WaPo Book Reviewer Shoe-horns Slam of George Bush Into Book Review on Irish Potato Famine

January 14th, 2013 5:04 PM

Leave it to a Washington Post book reviewer to find a way to blame George W. Bush for the Irish Potato Famine. Okay, Peter Behrens didn't do exactly that, but he used the occasion of reviewing two books about the mass starvation of millions of Irish in the 1840s as an opportunity to bash the Bush administration over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.  Oh, I almost forgot, the bogeyman of the "free market" also finds itself in Behren's sights.

In his January 13 Washington Post item, Behrens reviewed two new books on the subject, The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy  and The Graves are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People, by Tim Pat Coogan and John Kelly respectively. Behrens favorably accepted Coogan's conclusion that “it was British reluctance to interfere with the supposed workings of the free-market economy that allowed famine to continue in Ireland at a time when the country was producing and exporting tons of food to England.”

That's odd, because as Behrens noted, a blight on the potato crop similarly struck Scotland -- part of the United Kingdom and accordingly also governed by the Westminster Parliament -- and yet they didn't suffer similar consequences.

Nevermind trifling issues of logical consistency, what matters here eviscerating long-dead British statesmen as cold-hearted, cynical colonial rapists of the Emerald Isle:

The prevalent British view of the famine, Coogan writes, was that it resulted from “a flaw in the Irish character — the fecklessness and laziness that produced the potato economy also produced the other ills that afflicted the unhappy country.” Famine was horrible but seen from some corners of Whitehall as a necessary evil: a harsh but efficient solution to Irish overpopulation and disorganization, and the laziness supposedly inculcated by overdependence on the too-easy-to-cultivate potato.

British bigotry and racism on a genocidal scale was responsible for the lack of British assistance during the famine, Coogan argued in his book. It's leftist revisionist history at its finest, but how does George W. Bush factor into this? Behrens helpfully offers:

Did the British government cause the famine? One way to consider the question is to pose another one. Did the George W. Bush administration cause Hurricane Katrina? No, nature did. But perhaps 300 years of American history had created a situation whereby a particular group of people, African Americans in the poorest quarters of New Orleans, were more vulnerable than most to that storm. And perhaps the administration, for political and historical reasons, was not inclined to be closely in touch with or responsive to the well-being of that population. Perhaps the inadequacy of the initial response to the natural disaster was compounded by streaks of racial prejudice and ideological blind spots, as well as by good old-fashioned incompetence.

This is disingenuous in the extreme. While there were problems in the federal response to Katrina, the devastation from the hurricane was principally the fault of incompetent state and local government, which failed to adequately plan for and evacuate the city's poorest residents in the below-sea-level Ninth Ward.

Leave it to the Washington Post to further a faulty, partisan history of the Katrina aftermath in a book review touching on a famine some 170 years ago.