There are some encouraging signs on several fronts that widespread tornado safety improvements in this area will be one result of the May 20 killer tornado that struck Moore and parts of Oklahoma City.
But if we allow the underlying tone of recent commentaries in The Oklahoman about the tornado to prevail as we recover from the devastation, all this recent energy to make this a better place to live will be for nothing.
First, the good news. As I posted earlier, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has formed a task force to study the tornado safety issue, including making our schools safer. (Two schools were demolished by the tornado. At one school, seven children died.) A non-profit group, Shelter Oklahoma Schools, has formed to raise money to build shelters in schools, most of which lack them. State Rep. Joe Dorman, a Rush Springs Democrat, has even called for a bond issue to fund shelters for schools.
There is a lot more to do, for sure, including building stronger houses and buildings, a lesson that somehow wasn’t learned in Moore after the May 3, 1999 tornado. I’ve even offered an idea about building a research center, museum and first-responders station in the heavily damaged area in Moore as a way to advance our knowledge about tornadoes and as a tribute to those who have lost their lives there.
The bad news, though, is The Oklahoman editorial page is basically repeating the negative attitude that has plagued the entire state since statehood. That attitude goes something like this: Stuff just happens here. There’s nothing we can do about it.
The initial reaction from The Oklahoman on its editorial page after the tornado was to rerun an updated commentary published after the May 3, 1999 tornado. In that overly religious editorial, Opinion Page Editor J.E. McReynolds gives us a short prayer for Oklahoma towards the end and then closes with the word “selah,” a Hebrew word meaning “God has spoken.” In other words, the destruction and death was all dictated by God so what’s the point of tornado safety or stronger buildings?
Over the last several days, the newspaper has also chimed in with typical rah-rah commentary about rebuilding Moore and a whiny, self-defensive commentary about what it called “crass” reactions to the tornado.
On Thursday, the newspaper published an illogical, unsupported straw-man argument about the tornado. After claiming some unidentified person on cable television used the term “polluting our weather” about the tornado, the editorial gets to its main argument: “Storms will be with us always. They’ve always been with us and they weren’t related to ‘polluting the weather.'” The Oklahoman editorial page, just like U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, is obsessed with disproving the science of global warming, but it never deals with the actual science.
“Selah.” “Storms will be with us always.” These are code words for doing nothing but relying on the federal government to bail us out once again and rebuilding flimsy houses in an area that has suffered through three major tornadoes since 1999. Used in this specific context, they are the words of complacency, laziness and indifference.
As the state’s largest newspaper, this editorial indifference to future destruction and death can maintain a cultural tone here that locks in as time unfolds and people forget about that terrible day in 2013 or 2003 or 1999. The newspaper will say it supports school shelters, of course, or a discussion about such shelters, but when it comes to the details and as time passes we’ll see if that support holds up.
Don’t listen to the indifferent bullies at The Oklahoman. We can make our world much safer from tornadoes.