Tell Me I’m Being Naive

I heard on NPR today that the Iraq war has the lowest fatality rate of any war. This is because of the incredible speed and efficiency with which wounded soldiers are evacuated to hospitals in Baghdad, Germany and eventually, the United States. Only 10% of casualties are deaths.

So for every soldier killed in Iraq, ten others are wounded, some of them horrifically. The challenge, said voice on NPR, is to provide the necessary rehabilitation for these young men and women to lead productive lives after injuries such as having their faces blown off. Apparently, you couldn’t always save someone who’d had his face blown off. But now you can. You can have a soldier who’s lost a limb or even his face back in the United States getting top-of-the-line medical care within 24 hours. And then there’s just the minor question of what the rest of his life is going to be like.

I couldn’t help but think of Johnny Got His Gun, the wrenching book by Dalton Trumbo that depicts war and its gruesome effects on otherwise young, healthy people. I couldn’t help but think of how the United States government blacklisted and interrogated Dalton Trumbo during the Red Scare.

But most of all, I couldn’t help but think, if we can get this young person into a helicopter, onto a plane, and into an operating room with such efficiency, why can’t we do it before he sustains such horrible damage to his otherwise functional body and mind? Why do we wait until the car bomb explodes or the shrapnel finds its way through the holes in the body armor, to get these people to safety?

It feels like a combination of maternal and childlike naivete to say, “Get them out of there before something bad happens to them.” That combination of maternal and childlike naivete might also be called “pacifism,” or more simply, “logic.”

And if you die in Iraq, you really get the royal treatment. I read about that in that other bastion of liberal medica, The New Yorker. If you die in Iraq, your body is treated with utmost respect and reverence. Warehouses full of uniforms in every size and permutation are waiting to outfit you for your funeral. Nevermind that troops still alive to fight another day of this war are writing home to their parents begging for equipment the U.S. Armed Forces hasn’t seen fit to supply. Skilled morticians make every effort to make your body viewable. If they can’t, they wrap whatever’s left of you in such a way that your medals can at least be pinned to it. The Army pays for whatever funeral your family wants, sends personnel to perform whichever official duties they think will honor your ultimate sacrifice.

Why is it that only when our soldiers are wounded or dead does our country start to treat them at least a little more like human beings?

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