Curmudgeonalia
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July 27, 2011

Rule Number Two

Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital
Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft - ISBN - 9780316067904

(for those who have read this before, I have reworked it a little and, I believe, improved the review)

My daughter* sent me a copy of this book. It is a stunning book which, despite a caveat or two, I recommend highly to anyone interested in what it is like to work with wounded warriors in a combat zone; to endure with them the hardships, fears and labors of front line defense against those who wish us harm. Dr. Kraft is a PhD psychologist specially trained for supportive work in combat situations. Rule Number Two is a powerful firsthand account of providing consolation in the turmoil of war, and of what is required to endure it. It is impossible not to empathize with the participants, both combatant and counselor, and equally impossible to avoid choking up over some of the situations she describes.

Having been amongst the "first responders" who dealt with the wounded soldiers in the "Vietnam Conflict," I was reminded of some things which I had removed from active memory, though the reminder was not altogether unwelcome. I was faced with the opportunity to revisit some of the formative experiences of my life. Travails unfold as an endless parade of disasters close on the heels of each other, punctuated by activities associated with military life "behind the wire," where she relates the intense camaraderie between all in these situations.

The scenario is aptly articulated by the TV show M*A*S*H: "There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can't change rule number one." Some Marines, and even some of their doctors, are damaged by war in ways which cannot be fixed, and sometimes people are repaired in ways never considered.

Yet she makes clear, and wants us to share in the feminine perspective, that everyone should share in the agony--feel the pain--while the masculine version would be to avoid it as much as possible. War is not supposed to be painless. It's about breaking things, killing people, and moving on with the necessary task at hand. There is time for neither philosophy or reflection.

Caveat number one, then, is that much of the problem described is authored by 20th century, progressive arguments against the historic honor code of the west, instead favoring resistance to norms of behavior imbedded over millennia by experience. Exchange for a culture of nuance and relativity has greatly impacted, as has the modern attempt to feminize men in order that all may "feel" as good people should: become compassionate and understanding; be missionaries of peace and camaraderie in addition to being warriors. It has come to roost in a value free celebrity culture in which honor is trivialized, the military is feminized, and PSTD is rampant. (I refer to you a review of Honor, a History, posted in late November of 2009 on this site.)

Caveat number two--an extension of number one--is the role model invoked, though not identified: Hawkeye Pierce, also of M*A*S*H celebrity. Beyond him there is no back-up; either he can do it, or it cannot be done in time to make a difference. (I've been there and done that, too.) He is the characteristic feminized male: sensitive, caring, given to situational histrionics and loss of emotional control; he copes inadequately with his position as he ministers to the wounded.

More appropriate role models might be the role of Wilbur "Bull" Meechum (aka The Great Santini) or Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Top Gun); confident and secure, albeit with some flaws, and courageous, though some may be bluster. Don't like fiction? O.K.

Real life examples come to mind, including George Washington, Robert E. Lee, John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, and George S. "Blood and Guts" Patton. Earlier examples might include the Greeks, "Iron Gut" Epaminondas, and Alexander the Great; later examples, H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Raymond Odierno. Oppositional examples: George B. McClellan and Bernard Law Montgomery, who, while not patsies were given to hesitation and insecurity, along with Omar Bradley and Colin Powell.

These don't make the tome less worth a read, but if we're to resolve the riddle of doing what is necessary we must properly define the problem. There will be inadequate resolution without recognizance of the significance of the removal of honor and the modern requirement that combatants be more sensitive.

There has been "Battle Fatigue" or "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" on occasions throughout history, but its presence is orders of magnitude more prevalent now than before. Some of this is due to the constancy of threat in modern war, but as discussed in Honor, there is much more to it than that. Reconsideration and its reconstruction is required. Repeated here is a quote from my review of "Honor":

"The long view of human history suggests that our choice is eventually going to be not between the liberal, unisex, pacifistic society of the feminist ideal and some throwback to caveman honor, but between some throwback to caveman honor and some more civilized variant of the long-dormant Western variety. . . . The honor-crazed Muslim fanatics who are blowing up women and children along with themselves are . . . equally stark in the alternative they pose to Western ways. Unless those ways include and are understood by all to include, honorable ways of making war on that alternative, the alternative must triumph." (Please re-read this quotation again, carefully.)

* full disclosure: my daughter is founder and CEO of Homeward Deployed--web address: http://www.homewarddeployed.org/ an organization which deals with many of the situations which arise when snipers are reintegrated into society as salesmen, and the severely handicapped seek worthwhile employment and sustenance Families are assisted in coping with, and helping returning warriors. Log on. You might want to make a contribution to this necessary and worthwhile organization.

Posted by Curmudgeon at July 27, 2011 2:31 PM