The Thin Line Between Fragile Rationality and Primal Drive


 
 

Howard Rodenberg, MD, MPH, Dip(FM) | | Wednesday, September 19, 2007


My recent article about events in Iraq brought forth a host of letters. They were eloquent statements of shared fear and common horror, of the need to seek solace in the small while striving toward the grand. I truly cannot do justice to them, so I won't even try. Res ipsa loquitor let them speak for themselves. Howard Rodenberg

Fragile Rationality

Thank you, doctor, for dealing with this atrocity. It is so hard to write about, so easy to turn away from and touches on so many issues. The country and, consequently, the world, seem to be in a madder mess than ever, except perhaps when atomic bombs were being dropped. How far from that are we?

The Nick Berg situation prompted so many thoughts: Why was he, cognizant of the risks, willing to go there? How responsible are the U.S. soldiers who tortured and humiliated Iraqis? How many generations will hate the United States even more? How much have we slowed the development of democracy and fed the fundamentalist vision of the Western devil?

What horrified me about the torture of the Iraqi prisoners is how fast and easily the US soldiers slipped into barbarity, how "good" people who might otherwise have lived a decent, unremarkable life were emptied of their morals by an inhumane environment and the seduction of power. The scary thing is realizing that the myth of "bad" people and "good" people turns out to be so very situational. The line between our fragile rationality and our primal drive is very thin indeed.

Roni Rosenberg

California

I truly do think that our troops want to do the right thing, that they are inherently decent men and women doing their best job in an impossible situation. But what still puzzles me is how even just a few of our soldiers, knowing that the eyes of the world were upon them, could have acted in such a manner toward the Iraqi captives. Don't get me wrong; I have no love lost for terrorists, either. But being a "liberator" is one of not only body and territory, but of spirit as well, to serve as a role model to which the oppressed might aspire. And I've heard it said that one can best judge a people by how they act as the conqueror. HR

The Butterfly Effect

I read your article in JEMS about the beheading of the American civilian in Iraq and the hatred of today's society. I originally wanted to simply say that I can empathize with you and it scares me too.

Empathy can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. You arrive on the scene of a non-viable code patient and know for a fact that this one's not coming back. But you start to think, "What if this was my Mom or Dad?" or "My son or daughter is the same age." All the "what ifs" start running through your mind.

SNAP. Back to reality. You have a job to do. However, somewhere in the back of your mind that thought still remains: What if. How do you get rid of that? You know it could happen. The world is brutal. Anything could happen. Where do we "stop the madness"?

It is my belief that only the little people can help put a stop to the "madness." In patient care, if you treat the underlying cause down to the cellular level, the overlying distress will be vanquished. The little thoughts that are stuck in the back of our heads need to be brought to the foreground of our thinking, and we must realize that we need to do something to help our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters. If each person in the world would do one nice thing for a different person each day, the world could start the process of mending. If each person could empathize with another, maybe we would be OK.

Throughout this life there will be many obstacles placed in our way. Many people look for the way around them. The rest of the people ask for the strength from their God to go through them. Perserverance is the key. Never give up, never let in. Peace can only be accomplished by starting at the cellular level.

Christopher R. Dragotta

Pitt County Emergency Services

Bethel, N.C.

I am enthralled by this idea of the world as an organism and that each of us working at the cellular level can bring about great change. This is a great analogy. Although it may not be true that one flap of a butterfly's wings can bring about change halfway around the globe, the work of several thousand butterflies may produce a mighty wind of change. HR

Sleep Peaceably

As someone who, like you, has to put his thoughts and feelings on display periodically as part of his job, I want to thank you for a moving column. I don't have kids of my own, but I know that my feelings toward my best friend's three kids, as deep as they can be sometimes, are just a shadow of how their dad feels about them.

Scott Baltic, Editor

Homeland Protection Professional

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf." George Orwell

I appreciate Mr. Baltic's comments. It is sometimes hard to "bare your soul" to an anonymous audience that you really don't know. Of course, it's a lot easier when it's a group of prehospital folks at heart we all share the same ethics and goals, although we may disagree how to achieve them. But I really liked the Orwell quote at the end of his note. There's some real food for thought. HR

Protect the Innocent

Once again, people are realizing that what is happening "over wherever" does affect us here in North America. As a father as well, I appreciate your honestly and find myself taking advantage of every opportunity to spend time with my own children.

I need to protect them from losing the innocence of childhood. I have debated the opposing view that to protect them from knowing the truth only puts them at risk. However, I will take my chances. If they can be spared even one day from knowing the true ugliness and evil of the world, then I have done my role as a parent and protector.

"A hundred years from now, It will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."

Cameron Glass, EMT-P

Division of Health Studies

Medicine Hat College

Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada

I think that's most parent's desire. I just wish it were every parent's goal. In Florida alone, 35,000 children are in foster care. These are children with parents who simply aren't there for them. These parents most certainly do make a difference in the life of a child. Unfortunately, it's the wrong difference, and this single misstep sets a pattern to be repeated throughout the years. If we, as cells in the physiology of the world, are the solution, then it's is also true that "We have met the enemy, and they are us." HR

Indescribable Emotional

I cannot describe how I feel after reading your story. My husband asked me to sit down this morning and read it. I told him if you read this without shedding a tear, there is something wrong with you. Thank you for sharing this. It really makes you stop and think.

As a self-centered author, this was a terrific note. Normally, when I bring people to tears, it's form sheer boredom. Nice to know I can do it with something a bit more meaningful as well. Thank you. HR

Vengeance

Part of what makes us decide to put ourselves in harm's way (or at least deal with society at it's least favorable levels) is also what makes us good at what we do. We try to fix things, and sometimes we just can't.

You mentioned checking on your son seven times in one night. I personally find this just part of human nature after seeing, or even dealing with, horrific events that strike a raw nerve in you you overlay your own circumstances (family usually) onto what you are dealing with at the time (or vice versa). I do not have children of my own, nor have I been married. People have told me that I cannot understand these feeling you describe. I have siblings, parents and nephews, and a great compassion for kids (even if I really don't know how to deal with them), so I can understand a little of what it means to care deeply about them, to want to keep them safe.

After I saw on TV what had happened to that young man in Iraq, I became very outraged and would like to have seen a bunch of missiles, A-10's, and any other heavy artillery converged onto these "people" who kill for the sake of killing based on their misguided beliefs. People have called my beliefs misguided more than a few times, but I have never, nor intend, to kill any of them. Anger becomes a revengeful desire, one that most of us never act upon.

So why am I writing this to you? Partly to "take care of you." Partly because your article crossed a nerve that I needed to explore. Please keep checking in on your son. He will need you when he gets older especially when he thinks he doesn't.

Harlan H. Bloom (EMT-B)

The great benefit of terrorism to the terrorists is that there is no place to go for revenge. There is no standing army to attack, no base to bomb. That's the terrible trap the Israelis face. They have the right to react to the assaults against them, but they have nowhere to attack. Something has to be done, however, so you get air attacks against suspected terrorist hiding places that unfortunately involve innocent civilians. (As much as I deplore the loss of life on all sides, there is one distinct difference between the Palestinian and Israeli aggression. Israeli attacks do injure civilians, but I like to think that's not the primary goal. However, there's no question that Palestinian terrorist actions are specifically designed to kill the innocent.) HR

Human Nature

I understand your feelings about the killing and destruction. I opposed the war, as I surely oppose almost any war, not because some things aren't worth fighting for, but because there are almost always ways to work things out. As supposedly intelligent, civilized people, we have the capacity to solve problems and make change while leaving this world better than it was. Unfortunately, we don't always make use of our resources to the best of our ability.

At this point, it doesn't really matter why we're there. It only matters how we finish our time in Iraq and in what condition we leave the country and its people. In our business, we see the result of human nature all the time. We are exposed to the best and worst of our kind. If we can spread our ability to help, to accept people because of their differences, to broaden our minds and horizons instead of narrowing them, then we can leave this place better than it has become. So go tuck your son in again. Every time you do you're spreading the very thing that will keep him safe.

Lara Babalis Lt./Medic

Sun Valley, Idaho

She's right, you know. We can argue all we want about why we're in Iraq, and no doubt the justification for the war, or the lack of it, will be an issue this coming November. But now that we're there, we need to support our troops while developing an exit strategy that will leave the destiny of the Iraqi people in their hands, to form a society that meets their needs and not ours. The goal all along should never have been to win the war. It's to win the peace. HR

Thanks to everyone who wrote. Maybe my son isn't the only one who needs to feel safe in our world. Maybe we all do.


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