New Orleans difference in mindset

New Orleans offers much for tourists wanting to peruse how citizens work together to address problems.

During a recent visit, my husband and I visited the National World War II Museum and did a drive-by tour of the city’s post-Hurricane Katrina recovery.

We spent several hours at the museum studying the displays and watching documentaries about the war. One of the exhibits graphically showed just how militarily unprepared the United States was to enter war in 1941. Prior to World War II, the U.S. had the 18th largest military force. Three shadow boxes with shelves held row after row of tin soldiers to underscore that the German and the Japanese military were each three to four times larger than the U.S. army before WWII. Yet with the declaration of war, the whole country committed to win. Factories, farms and folks everywhere geared up to make it happen. Before the war ended, every American men from 18 to 65 years old was required to register for the draft. Over 10,000,000 men ultimately were inducted.

The National WWII Museum is located in New Orleans because the Higgins boats – those flat bottom boats with a side that converts to a ramp to dump soldiers out to establish a beachhead – were developed and manufactured in New Orleans during the war. Employees worked round the clock to produce these boats which played a major role in the winning the war.

After the museum, we checked out areas effected by the breaking levees. Businesses have reopened but, as dusk descended on a hard hit neighborhood of family homes, I noted the dominance of darkened, unoccupied houses. Street lamps connected with drooping electrical lines highlighted the National Guard’s coded X in a circle still prominent on some homes. For me, the darkened houses encapsulated the dearth of rebuilding and the mark, the lack of repairs.

At least one sight caught us by surprise: The tent city under the elevated streets and the off and on ramps. It looked like a summer campout – except it was in the middle of the city in the middle of winter. A sign in front of the tents proclaimed “Homeless Pride.” I later read the number of homeless has doubled in New Orleans while the overall population is 30 percent less than it was pre-Katrina.

The day we visited, the Times Picayune headline proclaimed, “Two-and-a-half years after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi’s alternative housing program leaves Louisiana’s in the dust.” Mississippi – using funds from the same cash hand-out as Louisiana – has 1,223 homes completed and occupied. Louisiana has none.

A telling quote, “State officials and private contractors who spent much of last year bickering about the ‘Louisiana Cottage’ project still refuse to commit to a construction start date …. but said that groundbreaking at Jackson Barracks, the first location for the project is imminent.”

I could not help but think that the Louisiana-powers-that-be need to quit fussing. They need to roll up their sleeves, take a chainsaw to the red tape of bureaucracy and get the job done.

We did not win World War II by spending our time and energy pointing fingers or worrying over every remotely possible problem and which of 1,000 personalities might have their feelings hurt. We won WWII because everyone – from the youngest school-aged child to the oldest of retirees – sacrificed their time, talent and personal preferences for the cause. Louisiana folks need to wrap those pointing fingers around a hammer, a shovel or a paint brush and say, “I’ll do what I have to do to get this done.”

Only that kind of mindset will move New Orleans and Louisiana from excuses to execution.