06 September, 2010

Excerpt from the Book, Green Parrots by Gino Stratada (a war surgeon)

“Where are the Human Rights for the victims of war? ‘In the last decade alone,’ According to a United Nations agency, ‘more than two million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict, and more than three times that number have been permanently disabled or seriously injured.’ Furthermore: ‘An estimated 20 million children have been forced to flee their homes and more than one million children have been orphaned or separated from their families,’ All this happening before our very eyes. Every year three million children, six children a minute, die or are wounded or mutilated, or they have their lives destroyed or overturned by war, while here we celebrate ‘Children’s Day’ and show off with the ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child.’
Can the civilized conscience endure all this? I do not think so


Perhaps it was in order to conceal this truth that they coined the most infamous racist expression I know: ‘Collateral damage.’ Now war…when fought by the countries that are militarily strongest and equipped with the most devastating weapons, produces ‘collateral damage.’ And so every year three million children lose their very features, their names, their smiles, to become merely disposable items, human beings with out rights. The same is true, obviously, for women and men who are victims of war: they are no longer human beings; they are ‘the price that has to be paid’.


Even if one human being is excluded, it is no longer legitimate to speak of human rights, which by definition belong to everyone. Rather they are the privilege of the strongest, of the ‘included’, who claim for themselves the rights they deny to others. I have never heard of the 3,000 victims of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers described as ‘collateral damage’ of the Jihad, and I would be equally indignant if I had. On the contrary, as is just and human, those victims have been mourned and remembered for who they were: human beings mowed down by the homicidal madness of war. Their photo’s are there in the place that has become their tomb, and there are flowers and their families grieve.


At least 5,000 Afghan civilians were killed, buried by American bombs a few months after the NY attack, victims of the terrorism of war. The same fate has befallen over 10,000 Iraqi civilians. It is more than double the number of Kurdish civilians who were exterminated with chemical gasses in Halabja in 1998, by Hughes and Bell helicopters supplied to the Iraqi dictator by the USA. Have we seen any of their faces on the free television channels of the rich democratic countries? No. They, too, are collateral damage. This is the racist madness that is dominating the world today: the firm belief that there are some citizens whose rights should be respected, and others, far more numerous, who can instead be excluded from the enjoyment of rights, who can be sacrificed. Accepting---and, prior to that, proposing –the theory of humanitarian war lends moral dignity to murder. In this way killing ceases to be a crime, a tragedy to be avoided at any cost, and becomes a correct choice, even one dictated by ethical motives. ‘Humanitarian intervention.’ And so humanitarian intervention, that is, the work of those who seek to give a hand to the suffering and, if possible, to save human lives, was considered a complement to bombing, an action synergetic with destruction and death. Yet a further outrage."

After reading those words in Strada’s book (a memoir of his time spent trying to save the innocent ‘casualties of war’- millions of them over the course of 10 years), I put the book aside as I experienced an 'aha' moment. Things all of a sudden became clear for me, thoughts about why I am here, why I choose to help ‘the other’ instead of ‘my own countryman’. Why I choose not to stay in the US and use my education, skills and experience to help the needy there? Contrary to popular belief, the US does indeed have an abundance of poor, starving, uneducated, illiterate, etc…. Why not help ‘my fellow Americans”. I have been asked “WHERE is your patriotism??”


I contemplated patriotism…American patriotism. What does that really mean? Proud of my country? Proud to be an American? Proud? Pride? Where has pride ever gotten me in my life? It wasn’t pride that spawned an interest early on in my life in regards to children; pride didn’t urge me to start volunteering when I was 20 years old. It wasn’t pride that drove me to pursue an education in social and humanitarian services. It wasn’t pride that urged me to help those less fortunate. In actuality, pride would have gotten in the way of all that.




Who am I to think that because I happened to be born, from absolutely no will of my own, in an area of the earth named after an Italian merchant; that because my parents had sex on ‘american soil’ and their actions (thankfully so) produced a child; that my birthplace somehow makes me better than someone else whose parents ‘did it’ half way around the world. My birth in the US has allowed me privileges others only can dream of - I am thankful for my passport which allows me freedom of travel to almost every corner of the world; which again was not something I earned. Am I proud of having a US passport? No. Am I thankful that wars, fighting and killing in the name of 'freedom' gave me the right to have it? No, I am not. Am I proud that my freedom was earned by the blood of millions of innocent citizens, millions of 'collateral damage'? No...




If you look up pride in a thesaurus you could substitute it with: satisfaction, pleasure, delight… or you could instead insert the following words in its place: conceit (snobbery, vanity), smugness (self-righteousness), arrogance (egotism, superiority), self-importance (narcissism). The opposite of pride is humility (humbleness, modesty, unassuming nature), the opposite! Over the years I have managed to surround myself with a plethora of humble humans instead of proud ones; and my life has been enriched beyond all imagination! Never once, do I recollect, that I have wished for someone; a friend perhaps to have more pride; to be prouder, so to speak.




There was a frail woman from the village who came to Wat Opot yesterday. This woman came to ask (beg) for some rice to feed her family. Some would say she ‘swallowed her pride”. She swallowed her delight? She swallowed her arrogance? How about superiority? Doesn’t really make sense to me…the whole pride thing; it is a word, henceforward, will try to eliminate from my vocabulary. The hungry woman did what she did so she and her family could have some food. The only thing she swallowed was the rice she cooked which was provided free of charge by those who run on humility and compassion, by Wayne, a disabled American Vietnam Vet trained as a nurse.


Which brings me to why I do what I am doing. I truly believe that the life of a Khmer or Nepali child is no more or less important than the life of an American one; the life of a Muslim or Catholic no more or less important than a Buddhist; one’s pain or death no more or less real than another’s. I can’t be in more than one place at a time, so why not go where I am being led for as long as I can physically/emotionally/mentally do it. Pride (and all of its synonyms) will never ever stand in my way.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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