The best & worst of humankind

August 10, 2010

Very sad news: a group of international humanitarians providing medical aid to the poorest, most remote regions of Afghanistan were murdered last week. Many were physicians.

So many doctors today seem to feel entitled to huge salaries and charge fees that reflect it. Our own health care system is out of control. So medical professionals who leave it all behind to help those in need stand out. They take seriously the part of the Hippocratic Oath that says:

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.

Maybe, like me, you’ve thought of helping those in need, but would never risk life and limb to work in an underdeveloped nation, especially a dangerous one. And maybe like me, you look at people who do with great admiration.

The murdered humanitarians are paragons of their professions and their loss is a heavy blow.

They represent the best of humankind and were murdered by the worst.

* * * * *

I’ve seen comments that these murders prove why we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan and other comments that it proves why we should be there. I’m not sure it does either.

All indications are that this was a robbery, followed by murders. Since the only survivor saved his own life by reciting Koran verses, it seems like it was easier for the robbersto kill non-believers. Yes, we’re back to that again. Religion.

No question: they are evil people.

But crimes happen in every country.

Evil exists in every culture, as well.

I would never defend the way Islam treats women. It is anachronistic, uncivilized and just plain evil. But we didn’t go into Afghanistan to right civil and social woes. We supposedly went in to protect “our freedom.” To take the Taliban out of power so that it could no longer be an Al Qaeda haven.

Of course, that isn’t really why. We may never know why, really. Geopolitics is complicated.

Some say it’s about the U.S.- promoted gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Conservatives wave the flag as they proselytize for the spread of democracy, which seems to be their knee-jerk response to everything international.

And, of course, we wanted to kick someone’s ass after Sept. 11.

We can not right every country’s social woes, especially when our own has so many problems. We can not force our own system of government on others, although we try like crazy. It’s not like our own democracy came easy.

The Taliban regime crashed and burned in 2001
as result of our attacks. But a decade later, they’re entrenched again. So what have we accomplished? They been back in power for years, and our reasons for being there are more muddled than ever.

From Time magazine in 2009 (pay particular attention to what the professional soldier says):

“Al-Qaeda still thrives in the ungoverned tribal areas along the border between the two countries, and while many of its members have been killed, new recruits quickly take their place.

U.S. soldiers have learned that to deny al-Qaeda a foothold in Afghanistan will require the establishment of a government that Afghans can believe in, the security that allows them to support it and jobs that provide an alternative to fighting.

“We are not going to kill our way out of this war,” says Lieut. Colonel Brett Jenkinson, commander of the U.S. battalion stationed in the Korengal Valley. “What we need is a better recruiting pitch for disaffected youth. You can’t build hope with military might. You build it through development and good governance.” *

When a professional warrior says that the military can’t solve it everyone–regardless of political belief– should pay attention.

I don’t see how continuing to fight in Afghanistan is going to change anything. The issues in that part of the world are deeply and culturally entrenched. We don’t understand that culture. And my personal belief is that in many ways, it’s primitive. It’s a country that still has “tribal chieftains,” for heaven’s sake.

Even so, there are good things about any culture. But it’s hard to respect the positives of any culture when so much evil surrounds it.

We can’t expect a nation so primitive to develop in our lifetime, something that’s taken centuries for us to achieve.

* * * *
Back to the aid workers who were killed.

They had the right idea. Helping their fellow human beings Contributing to those who need help. They came from a place of love and peace.

I don’t think their deaths should be used as a banner for staying in Afghanistan or for leaving.

Instead, the murders should inspire us to redouble our efforts to look more clearly at what we’re doing. Absent the political rhetoric.

To not whip the American flag up as a knee-jerk defense for fighting a war that even warriors say is ineffective.

And to know when we’re in way over our heads.

To take an honest look, for a change.

Let the chips fall where they may.

3 comments on “The best & worst of humankind
  1. Anonymous says:

    We should ONLY be in Afghanistan if we are there as Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, Teachers not as a military presence. This would be the ONLY way we can help a country like Afghanistan. It is through compassion, love and commitment to humans and their well being that we can bring around modernization and change. We come into this country kicking down doors and terrorizing people with weapons in the name of DEMOCRACY what do you think is going to happen. We were NOT invited nor do we have any real reason to be there.

    This was not a robbery gone bad. This group of health care professionals were accused of being spys for the US Military by the Taliban.

    Now the poor children who had their first dental check up and possibly their first visit by a Doctor are left without any help at all. MAYBE these people will be seen as Martyrs for the cause of peace in the world and this horrific act of cowardice will be seen as what it is. It is up to the MOTHERS and FATHERS of these children to reject the bull shit Taliban and Islamic extremism that has taken hold of their country. They are the ones that truly suffer and quite frankly they are the only ones that can stop the spread of this disease.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Of course the Spy thing was not real but the Taliban justifies the murder by saying it is so. The people in Afghanistan are so afraid of the Taliban and the religious zealots that they will believe anything they are told. Maybe this horrific event will turn the tide of this ridiculous and heinous war waged by the Taliban on its’ own people and true innocents.

  3. I agree with you about our reasons for being there. But all reports I’ve seen are that the “spy” thing is not real, that is a post-murder excuse for the killing. They knew these were humanitarians.

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