Monday, March 17, 2008

Welcome to my blog from Kandahar

Hello and welcome to my blog. I am presently on the Kandahar Airfield (KAF), which is a 40 minute drive outside of Kandahar City in Afghanistan. Some time before I left Canada, I was contacted by an editor at the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) who requested that I keep a web diary of the things I was seeing, doing and feeling as a physician in this war zone. I am not a journalist and I am not a member of the Canadian Forces. I am not being paid to write this. However, I am a proud Canadian, grateful for my political freedom and economic advantages, and as a physician, I am especially grateful for my medical education, which was subsidized by Canadian taxpayers.

I am proud of what I think Canada stands for among the world’s nations. We strive for the ideals of democracy, human rights, tolerance, pluralism, the separation of church and state, and perhaps most importantly, hockey. These ideals are the underpinning of modernity — that conceptualization of political, economic and social order that is very much at the heart of this multinational, United Nation’s sanctioned Afghan campaign. There is some pretty good hockey here too! In a couple of weeks a team of ex-NHLers is coming to KAF for a ball hockey friendly with a team of army guys.

But I digress... and before I get much further, a few words about my biases, intentions and limitations. The opinions I express are entirely my own. I do not represent in any official capacity the Health Services Branch of the Canadian Forces, the CMAJ, or its publisher, the Canadian Medical Association. I tend to believe that armed conflict destabilizes rather than strengthens societies; that violence is generally a very ill-advised method of solving conflicts because it usually results in only further violence. I believe that modern warfare is a public health catastrophe and far more dangerous for innocent civilians — especially children — than it is for the combatants. I think that war is perpetuated in part because it is a very profitable endeavour for some morally bankrupt individuals and companies.

However, I also believe, because I have personally seen the evidence, that the Taliban represent the very worst in human thought and action.

I will never forget St. Patrick’s Day 2007 when I and my colleagues at the Mutinational Medical Unit were unable to save the life of an 8-year-old girl who bled to death from shrapnel injuries inflicted by a Taliban car bomb. Any of my esteemed colleagues here could tell you similar stories.

I believe that security is the sine qua non of civil society and that the attainment of security in Afghanistan is an essential goal that Canada can proudly help to accomplish. But I am not an apologist for this war and I have 1 or 2 criticisms to voice that you will read in due course. One of my grandfathers was a Mennonite conscientious objector. The other was briefly a member of the Army Medical Corps stationed in Canada at the end of the Second World War. My wife’s grandfather was a decorated Royal Canadian Air Force squadron Commander who, barely in to his twenties, piloted bombing missions over northern Europe. Therefore, currents of pacifist protest and martial action blend within me and I think of myself (perhaps a little grandiosely) as a loyal civilian critic of the Canadian Forces.

I have been and continue to be unspeakably impressed by the bravery, decency and professionalism of many men and women who wear Canada’s uniform in Afghanistan. It is an honour to work with them and, where I can, I hope to tell you about them and the good work they do.

Every word you will read has been screened by ranking members of the military and the CMAJ to make sure that there is no violation of patient confidentiality or operational security. The CMAJ editor understood it rather nicely I thought: “It’s not censorship in the usual sense, it’s just a question of not saying anything that can help the enemy,” she said. By reading this blog, you will not necessarily know more about reconstruction efforts in this impoverished, war-ravaged central Asian nation of 32 million people. You will not likely learn anything that you can productively apply to your own medical practice. But through my eyes and words you may be by turns enlightened, enraged, or entertained. Thanks for reading.

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