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History Repeating

New York: 1832 and Today

by JOSHUA FRANK

Back in the 1800s New Yorkers had a modest nickname for their corrupt metropolis. They called it the "Corporation." It was a telling name, indeed. Although the city at the time was a filthy, hog-infested cesspool, the Big Apple was nonetheless a vibrant template of the New World industry to come.

The busy ports of New York were some of the most profitable in the world. But the disparity of wealth between the city’s inhabitants was disgustingly evident. The rich, like the affluent of today, ran the city. New York was for the well to do — the business and ruling class elite. It was certainly not the utopia so many Europeans had hoped for as they traveled thousands of miles to these forested shores.

In 1832 the overpopulated village of New York, on its heels, was hit with a gruesome epidemic of Cholera. The wicked disease had journeyed from Europe and then to Canada where it took its first recorded victim on Western soil. Eventually the disease made its way down to the city, only to inflict a carnal destruction never before seen in the white occupied state.

Health officials held back information of the looming pestilence from most New Yorkers. The Corporation, it seemed, was more interested in its own financial well being then the welfare of its citizens.

Needless to say, thousands perished. The rich fled the city. The poor stayed. And most died. The city’s artists and working class had virtually all perished. The New York health board did virtually nothing to stop the outbreak.

The pious said it was the devil’s work. God had reprimanded New York for its sinful ways they declared. The red light district, coined "Five Points" at the time, had been hit the worst. Living in these dank corners of Gotham were the morally inept, the downtrodden, the scum of the great new city. Of course the health authorities turned a blind eye to the death. These evildoers had it coming, and many of the elite were happy to see them die.

It is hard not to draw parallels between what happened in New York in 1832 and what took place in NYC just three years ago on September 11. Has the Corporation again withheld valuable information from the people in order to protect its own neck? Has President Bush held vital scientific records hostage that indicate Ground Zero and the surrounding area may have enormous health risks for those unfortunate enough to live or work there? It is certainly starting to appear that way.

In a recent government study, nearly half of the 1000 people involved were directly in contact with Ground Zero following the World Trade Center attacks, have had substantial lung damage.

Suzanne Mattei, author of a recent environmental analysis titled, "Air Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero," says, "The Bush administration knew the health risks and ignored its own long-standing body of knowledge about the harmful products of incineration and demolition. It should have issued a health warning immediately on that basis."

Other US government reports have found the highest levels of deadly dioxins ever recorded near and around the WTC site — close to 1500 times normal levels. They also admit that close to 400,000 people were exposed to these dangerous debris. Indeed, more New Yorkers could die from the 9/11 fallout then the attacks themselves.

"The epidemic [in New York in 1832] provoked anxiety even in those places fortunate enough to have escaped its effects," writes Charles Rosenberg in an essay on the historical pandemic. "Mothers feared for their young children … The vicious seemed to have been hardened in their depravity, though the spiritually minded Christian was confirmed in his faith."

Sound familiar? Keep the public in fear and they will never ask for the truth. Seems as if the Corporation of 1832 may still be alive today.

JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press. He welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.