OPINION – In the years I’ve called Southern Utah home, I’ve been blessed to become friends with some undeniably great people.
The type of greatness I’m referencing goes far beyond a person’s professional credentials, paygrade or title. It is a reflection of personal excellence that is the product of long-term integrity combined with a commitment to serve others.
Not surprisingly, two of these exemplary individuals are medical doctors.
One is J. Robert Rhodes, an exceptionally gifted plastic surgeon from St. George. The other is Mike Wilson, an emergency room physician who lives in Cedar City.
In addition to their day-to-day medical practices, Rhodes and Wilson have both traveled abroad to use their considerable skills to help treat patients in developing countries where people lack modern medical care.
This work is performed at no cost to the patients as a purely humanitarian effort.
Of course, there are numerous other medical professionals throughout the world who likewise use their expertise to provide medical care anywhere it is needed.
Their efforts are tangible evidence that our humanity is not entirely subject to the artificial constructs of international borders and political systems. However, sometimes even humanitarian efforts aren’t enough to stave off institutionalized inhumanity.
Earlier this month, a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) came under sustained attack by U.S. airstrikes in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
The attack left 12 staff members and 10 patients dead as the hospital was bombarded for more than half an hour.
Initially, U.S. leaders dismissed the destruction and loss of innocent life as “collateral damage” which is a neat rhetorical sidestep intended to avoid actual culpability.
The phrase itself is beautifully technocratic: it requires no awareness of how many lives get extinguished, let alone acceptance of culpability. Just invoke that phrase and throw enough doubt on what happened in the first 48 hours and the media will quickly lose interest.
But MSF refused to be dismissed so easily. The U.S. military had been advised of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital just a few days before it was bombed. MSF staffers were frantically calling U.S. military officials and pleading with them to stop the strike while it was in progress.
The official narrative shifted from it being an accident to unnamed defense officials claiming that the Taliban had used the hospital and its patients as “human shields.”
That claim was later walked back in favor of a new claim that weaponry had been observed in the hospital’s windows. That too proved to be false and was replaced with a claim that “heavy gunfire in the area” prompted U.S. and Afghan forces to call for air support.
But none of the MSF staff at the hospital reported any fighting inside their hospital compound prior to the airstrikes.
They have rightly demanded answers from U.S. and Afghan officials only to see the official explanation change no less than four times.
Afghan officials have long taken exception to MSF’s humanitarian practice of treating all injured parties without favoring patients in regard to which side of a conflict they may be on.
Afghan special forces had attempted a raid on this very hospital back in July under the pretext that an Al Qaeda member was believed to be a patient there.
As disturbing as the callousness of attacking a hospital may be, the eagerness with which some are defending the air raid is even more disheartening. Their hatred of their supposed enemies has displaced their love of what is right.
Nationalism has always required a willingness to suspend morality in the face of damning facts. Paul Rosenberg correctly identified the polarizing bias at work here when he described how we are encouraged to view American military action:
What America does overseas is always good and right. We do not speak against it.
Instead of viewing the U.S. military as either sacred or wholly evil, the truth is somewhere in between. Slogans aren’t enough to effectively describe what is at stake.
Placing our armed forces into questionable conflicts around the globe that have no direct bearing on defending our freedoms is an invitation for all the horrors that accompany war – including atrocities.
This, in turn, creates further resentment and radicalization among the citizens of those nations who are on the receiving end of the “blessings” of our foreign policy makers.
When those who are clearly engaged in humanitarian work become fair game in the quest for dubious political goals, it’s time to evaluate our own humanity.
Only sociopaths tend to view others as mere objects that either serve or frustrate our selfish desires.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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