the pain of our inner troops
The Well-Read Red on the Old Mole Variety Hour 6/4/07 Earlier this year, the mainstream press discovered that there are problems with veteran’s health care. The scandal of dilapidated buildings and untreated soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center led to a series of firings and resignations. But, as even the commercial press is aware, being a veteran is still no guarantee of access to health care. Stories reflecting on this fact imply that veterans have an extra claim to medical attention. Perhaps they do, but we should be wary of suggesting that there is anyone who doesn’t have a right to health care. Let’s review. According to Cesar Chelala, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, “The most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that 46.6 million Americans (about 15.9 percent of the population) had no health insurance coverage during 2005, an increase of 1.3 million over the previous year. It is no wonder, then, that medical bills are overwhelmingly the most common reason for personal bankruptcy in the United States. According to the Children’s Health Fund, 9 million children are completely uninsured in the United States, while another 23.7 million - nearly 30 percent of the nation’s children — lack regular access to health care.” Last month the Commonwealth Fund released an update of their report comparing the health care systems of the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. They found that “the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The U.S. is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage.” Susie Day, who writes for Monthly Review zine, is one of the lucky ones. Last week, she reported on a recent call to her Doctor in a piece titled "U.S. Troops Out of . . . ME": Hello, Doctor? Thanks for taking my call -- it's an emergency. I've been infected. Well, medically speaking, I guess you'd say I'm not so much infected as occupied. My symptoms? They're hard to describe. A cough, maybe. Like today, I'm walking down the street. Big, shady trees, leaves bright green . . . twittering birds, everything oxygenated and sparkling. And I see an old gentleman in a baseball cap and suspenders, struggling to heave his grocery-filled shopping cart up the stoop to his apartment. My first thought is to go over and help him lift the cart. Simple enough. Then I get a scratching in my throat and this weird, fearful sensation. "WHOA," I say to myself. "Instead of being grateful, this guy could take out a .357 Magnum and blow my head off." I notice a blockage; I cough. I think, "[Forget] you, old man, you ingrate, I was only trying to help." I'm now shaking and feverish. I think, "To make sure you don't kill me, you bum, I'm going to run a steak knife into your guts and drive a tank over your pitiful geezer body." By now, I'm coughing hard. The birds continue to twitter and the leaves are shimmering in the breeze -- while I am picturing myself annihilating this old guy. But that's the price you pay, right -- kill them before they kill you? Just then, I retch; I double over and cough up . . . a tiny American soldier. I'd call that a symptom, wouldn't you, Doctor? Anyhow, it lands in my hand, all tricked out in little fatigues and a bayonet. I can tell right away it's dead. So I panic . . . and run home and phone you. I think it's obvious, Doctor: I've become contaminated by U.S. foreign policy. I calculate, according to the last Democratic sellout vote, that I have at least 147,000 U.S. troops stationed in my Persian Gulf, er, body. Plus all their equipment. How was I infected, you ask? This is embarrassing, Doctor -- I, uh, didn't take precautions. I must have exchanged bodily fluids with a peace activist or something. Some commie pervert who believed that all humans are "created equal." I admit I've jumped to this conclusion once or twice, watching the news -- that the beings who have died by the hundreds of thousands in Iraq are, in fact, human -- that their lives matter as much as yours or mine. Naturally, in America, I couldn't live, knowing this. So in came the troops. That's right, Doctor: the government sent them. To protect me. Even now, I can feel my inner troops. Drilling, playing cards, writing letters home, making sure I am terrorist-free. They won't tell me if they had anything to do with the siege on Fallujah, or if they hooded detainees for interrogation. They say a lot happens that doesn't make the news. They say they're just doing their job. Kids, mostly. Came to see the world, feed their families, get a college degree, defend democracy. But they're stuck now and scared. They hate it and, knowing they are hated, they kill. They belong to me. . . . But here's the thing, Doctor. With all due respect to my troops, I don't want them. Although they do allow me to cope with post-9/11 reality, they won't let me dream of happiness. For example, I'll be thinking of a quiet, sun-filled room, tulips in a vase on the piano, a puppy playing with a fallen petal and -- blam!, a combat boot kicks in the door and stomps everything to death. This is unacceptable, Doctor: I cannot live on a planet where innocence is a constant deterrent to survival. So I need fast relief. What would you prescribe -- a stomach pump, chemotherapy, exorcism? This isn't some little ailment where you say, "Click on two MoveOn.org petitions and call me in the morning," this is serious. In fact, I suggest a radical troop-ectomy to actually remove our military from Iraq. Lots of people could assist you in this operation, Doctor; me included. Then, of course, we'd have to get the troops out of the troops. They're occupied, too, you know.