Tragedy abounds in this world. It always has, in various measures, and always will. In the face of tragedy, many questions linger. Why did this happen? What does it mean? Could it have been averted? Those answers that perchance come tend to be rather individual, filtered as they are through oneâ€™s beliefs, values, and experiences. Rarely do the answers, such as they are, bring adequate comfort and resolution. For the past, with all its losses and horrors, cannot be undone. The fact of the tragedy remains, and so the question becomes: what can be taken from this event?
Todayâ€™s Boston Globe offers a story of one recent tragedy. Here is an excerpt from that article:
CHARLESTOWN, N.H. –An injured woman drowned after a rescue boat taking her to an ambulance capsized in the Connecticut River, trapping her underneath in 20 feet of water, authorities said.
Virginia Yates, 60, of Rockingham, Vt., was stepping on a dock when she slipped, injured her head and fell into the river, said Sgt. Craig Morrocco of the Fish and Game Department.
A fire and rescue crew from Cornish brought Yates onto their brand new, flat-bottomed airboat and strapped her onto a backboard.
But as the boat headed to a waiting ambulance at a landing, it started taking on water and capsized, said Morrocco, whose agency was called to the scene about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“The boat swamped and emergency services personnel were unable to recover Miss Yates until some time later, and she’s passed” said Marc Hathaway, Sullivan County attorney.
Edgar Emerson, of Bellows Falls, Vt., said he and Yates were on their way to visit friends when she slipped getting out of his pontoon boat and onto a dock on the Vermont side of the river.
She had cuts and bruises on her head and arms and might have broken her ankle, so he made sure she was seated on the shore before he boated to Hoyt’s Landing in Springfield, Vt., to find a cell phone and call friends. Others persuaded him to call 911, he said.
“She didn’t want to go in the ambulance, she didn’t want to be rescued,” Emerson told the Rutland Herald….
None of the Cornish fire and rescue crew members were reported injured. Yates remained underwater for nearly an hour.
The cause of the accident was unclear. [full text]
What may be taken from this unfortunate event is the sadly ironic parallel with a tragedy of far greater proportions: the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. President Bush and members of his administration have frequently assertedâ€”once the dissembling about weapons of mass destruction and links with al-Qaeda were exposedâ€”that a key reason for invading Iraq was, in effect, to rescue the Iraqi people, to liberate them from the injurious regime of a brutal man. In March of this year, Mr. Bush described the invasion as â€œthe necessary first step in restoring stability and freedom to the people of Iraq.â€? While there appears to have been no time in recent history that the Iraqi people have actually experienced much â€œstability and freedom,â€? thus making its restoration a questionable premise, it nonetheless appears clear that the lofty goals espoused by the President remain a distant likelihood. The â€œfreedom agenda,â€? as he has taken to calling it, has proved disastrous. Far from being rescued, the people of Iraq have experienced enormous suffering and loss of life. Consider the following:
â€¢ At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 US-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry, and other agencies — a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration. Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but have not been counted because of serious lapses in recording the number of deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government and continued spotty reporting nationwide. (Boston Globe, 6/25/06)
â€¢ Malnutrition among Iraqi children has reached alarming levels, according to a U.N.-backed government survey showing people are struggling to cope three years after U.S.-forces overthrew Saddam Hussein. Nine percent — almost one in 10 — of children aged between six months and five years, suffered acute malnourishment, said the report on food security and vulnerability in Iraq. â€œChildren are…major victims of food insecurity,â€? it said, describing the situation as â€œalarming.â€? A total of four million Iraqis, roughly 15 percent of the population, were in dire need of humanitarian aid including food, up from 11 percent in a 2003 report. (Reuters, 6/15/06)
â€¢ Nationwide statistics during the past three years suggest that American efforts to secure Iraq aren’t succeeding. While various military operations have at times improved security in parts of the country, the bloodshed has mounted with each U.S.-declared step of progress, according to figures that the Brookings Institution research center compiled from news and government reports. When L. Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. representative in Iraq, appointed an Iraqi Governing Council in July 2003, insurgent attacks averaged 16 daily. When Saddam Hussein was captured that December, the average was 19. When Bremer signed the hand-over of sovereignty in June 2004, it was 45 attacks daily. When Iraq held its elections for a transitional government in January 2005, it was 61. When Iraqis voted last December for a permanent government, it was 75. When U.S. forces killed terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi in June, it was up to 90. (McClatchy Newspapers, 8/14/06)
â€¢ July appears to have been the deadliest month of the war for Iraqi civilians, according to figures from the Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue, reinforcing criticism that the Baghdad security plan started in June by the new Iraqi government has failed. An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures. The total number of civilian deaths that month, 3,438, is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll in January. The rising numbers indicate that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control and seem to bolster an assertion that many senior Iraqi officials and American military analysts have been making in recent months: that the country is already embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping toward one, and that the American-led forces are caught between Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias. (New York Times, 8/15/06)
How much evidence is required before Mr. Bush and others who would tout America’s success in Iraq wake up and smell the gunpowder? Whatever the intentions may have been, however noble or nefarious, it is patently obvious that U.S. efforts have produced greater harm than good. A fundamental tenet of medicine is primum non nocere, which is Latin for â€œfirst, do no harm.â€? Those responsible for formulating and implementing this nationâ€™s foreign and domestic policies ought take this principle more to heart and take heed of the difficult lessons such tragedies as Iraq may afford. Virginia Yates died while being rescued on the Connecticut River, for reasons that remain unclear. It was an unintended consequence. Iraqi civilians are dying every day in Baghdad and Basra and Ramadi, for reasons that are perhaps more clear but no less deadly. It is an unintended consequence, as well. Daily, the body count rises, and the liberation grinds on. What is to be taken from all this?