Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The Price of Peace
The amount of logistics it took to set up the Navy clinic was mindboggling.
The Navy had to find a site--actually two sites, one for the surgical-screening clinic and one for the medical clinic. This second site needed to be leveled, and then they laid down a bunch of rocks so the area wouldn't be so prone to muddiness. They set up dozens of tents, and some of them, like the dental tent, needed a power source. Then there was all the equipment, food, medicine, and supplies that needed to be brought in on smaller boats from the USNS Comfort. Communication between the First World environment of the ship and the Third World environment of Haiti was also tricky. And then, of course, the possibility that Hurricane Irene would strike Haiti threw a huge wrench into the proceedings. Everything had to be taken down, and the ship left for a couple days. When it returned, everything had to be set up again. To accomplish all of this, the Navy used its own people and also contracted with others.
Observing some of this arduous preparation, I commented to a soldier (the Army and the Air Force were involved too), "Now, I have some idea of what it's like to go to war."
The soldier shook his head and said, "This is harder than going to war."
I was amazed when I heard this but upon reflection, it made sense. The military's typical mission is fighting wars. It's what they are used to. In this case, the Navy was having to work with all of these NGO's and to a lesser extent, the Haitian government to implement this mission. They didn't have the control of their environment that they are used to. But all of this collaboration was the point: the mission was classified as a training mission, in which the Navy would learn to successfully work with a number of different organizations, as frustrating and difficult as that can be.
My first reaction to his statement, however, was a swirl of thoughts and quotes: the constructive process is a lot harder and takes longer than the destructive process; what we need is a moral equivalent of war; it's easier to run an authoritarian organization than a democratic one; if you want peace, work for justice.
And yes, justice is hard and expensive, but really only in the short run. When people are treated fairly, when they have enough food to eat, clean water, adequate shelter, medical care, education, safety--all the things we need for life--war isn't as great a possibility. To achieve this state of justice takes a lot of messy, time-consuming work.
But it's worth it, don't you think?