Unit 1 Destination Discussion - Haiti

Advance preparation: Members of the group should read the Introduction, Prologue, and Chapter One of The Big Truck That Went By. Please also watch this video, referenced briefly by Katz.

Discussion: Some in the group may recall seeing the video above and others like it, which were taken on cellphones in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. For many Americans and other people around the world, these were some of the first images we saw when news of the disaster broke.

  • Do you remember how you responded at the time to news of the earthquake?
  • Were you among the half of all Americans who contributed in some form to disaster relief efforts?

In the Introduction, Katz lists three “clichés” that he intends to challenge in his book: 1) “that people will panic, riot, or turn on each other after a disaster[;]” 2) “that in fashioning solutions to disasters, doing something is always better than doing nothing[;]” and 3) “for anyone who gave money to a major aid group, that [this aid group was] going to spend your $20 donation on actual survivors[.]” (p. 3)

  • What thoughts and feelings arise for you after reading this list? Do any of the three things Katz wishes to challenge reflect your own views about disasters?
  • Do you agree with Katz that these are merely clichés, and misleading ones, or is there more truth to them than Katz acknowledges, in your view?
  • What passages from these opening sections particular struck you?

On pp. 26-27, Katz describes an ethical dilemma he faced in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Seeing people trapped in the rubble who he might have pulled to safety, he had to decide in that moment whether to prioritize directly helping others or to focus on reporting the catastrophe in his role as journalist. He concludes: “You always have to choose, and you will never know.”

  • What are your own thoughts and feelings about this dilemma? Do you agree or disagree with his framing of it?
  • Would you have acted differently?
  • What questions are beginning to arise for you as you explore the perspective Katz outlines, specifically to the way disaster aid is offered?


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