Writer/director Leslie Carde finds her villain in the US Army Corps of Engineers, an agency whose primary aim is supposed to be that of protecting the nation's citizenry from potential disasters caused by the structural failure of dams, bridges, levees, buildings etc. Instead, the Corps, in cahoots with the many politicians and congressmen who work right along with it, has been found, over and over again, to be derelict in its duties - guilty of negligence, of employing harmful cost-cutting measures, of having misplaced priorities, of engaging in outright deception, and of brokering sweetheart deals with pet contractors. The movie is unsparing in its treatment of the Corps, and Carde clearly views it as her own personal mission to hold that organization accountable for the many acts of criminal malfeasance it has engaged in over the years. I think it speaks volumes that no member of the Corps was willing to be interviewed for this film.
The movie chooses as its focal point the catastrophic failure of the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in the almost complete annihilation of one of America's premier cities. Interviewee after interviewee refers to Katrina not as a "natural" disaster but as a man-made one. And given the facts as Carde lays them out for us, the film makes a very convincing case for that argument.
The scenes set in New Orleans - both during the hurricane and in the wake of its aftermath - are heartbreaking in the extreme. But it isn't just in New Orleans that the problem lies. The movie makes it clear that there are literally hundreds of other potentially dangerous levees and dams scattered throughout the country, most notably in the earthquake-prone Central Valley region of California. And that isn't even taking into account all the aging, structurally unsound bridges, sewer systems, roadways, etc. that are also threatening to give way at any moment - as exemplified by the Minnesota bridge collapse that resulted in the deaths of thirteen people on August 1, 2007.
Most galling, perhaps, is the fact that so many of the funds that could have been earmarked for retrofitting projects here in the U.S. have been diverted to similar projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Carde's work extends far beyond the issue of infrastructure; she views this as merely a symbol of the much greater failure of government overall, of our unwillingness as a nation to value the safety of our people over corporate profit and special interest deal-making.
"America Betrayed" is indeed a powerful and important social document - but be prepared to seethe.