Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sooner or later, war hits home

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — The ravages or war are never far from our doorstep.
Like many of us, I’ve recently learned that a loved one will soon ship out to the Middle East.
I got the news about my relative, a young doctor with a wife and new baby, about the same time I was trying to process some eerily relevant information.
I was reading Dr. Chris Coppola’s moving book, “Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq” (NTI Upstream, Chicago).
Like my relative, Coppola had a military scholarship that allowed him to complete his training, but also required him to leave his wife and three young sons for two tours of duty in Iraq.
As fate would have it, I was finishing the book about the same time I heard about the WikiLeaks ( release of a classified U.S. military video depicting the shooting from an Apache helicopter of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad on July 27, 2007. The victims included two Reuters news staffers, whose camera bags were apparently mistaken for weapons, and young children.
It’s hard to watch, in short or long versions.
The gunners, as they requested permission to shoot again and again, reminded me, strangely, of my grandson and his buddies, at about age 8 to 10, begging to continue playing video games.
I understand, or try to, the need for soldiers to keep their cool in combat situations. But I’m convinced that shooting another human being should be a very emotional situation.
And inevitably, eventually, it is, from what I’ve seen of loved ones who have shared their wartime experiences with me in situations that ranged from the first flights over atomic bomb sites in Japan during World War II to flashbacks from guerilla fights in Vietnam. Emotionally, you pay now or pay later.
Dr. Coppola does not hide his feelings as he writes of attempting to cope with the aftermath of the ravages of war on soldiers and young children.
“I already know that children do not fare well in modern warfare,” he writes. “Their proportionally larger heads, coupled with the fact that they are close to the ground, make children a particularly vulnerable target for a fragmentation weapon like a buried IED. The knowledge may not help me heal the child, but at least I am prepared.”
Or he thinks he is, but as he ships off from his home in the Southwest to two deployments with the 332nd Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, Iraq, he sometimes risks his own life to save not only brave soldiers whose courage he admires, but also children mutilated in crossfire, or who have been unable to get medical attention for other ailments and conditions in war-torn-Iraq.
He sees very young burn victims die who would likely have survived in the U.S.
He plants cilantro in his dusty herb garden, writes sometimes anguished letters home and clearly establishes deep bonds with patients. He shares stories of Iraqi families and friends he’s made.
The war is very personal; consequences have faces, sometimes small, badly burned and mutilated faces.
Coppola quotes a colleague: “ ‘My son isn’t even one yet, and I see him in all the kids we treat,’ he says. It’s as if he read my mind.”
Tough though it may be, we should all do our best to read books like Coppola’s and watch the disturbing videos of a war that sometimes seems so far away.
It will hit home for all of us, sooner or later.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450

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