Americans for some years have been preoccupied with disasters of man's own making: Viet Nam and Watergate, pollution and terrorism. That preoccupation could produce a form of hubris—the idea that men, often enough Americans, so command the planet that they must be to blame when events collapse into tragedy. Viewed from this perspective, disaster must always be attended by accusation and guilt.

The devastating earthquakes in China, the Colorado flood, the mysterious ailment that struck the American Legionnaires in Philadelphia—all suggest a more fundamental, and realistic, perspective. It would be banal to say that such demonstrations of nature's awesome force...

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