We live in a modern society upon which disposable is predicated. You can’t have one without the other –or so the rationale goes. Fast living demands that we are not hampered by the trivialities of limitations.
However, what is the cost of such freedoms of excess? Everything that can be made can be unmade and made again, right? That is what we do when we recycle and when we compost. Such practice is almost Newtonian in its simplicity.
Humanity is something that cannot be so easily recycled or remade once it is lost nor reduced into such a simple equation.
What is the measure of humanity? We are human and shouldn’t that be the basis of humanity. You can’t act human without humanity. So, there is a point that through several iterations of transitive and commutative properties, I could demonstrate that to be human (and by substitution, humanity) is to be a thinking and feeling being. However, somewhat akin to the problems faced by the Apologists of the Catholic Church, I cannot demonstrate goodness in that humanity. That definition is bound by the social mores and folkways of a society. For simplicity’s sake, let us agree that kicking puppies is bad on one end of the spectrum and giving up your seat to an elderly person is good on the other end.
So, given our newly discovered humanity, albeit with a lot of glossing over of some cracks in the theory, we can also arrive to an agreement that we also have a fairly good approximation of good and evil. Nietzsche may be rolling in his grave, but I will go on record as to say that we needn’t concern ourselves with what is beyond good and evil for the moment.
In the Spring of 2003, I found myself among several 100 that had taken up residence somewhere in the southeastern portion of Afghanistan. I was company executive office, which was less a job than an adventure, but the position did afford me the leeway to befriend many people: one of whom was the company medic. Sadly, time has eroded his name from the neural landscape of my mind. I do remember his kindness, his passion to help others, and the soft spot in his heart for children.
Like wars of the past, present, and future, there were and will be victims across the spectrum of ages, nationalities, and gender. The cold hardness of steel cares not for whom it favors with its hot caress: of all the things in the world, it is one of the great equalizers.
No matter where I have been, I have found that children in pain, all sound the same. I am not talking about a scraped knee or bruised flesh. The cries of a child starving, or getting lacerations cleaned or having charred skin debrided can never be unheard.
She was brought to us by her father, who perhaps was under some delusion that we could do magic or perhaps to show the other locals that Americans cannot save them if they could not even save a child. Either way, she came to us after suffering through a horrendous gas explosion. Their cooking stove exploded and she suffered nearly 30% 1st degree burns over her body with her face being a large portion of that percentage.
The medic worked furiously alongside several other medical personnel to first stabilize her and then to begin the long task of treating her injuries. While our medic was top-notch, we were nothing more than a slightly larger than normal combat outpost. The girl and her father being local nationals did not warrant a medi-evac to higher care, so our medic did the best that he could with what he had on-hand.
The cleaning process took an indescribably long time.
After a few days to a week’s time, the doc felt comfortable enough with the belief that given a few more days, she would be well-enough to travel back to her home with her father. Her scarring, as with any severe burn, would be without question a life-long disfigurement.
You know how people get when their team wins something big? The emotions in the camp ran along those lines. We won. We had saved a child’s life. In times of war, when there is nothing but death, you transcend statistics. As Stalin had stated, one life lost is a tragedy, so extrapolating from that, one life saved is also a statistic, but for positive relevancy.
We had won, so we thought.
Several days later, word came back to camp that the little girl’s father –her protector and the only person whom she should have trusted—had had her euthanized. Her had deduced that he could not afford to keep her because the cost of her care over her lifetime would have been extreme. He also figured, so we had heard, that he would never get her married off. She became a burden and not a daughter in his eyes. So, he took her to the local “doctor”, who was a man, who had inherited his doctor’s practice once his brother, the real doctor died. Yes, inherited and not gained through training.
Who knows with what he injected her. Hopefully, it was painless, but I’ve been to Afghanistan and there is nothing about that place that is painless.
We wept. Some of us did more openly than others, but no one wept more profoundly than our medic. He was inconsolable for a few days and then the anger set in. We all wanted to kill that man. To seek vengeance for justice is not a crime when the act perpetrated is so vile, so unimaginable.
Our commander spoke to us and he was a good man to do so. His words were not orders. His words were not harsh nor were they laden with excoriating verbiage. He simply said that this was their land and their rules. We reported the incident to the local government, who were confused as to why we would be so concerned with the death of one child since we had to clearly killed thousands without blinking. They also did not see the child’s death as murder, but a mercy.
Hobbs’ was not wrong when he said that life is: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
The situations in Afghanistan at that time were far the worse that what Americans could ever expect or be forced to handle. That man had nothing and expected less than that for his daughter. It wasn’t Islam or Sharia law that drove him to commit that heinous act. It was a calculated necessity. Had his humanity had been driven from him? He made a conscious choice to end his daughter’s life for the best of everyone involved. As I stated earlier, I cannot demonstrate the goodness or evil in an act. In the eyes of his community, what he did was right.
We, we Americans, are better than that.
We are a land of plenty. We are a country replete with men and women, who do not have to ever face the deprivations that people like that father did. We are a nation that prides itself as being a bastion of hope.
We do not need to build walls to protect us. We need compassion. Men, women, and children run from their countries, and undoubtedly there are some criminals in that influx of people. They run to us because they feel that they can trust us. We are the only land left that will open its arms and let them in.
Shall we then turn to symbolically euthanizing them? What do you think happens to refugees when the cameras turn off? These people are not actors, who are paid to starve and look pitiful on our very doorsteps! They are human beings. They have humanity. That very humanity that I argued is a cogent and emotional being.
To some people, that father did a righteous act, but the greater majority of the world views him as a loathsome creature. What then will the world think as we build this aesthetically pleasing and unassailable wall that would make even Mary Shelley blanch at its monstrosity? Shall we listen to the Raphael Hythlodaeus’ of our government in pursuit of a white utopia?
The questions that we, as a collective, must answer are thus:
- Do we subsume our humanity to the fears of the unknown?
- Shall we become the father of this story?
- Where do we draw the line? Humanity is not simply washed away with one act, but the cumulative effects of many acts.
In no way do I hold the answers nor do I expect anyone to. What I do know is that the sounds of that child’s screams were far less painful to my soul in retrospect than her silence became.
I’ll take the screams because I cannot bare the silence.