Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ready to be inspired?

While the similarities between current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the American Civil War are few and far between, one eerie similarity is the prominence of amputees among wounded survivors.  During the Civil War, this was a result of the low muzzle velocity and soft lead of the minie ball, which resulted in rounds that mushroomed on impact and shattered bones into gruesome fragments, making amputations the only possible treatment at the time.  The primitive state of nineteenth-century medicine also made tourniquets and amputations one of the few useful things Civil War-era doctors could do.

In contrast, dramatic advances in battlefield medicine, especially in relation to stopping blood loss, have made it possible to save troops who in previous wars would have essentially bled out, but while a combat medic can stop leading, he or she cannot restore a limb that was destroyed by an IED.  I once had the privilege of being in the audience of a Evening Parade at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC (an experience I highly recommend), and the guests of honor at the parade were wounded warriors from Walter Reed, most of whom were amputees.  For me at least, it did feel like being at a reunion of Civil War veterans.  While this sort of thing can be heartbreaking, I personally think it a mistake to see these victims as being primarily objects of pity.  Whatever one thinks of the justness or rightness of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I will always see figures like SPC Brendan Marrocco as heroes and warriors (and I use that term in a distinctly unironic way) who should be admired, not because they are pitiable, but because they can overcome hardship and difficulty.

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