Mr. Obama’s war desk is heavy with burdensome issues concerning Syria. Given three minutes of his time I would share the following prospective – of which his advisors are ill-informed; that of a little girl and a soldier.
The choreographed chaos in our tent hospital in Iraq that evening of mid-March 2007 was ordinary – but I will never forget two patients; a little Iraqi girl and an American soldier.
The day prior, Nora was a happy, sweet child of nine. This night she was utterly bewildered, having just arrived via CH-47 helicopter with scores of other patients. She was disoriented by the blast, the loss of family, the arrival at a U.S. hospital, and the foreign language. I could see her eyes pleading to make some sense of the slaughter around her.
With the aid of an interpreter I was able to sit and talk with Nora and briefly hold her trembling hand, stained with her mother’s blood. Her hearing dimmed by the blast, her face smudged with bomb residue and tears, she was able to say little – the basic facts laid bare her family’s destruction.
Her father and two brothers were killed in the attack that targeted U.S. soldiers in Baqubah – the capital of Diyala province. Nora’s mother was severely wounded by the blast; she suffered broken bones, an amputated limb, burns, vascular and neurological damage.
Many soldiers were also killed and wounded that night. The soldier foremost in my mind was recruiting-poster-perfect – young, handsome and athletic. But this night both of his arms were traumatically amputated by the same blast that tore through Nora’s life. He was alert and acutely aware of his condition; we know this from his desperate pleading for doctors to let him die.
A decade following the U.S. invasion, Nora would be 15 – if alive. One wonders what legacy she will pass on to the next generation. Will her voice fuel Islamist jihad or that of reconciliation? Regardless, the U.S. has much to atone for in this region before true healing can start.
Today the President contemplates capricious endeavors across the globe; the legislative branch – in their blindness to the suffering – stumbles over themselves to fund unneeded weapon systems and redundant bases; and the Pentagon calculates hubristic options that discount the value of foreign lives.
We would do well to reflect on Voltaire’s observation that, “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Am I alone in thinking that if this is the path we continue to choose, we will remain a nation sick at heart?
Perhaps if we nurture empathy for these victims of war – and human suffering outside our borders – we would more cautiously contemplate our military exploits.
Dave Lannen resides in Traverse City, Michigan and is a member of Veterans For Peace, and served 21 months in combat hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.