ignorant leftists. Unfortunately, they’re not given to making a lot of noise to draw attention to themselves, so the mental infants are the figurative face of the left.)

  6. [Texas’s “libertarian” culture, leading to an “insufficiency of Houston’s city planning” and “willful ignorance of climate change” on the part of politicians, had made it necessary to rely on private citizens.]
    Obviously this “reporter” has never interacted with Houston and Harris County deep blue politics. These are the voters who for 18 years have sent Sheila Jackson Lee to Congress.

  7. And yet again a cynical spin is put on a feel good story. Why can’t we honor the good men and women who reached out to help strangers instead of criticizing them? If they waited for government rescues from Harvey, there would be a lot of drowned, starved and ill people.

    I am convinced these journalists don’t live in the real world.

  8. This response is worthy of nothing but our contempt. Dismiss them as you would any other attention seeking troll.

    What they seem to bee too ignorant, intellectually and morally lazy to understand is that governments have specific procedures before they can send out their rescue forces. Nor can they simply keep taxing the citizenry into being able to handle every single problem.* This is because these “journalists” have never had to worry about these, and always had the comfort of believing someone else will work out the details. *This includes the rich, as rich proponents of higher taxes have repeatedly proven that they will always stop or subvert such attempts to raise their taxes once they actually have to start practicing what they preach.

    Imagine if/when they’re caught in one of these disasters, utterly helpless to do anything about their potentially lethal situation. Will they whine and insist on waiting for the bureaucracy to come and save them? Or will they eagerly welcome the rescue of libertarian good ol’ boys? Either the these Texan men are heroes, or the “journalists'” lives are expendable to grant legitimacy to the emergency government forces. Which is it? You cannot have it both ways.

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