A biweekly column by Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)
posted 23 December 04
What would Jesus do?
In a week that brought forth the single deadliest attack on American soldiers in Iraq, President Bush also launched a public effort to support the troops. In between giving Medals of Freedom to the three "Wise Men" of the Iraq war and getting down to the business of spending mo' money in Washington, he is publicizing the new Defense Department website called "America Supports You."
The website is about how we can help our serving soldiers, and presumably those returning from Iraq in pieces, or missing pieces. Thus far, the site is oriented more towards ordering hats and bumper stickers rather than towards seriously addressing the real help needed by our men and women in uniform, and their families.
It is simply criminal that the injured and recently discharged remain largely invisible to the Department of Defense, the Administration, the American media and to all of us.
At this time of year, we take time to remember the importance of humility and love for our brothers and sisters, even in the face of hate or contempt. We think about Jesus' radical command to turn the other cheek, his rejection of the old law of "an eye for an eye."
Americans are citizens of a nation created with Saint Augustine's distrust of human government foremost in mind. This time of year, we should thankfully recall the primitive Christian message that one's devoted public service to the state is not the same as one's quiet individual service to God.
In the American vernacular, one might say that Ground Zero for Christmas is the Holy Land. This week's events in Mosul and elsewhere in region mock the season and sadden us all.
The American invasion of Iraq was based on lies, as has been the continued American occupation of her major cities. The lies put forth by the administration ought to remind Christians of those lies the Devil told Jesus up on that mountain in the wilderness. Promises of peace, whispers of wealth, visions of total control of the earth.
At this time of year, we also look for answers. It is truly difficult to know what to do in Iraq, whether you are the President, the Secretary of Defense, his military leaders, the soldiers and Marines in the field, their families or just a single individual who cares.
Something tells me we should leave Iraq to the Iraqis, and try to help that country by first demilitarizing it. Such a solution would require great humility, a turning of the other cheek, and a re-examination of the correct level of American devotion to the state and its propaganda.
The horrendous pain this war has already delivered to Iraqis, as well as American and British troops, needs healing. Slowly, we are seeing bits and pieces in the mainstream press about the wounded, the dead, the mentally scarred. We are hearing about soldiers and Marines waking up to a new kind of conscientious objection – a re-awareness of the right guaranteed to American soldiers everywhere of never having to obey an illegal order.
Injured Americans in Iraq, as well as the Iraqi civilians, also need quality medical care. Fast, convenient, excellent medical care. In the Middle East, there is a great place to get this care. Many of the doctors speak English, are trained in the finest medical universities, and in fact many are American citizens working and living in the Middle East. An hour away from the battle zones in Fallujah and Mosul and Baghdad, hospital after hospital exists, most of them accustomed to dealing with injuries resulting from an urban insurgency.
Instead of using these regional facilities, we pile our wounded high and fly them to overcrowded hospital rooms at Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany. It is reported that even with morphine and other pain killers, the cries of the wounded on that noisy, bumpy eight hour C-17 or C-141 transport flight are like something out of Dantes' Inferno. The Air Force is retiring the C-141, that leaves the overstretched C-17, of which only 129 are in service.
We are doing our best, I'm sure. President Bush has no intention of leaving Iraq any time soon, and while Time Magazine may be impressed by how Mr. Bush has stuck to his guns, it is clear that the Iraqi nationalist insurgency, and their regional friends are just as hard-headed and determined.
Could we do better for our thousands of wounded soldiers than shipping them to Landstuhl? Could we use more regional facilities, beyond the hospitals in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia? Why not take advantage of the outstanding facilities of our friends, and our chief Middle Eastern subsidized state, Israel?
Forty five hospitals, many of them the top of the line and only two hours flying time by C-130, from the war zone. Longtime friends and allies. A massive American taxpayer investment in economic and security infrastructure of around $5 billion annually. We don't often think of it, but every soldier fighting in Iraq counts among those Americans who pay taxes that contribute to the subsidization of Israel's defense infrastructure and her economy.
We already get plenty of help from Israel in the occupation of Iraq. Israeli military and intelligence personnel work in Iraq, assist with our military training, and advise on our interrogation techniques for captured Muslims. Israel works extremely closely with our Pentagon, on many aspects of military technology and strategy and policy.
But, so far, we cannot send our wounded military members to Israeli hospitals. Perhaps we don't want to make Israeli hospitals a target of anti-Americanism, or American soldiers the target of anti-Israelism. Perhaps there is no room at the inn. Perhaps it is just a policy question.
America has a lot to think about, and much to do. Physically and mentally wounded soldiers, already almost 900 motherless or fatherless children, a bureaucratic Veterans Administration system that is largely broken and at best incompetent, thousands of recently handicapped young men and women who will need a lifetime of respect, physical and spiritual care, education and employment.
At approximately 0622 local Beirut time on 23 October 1983, another tragic event involving American troops occurred in the Holy Land. When the Marine Barracks in Beirut were bombed, Israel put their northern hospitals on alert and flew choppers northward, ready to make the 30 minute flight to Beirut to pick up the critically burned and wounded Marines, and carry them directly to burn centers and emergency rooms. But the U.S. commander – ignorant of Israeli military hospital resources – chose to wait for American and British medevac planes to arrive and fly casualties to hospitals in Cyprus, Germany and Italy. Israel eventually provided 200 body bags.
In the spirit of celebrating the extraordinary life of Jesus, one wonders if we ought to go ahead and break a few old rules for the sake of the innocent.