...are the ones that make the biggest difference



For most Americans, when you speak of war, one war in particular comes to mind; World War II. It is the paradigm of war in our national mind and you could hear its echoes in the rhetoric that so many promulgated after 9/11. We were (and in the minds of many, still are, regardless of our national exploits since the end of Hitler) innocent victims, dragged into a war we did not want by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. But once the Japanese made that mistake, by golly, we were going to set things right, finish the job, walk the line and oppose those twin evils of Japanese imperialism and Nazi fascism wherever they dared hide. And there is, obviously, no doubt that the German and Japanese regimes were lead by people bent on not just power and conquest, but that they sought those gains on the blood and skulls of the innocent. In Germany, the millions who were murdered in the concentration camps. For the Japanese, the Rape of Nanking and similar atrocities committed against "enemy combatants" in occupied lands. We, the virtuous, aggrieved nation overcame them through the selfless (and it was absolutely that) sacrifice of our soldiers, the ingenuity of our scientists and the savvy of our leaders, demonstrating for good and all the power of good over evil.

Or so the national narrative of WWII seems to go, give or take a few points, in the national mind. There are many points about this narrative that could be debated, not the least of which were some of our tactics aimed against civilian populations or the use of nuclear weapons. But that is not my point. My point is that for most Americans, war is ultimately not about death, politics, liberty or even national survival; war is about hope. War, and the subsequent American victory we have come to expect (the war in Vietnam not withstanding) confirms in our national mind that good really will triumph over evil and that we are on the side of good. Wars then become issues of cosmic significance. They are as much about who we say we are and our hope for the future (both short term and eternal) as they are about the real-world political situation that entails armed conflict. They confirm our national identity, bolster our self-regard and help us to look past our obvious failings. And what else could you expect from a nation that has, almost since its inception, been conflated and confused with the Church? The Church/America is God's kingdom, God's agent of justice, God's prophetic voice to the world and the community of the chosen, the elect. Our victory is nothing less than God's victory, and what surer sign exists of God's blessing? I recognize that I am making a generalization and that this is not true for every American, but I think it is true for most. War may be regarded as a regrettable but necessary evil or a positive force for justice, but behind those statements is the sentiment I have described above. For America, war is hope.

The problem is, war is not that for the rest of the world. War is not hope, it is hopelessness. This is a conclusion I came to during my time in Bosnia, but Dan's post really made me think about it again. For most of the world, war is not about the triumph of good over evil or the vanquishing of some distant enemy; war is about lifelong friends and neighbors one day deciding to kill each other for some very petty reasons. War is about wanting what your neighbor has or blaming him for your low position, and so you set out to take what he has or to punish him for the inexcusable crime of being a Serb/Croat/Muslim/Hutu/Tutsi/Tamil/Timoran/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian/Kurd/Sunni/Shiite, well, you see my point. The list of excuses for killing one's neighbors seems endless and include ethnicity, religion, geographical origin, skin color - all the things that we "peacefully" deal with in America, but elsewhere, are perfectly good reasons to view those around you as expendable. But in many instances, this is little more than fratricide once removed and leads inevitably to despair and and an all-pervasive hopelessness. People cling to their hope, to be sure, as I saw in the Serbs who were willing to live on donated land, building their future homes a few bricks at a time as money barely trickled in from the government or their meager salary. But for most of them, the answer for their children was not to stay and rebuild, to heal the wounds of the past and to try to forge a new future with old enemies, it was to flee to Europe, to build a life and a future elsewhere. What is that but a lack of hope? What greater statement of hopelessness is there than to deny that a homeland, a language, an identity, a family is worth suffering for? That is the reality of war. No matter who wins, everyone loses. No matter what injustices are suffered, no matter what atrocities committed, no matter what horrible enemies are overcome, it ultimately leads to dissolution for both victors and victims. War is not about hope, despite what America seems to implicitly believe.

War is hopelessness and that is why I cannot fight.


Three years old

I just realized that yesterday was this blog's third year in existence. I might need to put together a little retrospective as I've covered a lot of ground in the three years since I started this thing.


I am a pacifist

For many reasons I cannot fully identify, a convergence of factors in my life has pushed me to reveal this little fact about myself; I believe in Christian non-violence. I do not "admit" this because I am in no way ashamed of it. My reasons for not revealing this prior to now have been relatively simple - I didn't want the baggage of the term, I didn't think it really mattered whether or not I made this fact known, and, admittedly, out of a certain self-centeredness. See, I didn't become a pacifist after I left the military, I became on while still in the Army Reserves, on deployment, in fact, and filed for a discharge as a conscientious objector (which is rather frustratingly still pending). This latter information, more than the pacifism, seems to bother most people. Nevermind that I served honorably, even admirably, and with a high degree of effectiveness in my military job. Nevermind that I was recognized for my achievements, that my enlistment was actually extended beyond my initial contract or that I precisely followed the Army's own system for dealing with these kinds of things (as opposed to going AWOL & fleeing to Canada) - an admission to actually filing for the discharge seems, in the minds of a great many Christians, to taint me as a coward, a hypocrite, a de facto Nazi and/or terrorist and an overall worthless piece of garbage not worthy of respect or consideration.* So, not wanting to subject myself to this kind of nonsense and to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of those who would use this knowledge to dismiss my arguments about war (especially our current national endeavors), peace and the marks of Christian love, I kept it to myself. I preferred to make my points, proffer my opinions and debate topics undercover, as it were. Which actually never made any kind of difference since people generally assumed that for all my resistance to this war or this bit of violence I ultimately agreed with them that war & violence are acceptable in general.

I not only realized that my debating strategy was ineffective, but I also realized, thanks to a re-reading of The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, that my understandable aversion to being electronically spat upon is also an understandable aversion to bearing my cross. If I truly believe that a key component of the Gospel is a call to non-violence, and I do, then I should be unafraid to make that known. I should be honest about that not only because I should be prepared to suffer for my King and the message of His Kingdom, but also because letting people know about my commitment to non-violence is in itself a way of preparing them to ask some hard questions. Part of the Army discharge process for a CO is an interview by a chaplain and the chaplain I spoke with had clearly never been presented with even the possibility that Christians may not be able to participate in violence. He seemed genuinely surprised that such a view existed, outside maybe the Amish or some similar group. So to state my pacifism (and like Hauerwas, it is not a word I like) is to refuse to answer the questions as they are posed by our present culture by showing that there more possible choices than just 'A' or 'B'; there are, in fact, entirely different questions to be considered.

So, there it stands. I am a pacifist. I will tell more of how I got to this point in the future, as well as discuss some specific issues or works that I'm reading. If you have questions, suggestions or just want to debate, you can email me - littlefights@gmail.com, or leave a comment.

*I was called all of these things and more on Christian web-forums when I discussed my then plans to seek a discharge.


Last week was hard/weird

The semester is finally over. Last Tuesday I took my final and managed to squeak through the class with an 'A'. Which is no mean feat when 93% is an 'A' and your teacher, bless her heart and her obvious devotion to preparing good nurses, writes what can generously be described as only mildly-horrible tests. At least 10% of the questions on every test have two right answers. Not one answer is better than the other, which I'm told is a frequent occurrence on the RN licensing exam - you know, which is the first, best thing you should do when your patient is coding or something. No, these are questions like "A common symptom of liver failure is?" and jaundice and elevated serum liver enzymes are offered as separate answers (both are right, by the way). Normally we can argue these questions when we get our tests back and she will occasionally see our point, or the book's point, or her lecture note's point, and allow both answers. But there is no chance for that on the final since we don't ever come back to class. I was borderline going into the final, knew there would be at least a few questions that were just a blind guess and thought there was a good chance I would guess incorrectly between two correct answers, thus scoring poorly enough to drop my grade. I didn't find out what my final grade was until Thursday, so it was a somewhat tense couple of days.

So that was Tuesday, but the week actually started out on a much less promising note. We've been looking for a church here for some time now, and we decided to try a new one that is part of the denomination the wife grew up in (and for which the father-in-law still works). This church was also highly recommended to me by a nurse I work with. So we went. It was nice. Good music, good mix of ages and family situations in the congregation, casual but not too casual, people were friendly - all those little things that are nice to see on your first visit. Until the pastor got up to speak. In reality, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this pastor. He was finishing up a series on parenting and made some really good points about the role of parents in the family - setting up boundaries, consistency, fairness, communication. He was energetic, passionate, engaging and had the unfortunate quality of sounding, and even looked a little, like the pastor that fired me 2 years ago to the day. Bizarre coincidence. And a rather upsetting one. I know that whole situation wounded me pretty deeply and for reasons that are not always easy to articulate, but I honestly thought I had gotten mostly past that. I feel like I've dealt with it. I can generally think about it without getting angry or sad, and I frequently don't think about it for weeks at a time. The wife and I are in a pretty good place in our lives right now and I'm thankful to be here, doing what I'm doing. No, its not my absolute ideal, but it feels right. So I was caught completely off guard by the range of negative emotions just listening to this pastor speak brought up in me; anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety - all the tumult I felt back then was right back, center-stage. It wasn't like picking a scab off of a wound; it was like getting shot in the same place again. It kind of put a funk on the whole afternoon and left me and the wife feeling just wrong. Needless to say, I don't think that is where we'll end up.

So I go from the unpleasantness of Sunday morning, to an entire Monday of cramming for finals on Tuesday. Tuesday comes and goes, which is a relief, but I'm left the tension of not knowing my final grade for the class. I'm mostly an 'A' student and potentially missing one by a few points is very frustrating to me. I'm scheduled to work Wednesday-Friday because I had to juggle my school schedule to accommodate studying for finals. I show up Wednesday morning, everything is going fine until lunch time, when a code-blue is announced overhead. The way things work in my hospital is that when someone codes (ie, dies or gets well along in the process of dying), the floor nurse calls the operator, who makes an announcement overhead, which sends a designated ICU nurse, a respiratory therapist (RT) and a pharmacist scrambling for their respective supplies as they make a mad-dash for the elevator. Once on scene, the ICU nurse takes charge of the code until a doctor arrives. My nurse was assigned codes for that day, so when the call came in, we went running. Another ICU nurse and 2 student techs also came along to assist & observe (participating in a certain number of codes is required for a few different professional accreditations). We get to the room, which quickly becomes crowded by the 7 of us, another RT, at least 3 nurses from the floor and a number of doctors. One of the other students begins compressions, but she is a rather slight thing and we're working on a larger patient (a woman in her early 40's), so I am put in to take over for her. This is the first time I've ever done compressions, first time I've ever seen a code. And it is nothing like you see on TV.

The CPR is fast and furious, with RT's alternately bagging and trying to intubate while we compress like mad. No 1-2-3-4-5, breathe - they're forcing it in as we're pushing on the chest. Monitoring patches are put on, an automatic defibrillator set up and still the compressions continue. I could feel/hear her ribs crack under my hands, but no matter, you keep pushing, pushing, pushing. Ribs will heal but her body needs the blood. I compressed for probably 10 minutes straight, pausing only long enough for them to shock her or try to get the breathing tube in. The shocks were not dramatic - no exaggerated arching of the back, no loud thump or sound of electricity. Just a whine from the defibrillator indicating it had charged, followed by a "Clear!" and then the lady's arms twitching when the shock was applied. And then back to compressions. I was drenched in sweat when another student stepped in to take my place. We rotated through the three of us then, every couple of minutes, though by the end, none of us were lasting more than 30 seconds. My arms burned, my shoulder felt like jello and my whole body was drained. Still, you push. The entire episode turned into nothing more than pushing, shocking and injecting drugs in a kind of organized chaos - all heads turned toward the monitor, hoping, praying for a rhythm, anything other than the horrible, small wavy line that indicated nothing but random electrical activity in the heart. We worked for 35 minutes before the doctor finally called it.

And then it was over. The room cleared. We gathered our equipment and left. For 35 minutes every person in that room was focused on doing anything and everything to bring that lady back. People were handing up supplies, pushing drugs through her IV, adjusting the equipment, asking & answering questions, relaying information to people in the hall - just a hundred different things going on at once. And in the time it took a single man to utter a single sentence, it stopped. It was done and she was gone. The whole drama of life and death and all of eternity opening up for this person was over in less than a second. The quiet that ensued was such a stark contrast that you'd almost think nothing had happened, that we had all gathered in this small room around this metal bed for no apparent reason and now, realizing that our presence served no purpose, were leaving, back to our jobs and daily routines, befuddled by our pointless presence.

In my less-than-2-years in the medical field, I have handled at least a dozen dead bodies. I have washed them, removed IV lines, catheters and readied them for transfer to the morgue. I have put them in body bags, affixed toe-tags, packed up their belongings and carted them down to a large walk-in cooler in the basement. Most of these deaths were expected, even planned in a way. The families had decided to remove life support and on a set day and time, the machines were unplugged, the tubes removed and the person died. Sometimes quickly, sometimes they lingered for hours or days. But everyone knew death was coming soon and there would be no announcement overhead, no mad scramble for supplies or sprints to the elevator. That was the key difference - this lady still had hope, or at least there was hope to be had. It was a struggle to walk away from that bed, to renounce that hope. I came out of that room a changed man; now, more than ever, will I fight to keep that hope alive in those entrusted into my care by their families and Creator. I will push until all hope is gone.