Sunday, July 10, 2005

Forget the Hurricane, Check out this Avalanche!

During Saddam Hussein's long dictatorial rule, medical professionals in Iraq, unable to order new textbooks and journals from outside the country, relied on photocopies from old books still inside the country. Michael Yon takes a look at the changing situation today and what American health professionals are doing to help their Iraqi colleagues.
The successful bondage of man depends, at least in part, on equal measures of ignorance and intimidation. These are the twin towers of both tyranny and terrorism. Controlling access to information constrains the power of ideas, allowing a climate of confusion and fear to rise in the vacuum. In fields such as science and medicine, ongoing access to developing ideas and emerging technologies is essential to maintaining a capacity to deliver health care and to harness the power of unfolding developments.

In most instances, it would be oxymoronic to insert the name of Saddam Hussein in a sentence which also contained the phrase “the greater good.” Under his regime, access to information vital to medicine was constricted to the point of atrophy. The danger grows over time; the quality of health care diminishes immediately, while the capacity to educate the next generation of doctors, nurses and allied health care professionals is seriously compromised.

Poverty is not the basic problem in Iraq. A helicopter flight over cities and villages reveals thousands of satellite dishes, thousands of automobiles driving about, and power-lines crisscrossing the country. The people are starved, however, but the commodity for which they hunger is knowledge and information, particularly the kind that comes unfiltered. Yet many of the terrorists who make the misery they later feed on, wish to cut ties to the outside world.
The American military medical teams set up a system in which Americans could donate any books related to medicine, quickly connecting the book drive to the internet.
As word spread on the internet, the chatter triggered an avalanche of donations. A retiring plastic surgeon in Texas donated his professional library of texts and specialty journals. Students at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City donated over 2,000 texts. A senior medical student at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine, took the idea and advanced it another step among his peers and faculty by using flyers and e-mail. His group accumulated nearly 4,000 texts and journals. Elsevier, an international medical and scientific publisher, donated packaging and postal costs. Evidence of the growing momentum was seen in the donation of 1,000 copies each of Scientific American Medicine and ACS Surgery from Medscape Publishers. This one collection of new texts weighed 17,600 pounds and had a retail value of $429,000. The magnitude of this donation was leveraged to rachet up the credibility and visibility of the project, culminating when Merck Canada donated five pallets of medical and scientific journals.
Cartons and pallets arrived in ever larger quantities, while other shipments were too costly to send, creating a log jam. The daunting logistics could have spelled the end, and just as quickly as the initial Internet solicitations had gone out, the organizers could have pled “NO MORE BOOKS PLEASE.”

But this was not to be. Indeed, this is an instance where the bureaucracy of the U.S. Military paid dividends for the greater good. No organization in the world moves heavy loads about the earth—-into combat and disaster areas-—as efficiently as the U.S. military. Working with the Army, the Air Force cleared these large donations to be included as Space A cargo (space available) on military flights.

As the donor base grew, so did the list of persons willing to distribute texts, journals and related items in other parts of Iraq. When the donations to Tikrit began to saturate the capacity, other medical officers stepped up and began distributing materials across wider areas of Iraq.

You will never hear about something like this from any of the Jarrars. They are content to scam money from Americans while at the same time calling for the death of American soldiers.


Steven Vincent, still in Basra (Good God, how long has it been?!), travels with some of the local soldiers, many of whom are Sadrists, he discovers. One of the soldiers, a "rangy, smart-alecky kid with an Eddie Haskell smirk," calls Muqtada Al-Sadr a "great man."
Back in the concrete blockhouse, Eddie Haskell had evidently decided to add to his day's busy agenda an effort to irritate the American journalist. "Amirka muu zayna," he informed me. ("American no good.") Not once, or twice, but like one of the flies buzzing around the station, he wouldn't stop, giggling "Amrika muu zayna, Amrika muu zayna," glancing at his buddies for their nods and approbation. He continued to relate this insight as we trudged back to the motorboat, me smiling & shrugging & adopting the typically American toleration of criticism--hey, you want to attack my country, well, gee, okay, I guess we somehow deserve it...Just as we were boarding the vessel, however, Eddie grabbed my arm and, smirking and snorting, shoved his cell phone in my face, where prominently displayed on its call screen was a mini-image of...the Twin Towers burning. "Zayn?" he snickered.
Vincent, however, gets his revenge.


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