Life as an Extreme Sport

collective souls

All the rest of us who are now collectively soldiers in the war on terror…

The words there are not as surprising, nor do they leap out of the page so much as when they are summarized by others. Over the course of my weekend academic readingsMy final paper for the public health ethics course I’m taking will be on bioterrorism, biodefense, and bioethics. Mmm, bioX., I several times caught the quote “we are all soldiers in the war on terror now”, and every time it was attributed to Art Caplan. It’s the sort of thing that jumps out at you, especially when it seems not quite right, but not for any particular reason you can articulate.

So today, taking a break from virtual work, I grabbed Smart Nice, Not-So-Smart People off my bookshelf, to see if the oft-cited article was in the compilation of essays. Indeed it was, and I could read the entire article. Having read it, I feel more comfortable with the statement Caplan was making, and am a bit amused at seeing it taken so dramatically out of context elsewhere, most likely because it’s imminently quotable taken ever-so-slightly out of context.

But reading the article as a whole, it was really the end of it that hit me. Not for its Caplan-esque quotability, but for the deep sadness knowledge brings about. Caplan says

After the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War, those who served knew that they would get the medical care they needed. A grateful nation promised them what they had earned.

Medical care that includes falling down rooms, leaking ceilings, mold, unwashed linens. Discharing our veterans with medical injuries and then losing them to followup, or flat out deny their care – that is, if we’re not re-deploying the seriously injured.

If this is how we treat our actual veterans, why do we have any illusions that we will treat the people of our country any better, by granting universal access to health care? Caplan says in his article that “[i]n the new world where each of us is a target and every American is a veteran, we must make the same promise to one another.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we have, and we do. We treat our veterans like we do the rest of the population: we offer a safety net that isn’t actually there, and hope no one actually falls and needs it.