The Greatest Argument Against War

On Wednesday, September

12, I was witness to the greatest argument against war the North American Left

has ever had

I’ve never liked New

York City. I’ve only gone there for the most compelling of reasons. When I

awoke to the horrifying news of the incidents there on Tuesday morning —

still occurring, unbeknownst to anyone — I already knew I would be going

again. As a certified emergency medical technician, and a radical activist

with street experience in mass casualty scenarios (through my involvement in

the little-known field called "action medical"), it wasn’t a matter of

weighing options. The only questions were how? and how soon

I have told my story in

great detail elsewhere. It isn’t a story about my own heroism. It isn’t a

story about life-threatening or life-saving adventure. I wish it were. If I’d

had any opportunity for heroism, any opportunity to save lives, that would

mean so too did thousands of others. We already know thousands of lives were

saved. My story begins at a point when there was little remaining success in

such endeavors. It is a story about tragedy.

My partner, Rachel, and I

spent most of the day Wednesday working in the decontamination area at St.

Vincent’s Trauma Center, one of the main hospitals where blast victims and

injured rescuers had been and were being taken. We had the opportunity to meet

dozens of emergency workers, and treated several of them for minor injuries

and contamination resulting from their participation in this most massive of

rescue operations.

What we did not see is even

more depressing. Our job was to strip and scrub victims when they were first

brought in, so the soot they’d arrive covered in would not contaminate the

rest of the hospital., then deliver them to the ER. Unfortunately, despite

rumors (even over official channels), these rescued victims simply weren’t

showing up. While the rest of the world was hoping and praying more rescues

would be made, it was becoming ominously obvious at St. Vincent’s that there

would quite simply be few more survivors, if any.

In all, I would meet and

talk to dozens of EMTs, hospital staff, firefighters, and other emergency

workers. There was by now more exhaustion than dust in the air. Both tasted

identical. One doctor who sat down near us was literally surprised by how it

felt to actually sit down. It had been 24 hours, he announced, since he hadn’t

had his full weight on his feet. One nurse complained that her feet were so

sore she was having trouble standing, much less walking — I could only


What I didn’t hear, at all,

were emergency workers of any kind clamoring for retaliation or war. In fact,

it occurs to me that one of the only groups of people in this country which

isn’t demanding vengeance are the very people tasked with taking care of

survivors, and recovering the thousands of bodies left in the mess.

Among rescue and medical

personnel in New York, the focus was on saving lives, not on taking more. This

is certainly due in part to the necessity of staying focused on the job at

hand, even during much-needed breaks. However, I think this restraint is also

being shown because few people involved in the rescue efforts can bring

themselves to wish upon others what they are currently going through.

That night, we milled around

for a while, checking in with some EMTs to see how they were holding up. We

actually engaged in a very normal, generic medical conversation with one EMT.

Anything for a distraction…

It was during such a

conversation that Senator Chuck Schumer passed by us while we sat on the steps

to the ER. He stopped and turned to us. "I know what you’ve all been doing,"

he said. "You’re all heroes." Four or five of us just stared back at him. I’m

not sure about our newfound friends, but Rachel, Meredith and I didn’t feel

like heroes. It was odd to be referred to as such. We didn’t know what to say.

No one spoke. He didn’t seem to mind. He turned and left.

After a little discussion,

and a few cups of coffee handed over by smiling volunteers, we decided to go

deeper into the security zones with us.  We headed down on foot. We wouldn’t

need to consult a map — smoke still rising skyward marked our heading for us.

It was well over a mile to

Ground Zero. Halfway there, a police officer put us in a DPW truck and told

the drivers to deliver us to the site. I was no longer surprised that, for

this moment in time, not only were cops uninterested in bashing my head, they

would go out of their way to help us try to be helpful. The oddities were

piling up with the rubble. Many of them were welcome.

What we found at The Site

was an incredible scene. A light grey ash was met by reflections and glares of

floodlights overhead, giving every still surface the appearance of having been

lightly snowed upon. Where water from fire hoses or water main leaks had come

in contact with this substance, it created small pools that resembled slush. I

almost shivered by association, but alas we had had beautiful weather all day,

and it remained quite warm even after dark. In fact, it felt oddly warmer near

the site than it had at the hospital.

Here the National Guard

presence was quite obvious. We hadn’t seen many Guardsmen before arriving at

The Site. After asking around, we made our way to a place where dozens of

ambulances were stationed in front of a school building. Here again we had the

sense of being useless. Not because we weren’t official or connected or

skilled enough to help — but because there was simply nothing for EMS to do.

Few if any survivors were being recovered. The scene was a grim convention of

chauffeurs awaiting passengers who were simply not going to arrive.

It was at The Site that the

extent of this tragedy finally began to settle in on me. Until then, as for

most people in the country and around the world, this monumental event had

been a story, just like any other major piece of news. Granted, I had come all

this way, expecting to experience the tragedy for myself, but it was difficult

to accept that out of so many thousands of people known to have been in or

around the buildings, so few were going to emerge. EMS workers milled about

everywhere, attempting to ignore the fact that we were being ignored by those

excavating the site, who simply didn’t require our specialized assistance.

Fire crews marched into the

misty air floating over the rubble, toward the flood lights and away from us.

I wanted to follow them, but there was a limit to where my EMT credentials

would allow me access. Most of what they were pulling out was concrete. That

which was organic was far more likely to be a corpse or a body part than a

living human being.

One of the things I noticed

about Ground Zero was that pretty much the only people not wearing respirators

or masks of some kind were the firefighters themselves. Nearly all EMS,

National Guard and police personnel were covering their faces for protection

from the dust. It was no secret that all sorts of horrible chemicals and

substances were floating around in all that particulate debris. Yet almost

none of the firefighters seemed to be wearing respiratory protection.

After thinking long and hard

about that, I decided it might well be a demonstration of solidarity for their

brethren trapped below. All day one got the impression that, for the

firefighters, the sense of urgency was higher than for most everyone else.

They all knew people buried beneath the rubble. Additionally, they identified

with them very strongly. It reminded me of the bond among action medics, and

the way I’ve seen my fellow action medics behave in the streets when medics

were injured or in trouble.

We wandered into the command

center — the school cafeteria — and made one last attempt to get involved

through official channels. There the EMS dispatch officer expressed more

gratitude, but explained that "freelance EMS people" were being told to go

home. He saw our St. Vincent’s security passes and inquired about the status

there. I knew he didn’t want to know "how many" patients were being brought

in, like everyone else did. He knew that number all too well. We just told him

St. Vincent’s was running smoothly, and he seemed glad to hear it.

I sat down at a table, and

noticed a piece of paper with a color photo attached to it. The picture was of

a young woman in her early twenties. It had her name and other identifying

information on it. Her family had managed to pass it along this far. She was

missing. And like everyone else who was missing, she was presumed dead.

We didn’t want to leave New

York, but staying there had become too painful for me. Being unable to help

kept me acutely aware of just how terrible this tragedy was. I didn’t think I

could stand it anymore.

The drive home was as fast

as the drive down. It was more silent, though. We alternated between listening

to the news — which we’d hardly done all day — and listening to music CDs. A

million thoughts stewed around in my head. It felt good to have been able to

do something, but in context, it seemed we’d done almost nothing at all. For

medics, there simply wasn’t enough to be done.

We listened to irate voices

on the news, trying to reconcile the attitudes of those calling for vengeful

murder, with those rescue workers struggling for life. This new wave of

bloodlust, it occurred to me, is more a result of feeling helpless, than of

anything rational or reasonable.

When we cry out for

violence, we are indeed asking our leaders to do to other civilians and rescue

workers precisely what has happened to us here. Let us use great caution and

prudence in our solutions to this horror. We owe that to our counterparts the

world over — people who by no means deserve to suffer the way we are now.

I think most people, having

seen what I just have, would be hesitant to call for an expansion of this

horror. Our country’s first-hand experience with the reality of warlike

violence will prove, in the end, our best leverage against engaging in yet

another senseless bloodbath. Now that we have felt the pain our nation has

continually and relentlessly dealt other nations, we have a unique opportunity

to learn the lessons of the images and ravages of war even before we start.

[Brian Dominick is a street

first aid instructor and an active street medic, affiliated with the NorthEast

Action Medics Association (NEAMA) and the Radical Emergency Squad (RESQ).

Besides being a medic, Brian is a political commentator, a website

developer/editor for ZNet (www.zmag.org),

and a community activist.]





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