Presented humbly in the World section of The Washington Post today, is the story of two American officers, a military doctor and a physician assistant, who have spent the last year — on their own time — scrounging about for resources to send ailing Iraqi children overseas for critical medical care still unavailable to them at home. I am no longer quick to call such stories “propaganda,” because after the total failure of our government to make good on its promises to the Iraqi people, stories like these merely highlight the compassion and humility of the individual servicemen, while further hardening the image of the impenetrable, immovable institution (which by the way has enough resources to care for 20 times the number of children if it felt it expedient to do so).
But Capt. John Knight, 36, and Capt. Jonathan Heavey, 33, have sent 12 children overseas, funded with $17,000 of their own money and contributions from family and friends. A year ago they had visited a hospital where malnourished and neglected children were being cared for — the young Iraqis had been rescued by a U.S Army civil affairs unit from an orphanage, “lying naked on the floor, surrounded by exrament.” Some had cholera. The two officers had decided to form a non-profit foundation and a website, Hope.MD, and were given permission to launch the effort “as long as they didn’t identify themselves as military officers.”
Their first “cases” included sending an 11-year-old boy, a victim of an insurgent attack, to a burn unit in the States and several legally blind children for treatment in Turkey free of charge — thanks to an American-trained ophthalmologist volunteering her time there. “Dozens” more cases are “in the pipeline.”
Statistics on the number of Iraqi doctors, medical specialists and students who have fled the country since 2003 because of the violence is staggering. One estimate found that 60 to 70 percent of Iraq’s 2,327 “registered medical specialists” took off early on. According to one figure, 176 doctors were targeted and killed during the war. Some 50 percent of medical students have left. Reports indicate that one-third of the country’s 40,000 medical doctors were forced to flee. Though the Maliki government has put on a show of “luring” these people back, the infrastructure is hardly there to accomodate them.
I can think of worse ways to start mending the wounds, literally, with the Iraqi people then to help heal their children, and to continue to help them rebuild, but it seems our time there has run out. Good Samaritans like these will only be around as long as it takes to say “exit strategy!” and then the Iraqis are on their own.
Sadly, reconstruction was never a priority, despite all the righteous talk from George Bush and Condi Rice at the beginning of the war. It soon became clear that the Bush Administration saw any attention focused on repairing the country as potentially exposing the bloody gaping sore we opened there. Monitoring too closely the often hapless reconstruction effort risked undue attention to the mistakes and calamaties — the corruption, the contractors, the lost money and the fact that the daily violence was spoiling the whole thing anyway. So it became the backwash of our misadventures and the people suffered.
Too bad. With all of the insipid, perversely-termed “listening” Karen Hughes did on her tour of the Muslim World she never heard that it is in such gestures of selflessness and sacrifice that begin the terms of reconciliation, of repair. For all the Kagans who see the end of the war at the tip of the spear, there are, thankfully, a Knight and a Heavey who understand otherwise.
The most poignant turn of the WaPo piece, however, came not in the telling of their story, but in the irony of their latest efforts. When learning that defense contractors Halliburton and Lockheed Martin had increased their revenues through the war to $22.5 billion and $41.8 billion respectively, Heavey sent letters to them, and eight other contractors, asking for help for the foundation.
Hardly Surprising, none have replied.