After the fire: Doing what it takes


Don’t anyone call it a fluff piece. The Washington Post’s David Finkel brings us a tale from the aftermath of a car bombing:

An hour after a car bomb exploded in downtown Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 25 people, wounding at least 110 and destroying an apartment building, a phone call begging for help came to an Army officer in eastern Baghdad. It was from a man named Izzy who works as an interpreter for the U.S. military and whose calm voice was now filled with panic.

His apartment was in ruins, he said. One of his two daughters had been badly injured. Something had pierced her head when their apartment disintegrated. He had taken her to a hospital filled with the injured, but overwhelmed doctors had said there was nothing they could do, that she needed more help than they could give, and so he was standing on a street with his bleeding daughter at his side, afraid that she was going to die.

“The only hope you have is to get her to an American hospital?” said Maj. Brent Cummings, executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, for which Izzy is an interpreter. He was repeating what Izzy had just said. Izzy started to answer. The cellphone went dead. “Izzy?” Cummings said. “Izzy?”

How do moments of decency occur in a place such as Baghdad, in a war such as this war? Perhaps by what several officers on an Army base in eastern Baghdad decided to do next.

“Izzy,” Cummings said after dialing 5, 10, 15 times and finally getting through. “Bring your daughter here.”

The tale goes on to describe how Major Cummings stayed dedicated to bringing in the interpreter, while simultaneously squelching rumors that the battalion lost soldiers in the bombing. Even as the situation developed, Cummings still faced a policy snag:

Could an American citizen living in Baghdad, who was injured by a non-American bomb, receive medical care in an American military medical facility?

And then add to that a further complication:

And in front of them all, walking slowly, was a young girl with shiny purple sandals, blood on her bluejeans and a bandage over the left side of her face.

This was the non-American daughter, the one born in Baghdad, who began crying as she was carried into the medical facility. In Arabic, she cried out for her father, who had to remain in the waiting area.

As Finkel notes, the medical staff faced a difficult question: What do the rules say about a situation like this?

The answer, it seems, is that they were doctors. Who cares about the bloody rules? Over the next while they worked diligently to extract a two-inch piece of glass from the girl’s skull, and well enough that before all was finished, a smiling Iraqi-born girl was back in her parents’ arms.

So don’t you dare call the Post article a fluff piece. In an ill-conceived, incompetently-executed, questionably-motivated war rife with tales of American failures and atrocities, we need to know that there are people in the theatre who know damn well what their job is, and will do it without hesitation.

Major Cummings gets the last word here: “Man, I haven’t felt this good since I got to this hellhole.”

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2 thoughts on “After the fire: Doing what it takes

  1. Too bad so few involved in planning this war have lived up to their job and have utterly failed to do what it takes. It’s good to know that the boots on the ground not only do their job competently, but with honor. I hope this incompetent administration doesn’t drive this element out of our armed forces through their lack of leadership.

  2. I don’t think the administration can drive out all noble elements of military service; the myth of the Good America is too deeply rooted in our culture for any one administration to destroy in a mere eight years. After all the investment of time and energy we put into drilling certain ideas into our children’s skulls, it would seem impossible to imagine that none of them ever believed it. The idea that we have become the spectral “them” assigned our past enemies could break too many hearts. It is my hope, and also, I think, a reasonable expectation, that there will come a point at which the people will stand up and try to take their country back. They won’t give it up without at least trying. Perhaps they’re not ready yet; the situation hasn’t gone far enough. Or it could be that they can’t believe it’s actually happening this way. Needless to say, it is, indeed, a relief to know that the noble spirit of American myth is not dead and buried.

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