Monday, September 27, 2004

Vote for Bush

That is, if you want more of this (bold mine):

LANDSTUHL, Germany -- At the U.S. military hospital on a wooded hilltop here, the cost of the Iraq war is measured in amputated limbs, burst eyeballs, shrapnel-torn bodies and shattered lives.

They're the seriously wounded U.S. soldiers who arrive daily at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a growing human toll that belies American election talk of improving times in Iraq.

They're the maimed and the scarred that hospital staff believe are largely invisible to an American public ignorant of their suffering.

"They have no idea what's going on here, none whatsoever," says Col. Earl Hecker, a critical care doctor who trained at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

The broken bodies move some of the hospital's military staff to question a war producing the most American casualties since Vietnam.

And they reduce the chief surgeon to tears.

"It breaks your heart," says Lt.-Col. Ronald Place.

"There's nothing more rewarding than to take care of these guys. Not money, not anything," he adds, crying.

. . .

Hecker retired from the military years ago but recently left his lucrative private practice in Detroit to save lives at Landstuhl.

"I'm here for him -- nobody else," he says, pointing to the soldier. "I didn't come here for my government."

He pauses, then blurts out: "Bush is an idiot."

Immediately, he regrets having said that about the U.S. president, and makes clear he's been under enormous stress.

He describes taking a bullet out of the neck of an 18-year-old soldier six days ago, a wound that left the young man a quadriplegic.

"It's terrible, terrible, terrible," Hecker says. "When we talked to him, he just cried."

"If it was me, I'd tell them to take me off the machine," he says. He then considers his job and adds, "I'll never be the same mentally."

What the hospital's chief psychologist calls "compassion fatigue" is a widespread syndrome among the medical staff.

"There's a great deal of hurt going on in the hospital," says Maj. Stephen Franco.

But Maj. Cathy Martin, the nurse in charge of the intensive care unit, prefers to deal with her stress by calling on Americans to consider the plight of the war wounded when making a choice in the Nov. 2 presidential election.

"People need to vote for the right people to be in office and they need to be empowered to influence change," she says.

. . .

About 160 U.S. soldiers from Iraq have had limbs amputated, and 200 have lost all or part of their sight from bomb blasts. Body armour has saved lives, but Place believes wounds that significantly disfigure are a greater advantage to insurgents than the rising body count.

. . .

Sitting stiff with pain on his bed is Romero's roommate, Sgt. 1st Class Larry Daniels — "Big Daddy Daniels" to his men in Iraq. His arms are bandaged from just below the shoulders to the tip of his fingers and rods stick out of them like scaffolding. Shrapnel wounds cover the back of his body, from behind his right ear to his ankles.

. . .

If Americans understood what was really going on in Iraq, they'd pressure Bush to be clearer about "why we're really fighting," he says.

"The war on terror wasn't in Iraq till we went there," he says. "We initially went there to topple Saddam (Hussein) and then all these damn terrorists came in."

As a soldier, he describes himself as "almost a political prisoner" in the sense that he can't express himself on whether he believes U.S. soldiers should stay in Iraq.

But his 33-year-old wife, Cheryl, has no qualms about speaking her mind.

"The army is not going to like what I have to say, but I think we have no business being there," she says about Iraq.

She too comes from a family with a long military tradition and works as a civilian at her husband's military base in Texas. She voted for Bush in 2000, but now says Democratic challenger John Kerry will get her support.

"I will definitely vote for Kerry, not because I prefer Kerry over Bush but because I don't want Bush back in office. I'm hoping that if Kerry takes office, we'll be pulling out" of Iraq, she says.

Cheryl believes Bush misled the country to war, arguing he diverted resources from far greater threats to U.S. interests, including the hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Asked why Bush launched the war, she says: "I think he wanted to fill his dad's shoes. I think he felt he had something to prove."

If the point of the war was to remove Saddam from power, then Bush's father, former president George Bush, should have done so in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Daniels also fought.

Increasing Cheryl's anger is the fact the army did little to help her contact her wounded husband.

She paid for her flight to Germany, and is staying at the Fisher House, a privately funded agency that offers virtually free accommodation in Landstuhl to the families of injured soldiers.

Infuriated by what she sees as a misleading president, an unnecessary war and a heartless military, Cheryl vows to break the Daniels' family tradition of serving their country. Her 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter are already talking of enlisting one day, but Cheryl won't hear of it.

"We've paid our dues," she says.

I've quoted almost the entire article - it's that good. I'd advise reading it all if you have the time.

One job I don't want? Having to tell a 20-something year old kid that he'll never walk again. He'll never run again. Never play another game of pickup basketball. Never be able to hug his mom again. He'll probably never drive a car again. He'll be using his mouth to guide his motorized wheelchair around for the rest of his life. He'll never have a 'normal' sex life. Will he ever find a lover? What would that mean now, anyways? Will he lose the lover/spouse he has right now? He'll be almost completely dependent on his family and the military to help him survive the next few years, and he'll be expected by many to not get bitter about any of it. He'll have to watch Christopher Reeves on television, attempting to put a happy face on a seemingly-hopeless situation.

Je@#$. What the fuck on earth are we doing over there?

The fuckin' kid starts crying when you tell him the news. What else is he supposed to do? What the fuck is the doctor supposed to do then? Say, Sorry, kid - we had to get Saddam. We had to get those WMD. We had to liberate the Iraqi people. We're proud of you. I'm proud of you. Your country is proud of you. ???

And what if the kid asks to be unplugged from the respirator. He's 20-something years old and he's crying like a baby - bawling. And the doctor's crying. And the nurses are crying.

Don't force me to live through this doc. Please. I'm begging you. I'll fuckin kill myself. I can't do this. I don't want to do this. This isn't happening. This is not fair. Where's my momma? I'm scared. I fought in the war. I did my duty, doc. Unplug it. Please! I'm begging you!

Doc says, 'Your mom is on the way, son. Hang in there. Everything's gonna be ok. I promise. I promise. Everything's gonna be ok.'

But Doc knows better. He knows how the U.S. military treats its veterans. He's patriotic, but he's not stupid. He knows this kid faces a tough road ahead. Even Christopher Reeves' life must be tough, and he's got loads of money and resources and private helpers and healthcare. This kid is facing a lifetime of hospital care - from VA hospitals. Maybe he'll just have to live near base for the rest of his life - to make sure he's close to free medical care. Maybe he'll recover emotionally and lead a healthy, happy, productive life. Or maybe he'll move to the pacific northwest and find someone to help him take his own life.

Mad props to the Toronto Star for another great article.

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