Decivilisation is just a disaster away

Thoughtful — and sobering — Guardian column by Timothy Garton-Ash.

You think the looting, rape and armed terror that emerged within hours in New Orleans would never happen in nice, civilised Europe? Think again. It happened here, all over our continent only 60 years ago. Read the memoirs of Holocaust and gulag survivors, Norman Lewis’s account of Naples in 1944, or the recently republished anonymous diary of a German woman in Berlin in 1945. It happened again in Bosnia just 10 years ago. And that wasn’t even the force majeure of a natural disaster. Europe’s were man-made hurricanes.

The basic point is the same: remove the elementary staples of organised, civilised life – food, shelter, drinkable water, minimal personal security – and we go back within hours to a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all. Some people, some of the time, behave with heroic solidarity; most people, most of the time, engage in a ruthless fight for individual and genetic survival. A few become temporary angels, most revert to being apes.

And, while we’re on the subject, how about this from today’s New York Times?

Florida’s attorney general has already filed a fraud lawsuit against a man who started one of the earliest networks of Web sites –, and others – that stated they were collecting donations for storm victims.

In Missouri, a much wider constellation of Internet sites – with names like and – displayed pictures of the flood-ravaged South and drove traffic to a single site,, a nonprofit entity with apparent links to white separatist groups.

The registrant of those Web sites was sued by the state of Missouri yesterday for violating state fund-raising law and for “omitting the material fact that the ultimate company behind the defendants’ Web sites supports white supremacy.”

Late yesterday afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation put the number of Web sites claiming to deal in Katrina information and relief – some legitimate, others not – at “2,300 and rising.” Dozens of suspicious sites claiming links to legitimate charities are being investigated by state and federal authorities.