P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 115
19th March 2006
I. 'The Dilemma of 'Non-Violence'' by Nathan Segars
II. 'Dialectic of the One and the Many and 'Radical Constructivism'' by Herman
III. 'Letter from Iraq' by Jon Kerstetter, MD
IV. 'The Silver Lining' by Susan Pye Nordell
The philosophers Heraclitus and Hegel are both notable for emphasizing the way
that concepts have a curious tendency to turn into their opposites. Ample
evidence for this observation can be found in the present issue.
Dr Nathan Segars from the Heritage Christian University Alabama raises a
philosophical question about so-called 'non-violent' resistance such as that
conducted by the civil rights movement in America in the 60's, under the
leadership of Martin Luther King. Is violence, either physical or psychological
unavoidable? Is the idea of a totally non-violent strategy even conceivable?
Professor Herman Pietersen in his response to Nick Redfern's article 'A Brief
Outline of Radical Constructivism' (Philosophy Pathways Issue 112) questions
whether proponents of 'radical constructivism' are guilty of failing to apply
their constructivist view of knowledge to their own position, arguing that
radical constructivism cannot, consistently with its own principles, present
itself as the only valid approach to knowledge.
Jon Kerstetter is a Pathways student who has just finished a two year tour of
duty as Flight Surgeon with the US forces in Iraq. Whatever one's views about
the war, his account of the experience of men and women in the Medical Corps is
a moving reminder of human resourcefulness and courage in the face of adversity.
Susan Pye Nordell is another Pathways student, taking the Philosophy of
Language program. Her poetic reflections on the confusing nature of metaphor
will strike a chord with anyone who has ever stopped to puzzle over how words
designed for one use can come to mean something apparently totally different.
I. 'THE DILEMMA OF 'NON-VIOLENCE'' BY NATHAN SEGARS
The efforts in the United States toward righting the wrongs performed by the
privileged upon the oppressed, has had a history both famous and infamous. The
struggle has had its moments of joy and triumph. That said, social justice has
not come so far as one might have hoped. For the purposes of this paper,
attention is given to the inequalities between black and white America. The
economic realities are undeniable. The political barriers are still in place.
Educational opportunity continues to be elusive for African-American families.
One's 'blackness' remains a factor to the average American psyche.
In so many years shouldn't we expect more? Are the means by which social
injustice has been confronted the right tools for the job? If so, are they
being used in a manner fitting their function? In this paper, I will be
addressing the latter of these questions. It is my contention that there has
been much confusion about just what the chosen methods of bringing social
justice are all about. Further, if this confusion could be cleared up, I expect
there might be a greater hesitancy in enjoining those methods. I do not intend
to criticize the project of condemning racial inequality as it has most often
been advanced. I only wish to expose the nature of that project so that a fair
assessment is available for those who endorse it. My proposal is to show
violence to be a necessary part of non-violent resistance, the popular effort
to peacefully relieve racial injustice.
There have been various positions on the prospect of ending white dominance
over blacks. As we will examine non-violent resistance as the most popular
American effort to overturn racial injustice, I turn to the ideas of Martin
Luther King, Jr. King was influenced by the teaching and practices of Mohandas
Gandhi in his work for civil rights in America. The ruling principles behind
Gandhi's work in India and South Africa were the Hindu ideal of ahimsa and the
concept of satyagraha. Ahimsa may be generally understood as the respect for
all life. Satyagraha literally means 'holding to truth,' but as an activity it
is resistance of the present order with the principle of ahimsa in mind for the
sake of positive social results. The lessons learned from Gandhi's non-violent
struggles with the British government lent a great deal of optimism and
momentum to the vision of King and others in America. Non-violence in both
protests and marches became an identifying mark of the civil rights movement.
Volunteers for the cause were schooled in the doctrine of non-violent
resistance. They were taught how to respond to force peacefully. They were
taught that this type of resistance would ultimately overcome the powers of
But how peaceful was this non-violent resistance? Is 'non-violent resistance' a
possibility at all? The language of King leaves one to wonder. There is an
ambivalence in how the movement in America was presented. King described the
non-violent demonstrations as an intentional move 'to create a situation...
crisis-packed.' He talks of progress made by the movement as the result of
'non-violent pressure.' He concedes that 'freedom is never voluntarily given
by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.' The tension in these
phrases comes from the mixing of language that suggests both aggression and
non-aggression. It suggests something that is at the same time forceful and
peaceful. The movement was designed to force conciliation of some sort from the
oppressive ruling culture. While there was always strict caution placed on
inciting violence, the quest for freedom seems laced with implications of at
least a subtle form of violence.
But is this a fair reading? Are we being unjust in squeezing out a rare drop or
two of latent force and connecting it with violence? Does this really indicate
that force lay at the source of the civil rights movement? Clearly this sounds
foreign to ears that have grown accustomed to descriptions of non-violent
protests and the stories of volunteers subjected to police cruelty for their
peaceful demonstrations. Perhaps, though, we should consider a broader notion
of 'violence' than the common notion associated only with physical harm. If
there is a more appropriate way to think about violence, it may apply to the
methods used in non-violent resistance.
To assist us along these lines I turn to the work of Howard McGary and his
distinction between physical and psychological violence. We are quite adept
at recognizing physical violence when we see it, but psychological violence
often fails to register as strongly in our minds. McGary reminds us that
violence may have other forms that are just as damaging.
To do violence to someone is to injure that person, but
persons can be injured in two basic ways: we can injure
someone by physically abusing that person and we can injure
someone by causing that person's psychological distress....
Psychological violence often results from the misuse of
others through the manipulation of their emotions and
The context of McGary's explanation of psychological violence is its abundant
use in marginalizing people along racial lines. While physical violence has
certainly been a part of African-American history, many suggest that it is the
psychological violence that has done more damage over the years.
It can safely be assumed that there is such a thing as psychological violence.
The question is whether it can be fairly associated with the non-violent
teaching of King and others. Could the methods of civil resistance have
psychologically violent effects on the oppressive culture to which it responds?
I believe the answer is 'yes.' My justification for this conclusion calls on the
essentially violent nature of self-defense.
It is ironic, given our present discussion, that McGary's work in declaring the
seriousness of psychological violence as compared to physical violence is placed
in the context of self-defense. His concern is to show that self-defense by
African-Americans is a legitimate, warranted response to the psychological
violence found in the prevalent denial of human rights. What is most
important to us from his argument is the open assumption that self-defense is a
kind of violence. If self-defense may come in the form of physical violence,
it can just as certainly come in the form of psychological violence. Where a
physical response to a threat might be ineffective, it is likely that
psychological self-defense would be opted for to prevent further harm from an
I want to reiterate my earlier disclaimer that however psychologically violent
we may find King's program to have been, I am not suggesting in the least that
it met the level of violence used by the oppressive white culture. My
contention is only that a measure of violence is necessary to the non-violent
resistance taught by King and others, even in self-defense. While McGary argues
that a violent response in self-defense is morally permissible, I leave that
issue to others.
How, then, may the self-defense of King's resistance be seen as violent? What
harm could be said to be brought upon others by non-violent resistance? What
effect did marches and demonstrations have on the oppressive culture in a
psychologically violent way? The answers to these questions may come from
looking into the intention of non-violent resistance is in its particular
Take for example a sit-in at a lunch counter that refuses to serve blacks in
the same manner as whites. What's the purpose of the sit-in? The goal is to
change the policy of the establishment or at least thrust the unjust policy
into the public eye. In either case, psychological force is clearly in play. If
the owners are put under enough pressure by the demonstrators and the negative
attention brought by them, whatever the outcome may be, psychological distress
is placed on those owners. If the example is changed to a higher profile
exercise of non-violent resistance, the level of psychological pressure also
rises. This being the case, when non-violent resistance is put on a national
stage, the psychological force placed on government officials and citizens,
even those on the periphery, could be called an act of violence. Again, it
might not reach the level of violence motivating the oppressed demonstrators,
but it is a clear instance of violence.
The bottom line for King is that his movement purposefully used psychological
force as a means of deliverance from oppression. Next to the social structures
he was concerned to cast off, his acts were decidedly mild and even peaceful.
As a method of self-defense against a daily burden of racial discrimination
however, non-violent resistance is in reality nothing more than a creative form
of protective, psychological violence.
There are two objections I should consider before closing. One is the objection
that the psychological pressure of non-violent resistance does not actually
constitute harm in a real sense. The second is not actually an objection, but
rather an offer of a true non-violent alternative to overcoming racial division
through educational discourse. In either case, I believe total avoidance of
violence to be too optimistic.
The first objection admits psychological pressure as a part of the strategy of
non-violence, but denies that it rises to the level of a true harm. It may be
true that from the viewpoint of the oppressed there is not much for the
oppressors to complain about in giving up whatever hold they have on a
suffering people. Yielding the former dominance of white culture in the
workplace does not threaten the human rights of whites in the way the presence
of that dominance has threatened the human rights of blacks. However, this does
not mean that some real loss does not accompany that change. Very real harms,
both tangible and intangible, are made by white culture in allowing equality
and just treatment for others. In the category of tangible things, equal
opportunity means that white job seekers and college applicants will encounter
lower chances of being hired or accepted than before. Intangibly, a sense of
losing hold of a superior position in society can have deep effects.
The second objection presents an option that does not carry the psychological
harms of non-violent resistance. As a representative of this option, I look to
a suggestion by Robert Gooding-Williams. His proposal is a multicultural,
'race conscious' education that will enable students to interact and listen to
other perspectives, ultimately changing the dominating social structure into
one that is more aware and sensitive to multiple cultures. The goal is a
blending of cultures that follows from the natural progression of discourse
rather than revolutionary upheaval and violence.
Acquiring a know-how and a feel for cross-cultural
hermeneutical conversation is likely to reinforce a
student's inclination to understand and learn from the
self-interpretations of cultural 'others...' In the case
of multicultural education, one cultivates a skill which is
motivationally conducive to the sort of mutual understanding
that is critical to the flourishing of deliberative
democracy in a multicultural society.
By this means, people are to come to a recognition of the cultures around them
and a deeper recognition of their own culture as a part of the resultant blend
of cultures in a community.
This is a beautiful picture of democratic society. But as with most beautiful
pictures, it is also quite naive. The social reality of our situation,
democratic or not, stands in the way. In the first place, the amount of time
necessary to produce a society that fully recognizes multiple cultures and
their value in this manner would be horrible to endure. King was firm in his
claim that we had waited too long, endured too much. The slow process of
multicultural education, even if it were successful, would have to achieve its
end student by student, year by year. It would have to overcome counter
influences from the generations of status quo that would vilify such an
education. It is a long and painful history to be surmounted by such a
methodical and tenuous process.
Secondly, the absence of violence in some form from such a discourse is not
only unlikely, but perhaps even a hindrance to such a project. Can we really
expect that such vastly different cultures can be put in such a vulnerable
setting and not encounter some moment of offense? Ours may be too painful a
history to expect so benign a resolution.
Additionally, Judith Butler has a further point to make on
the prospect of this beautiful picture of cultural
blending. One of the reasons multicultural conversation
often seems so difficult is that it often turns on such
moments, ones that can quickly become paralyzing, tempting
the 'rational' speaker back into his or her own linguistic
stable... But this break can operate as a violent
inauguration of a new understanding as well, one that must
break with dialogue in order to begin it again. Importing
this sort of violence into the hermeneutic scheme may well
allow us to develop a view that prizes the 'we' as a
condition and effect of dialogue without sacrificing the
mobilizing force of difference.
That is, violence seems to be an unavoidable part of the discourse of
multicultural recognition. It may be a lower lever of violence than that
experienced by oppressed people, but it is violence nonetheless.
Recall the question I said would provide the impetus for this essay: Are the
means by which social injustice is confronted in our society being used in a
way that fits their function? I believe we have found the answer to that
question to be 'no.' The assumption that a nation with such a violent past in
regard to racial discrimination can be brought to task through non-violent
means is rather Polly Anna-ish. Further, many who have worked most effectively
for civil rights and stumped for such non-violent means have in reality made
use of violence to overcome violence.
This leaves those who endorse non-violent resistance with a dilemma. On one
side is the recognition that violence is part and parcel with the struggle for
racial equality. As intimated earlier I make no judgments about whether that's
a good or bad thing. I only suggest that those who are truly interested in
non-violence will probably not be so enthusiastic to sign on. On the other side
is a rejection of all violence, 'non-violent' resistance included. The problem
with this side is that it does not appear to offer any real hope of ending
injustice at all. If for the sake of avoiding violence we shun the former
efforts of equalizing black and white culture, we may have put ourselves in the
position of just having to live in a world where black culture is exploited and
repressed. Perhaps the only course for the second option is to wait for those
not opposed to violence to fight the battle instead. Whatever route is taken,
it seems that violence must be relied upon in one form or another to bring the
resultant healing that has been the desire of so many for so long.
1. I will be avoiding here the methodologies of assimilation and emigration as
they are neither the popularly adopted means nor concerned for a true
resolution to oppression. Nevertheless, I would argue that the common feature
of violence is also part of these movements.
2. For a helpful overview of the major strains of thought behind movements
toward resolving issues between black and white culture, cf. Cornel West
Prophecy Deliverance! (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), pp
69-91. The position of non-violent civil resistance could be motivated by
either the 'marginal tradition' or 'humanist tradition' he speaks of.
3. Ahimsa is also associated with other Eastern religions such as Jainism and
4. Martin Luther King, Jr. 'Letter from Birmingham Jail,' in Expanding
Philosophical Horizons, Max O. Hallman, ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing,
1995), p 251.
7. This is found in Howard McGary, 'Psychological Violence, Physical Violence,
and Racial Oppression,' in Reflections: An Anthology of African-American
Philosophy, James A. Montmarquet and William H. Hardy, eds. (Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth Publishing, 2000). This distinction is certainly no discovery of
McGary's, but it is his use of that distinction which makes it especially
interesting to this discussion.
8. Ibid. p 210.
9. Ibid. p 212.
10. Ibid. pp 211ff.
11. Robert Gooding-Williams, 'Race, Multiculturalism and Democracy' in Race,
Robert Bernasconi, ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001).
12. Ibid. p 249.
13. Ibid. pp 249-50, his italics.
14. King, p 251.
15. Judith Butler, 'A Reply to Robert Gooding-Williams' in Bernasconi, p 264.
16. I don't find this to be a surprising discovery given what we find among the
great minds of early work toward conciliation in this country. Such variant
outlooks on the prospects of black culture in America as W. E. B. Dubois and
Booker T. Washington, for all their disagreement, agreed on this point ‚ at
least in practice: Whatever true gains African-Americans make in this society,
it will be made by taking it for themselves. Even though Dubois and especially
Washington tended to frame the race situation as a battle of black culture with
itself, the oppressive work of white culture is what made that internal battle
the difficult fight that it is. Recognizing how hard a task it would be to
avoid violence in overcoming racial injustice, one can appreciate the honesty
of those like Malcolm X. Though delivered in brash tones, his assessment
recalls the realization of Nietzsche that power and position are only obtained
by some means of exercising power. If something is forcibly taken from you,
forcible means are the only recourse to getting it back, whatever subtle form
of force you may choose.
(c) Nathan Segars 2006
II. 'DIALECTIC OF THE ONE AND THE MANY AND 'RADICAL CONSTRUCTIVISM'' BY HERMAN
In his article in Philosophy Pathways (2005), Issue 112, Nick Redfern
introduces the 'radical constructivism' of the psychologist Ernst von
Glasersfeld as an approach that purportedly goes beyond or avoids the dialectic
of the One and the Many (Pietersen, Philosophy Pathways, 2005, Issue 111).
According to Redfern there is:
'...no reason why philosophy should be confined to these
opposing positions, or why we should carry on this
dialogue. In this essay I outline Ernst von Glasersfeld's
Radical Constructivism as a theory of knowing that does not
conform to Pietersen's description of the conversation of
philosophy. It is to be distinguished from both realism and
solipsism, and offers the possibility of moving beyond an
exhausting and exhausted debate'.
Since his paper is largely aimed at introducing the constructivist theory of
Glasersfeld to Philosophy Pathways readership, and does not otherwise engage
with my discussion of Rorty's thought, the present essay will briefly consider
aspects of the dialectic of the One and the Many, in relation to Redfern's
comments and Glasersfeld's 'Radical Constructivism'.
In my view, Redfern is wrong to think that Glasersfeld's Radical Constructivism
(or any other constructivism) does not fit into, and that one can get 'beyond',
the Dialectic of the One and the Many, or, phrased differently, 'beyond' the
dynamic interplay of ongoing objectivist and subjectivist tendencies in human
thought. After two and a half millennia of this continuing dialectic, a choice
for something called 'post-epistemology' or 'beyond epistemology' (Redfern,
2005), as a sort of replacement theory of knowledge, is not a viable option,
Glasersfeld, in his 'Knowing without metaphysics: Aspects of the radical
constructivist position' (1991), is concerned with the way in which (on the
assumption of a radical uncertainty about the existence of a world separate
from the thinking subject) human cognition works in interaction with others
thinking subjects, and also with 'the construction of experiential reality'.
For this purpose he outlines key principles of his own particular version of
constructivism, in sympathy with the Neo-Pragmatism of Richard Rorty (see von
Glasersfeld, 1991: p12). Interestingly, and contrary to his otherwise strong
claim for Radical Constructivism, Glasersfeld also inserts the following
'Radical Constructivism merely provides a different way of
thinking and its values will depend mainly on its
usefulness in our experiential world...' (Glasersfeld,
My own, philosophical, approach (see, for instance, Pietersen 2003a and 2003b)
acknowledges the presence of a metaphysical or meta-theoretical content in
human thought, in contrast to Glasersfeld, who dismisses metaphysics -- which
he seems to equate with an outdated pre-Kantian ontology -- out of hand (1991:
p13). In this regard a problem with subjectivist thought (e.g., 'social
constructivism') is that, though it has value as one among a number of
archetypal knowledge perspectives, it continues to be plagued by a
meta-theoretical inconsistency. It denies metaphysics yet at the same time
propounds its own foundational idea(s) or guiding principle(s) (that all
knowledge is a 'social construction' or 'linguistic awareness').
Constructivism, like any other approach to knowledge, therefore has a
metaphysical component (see Pietersen, 2003a and 2003b for a discussion of
different approaches to metaphysics). Furthermore, constructivism is also,
internally, subject to a reciprocal interplay of the One (basic pragmatist/
constructivist principles or 'givens') and the Many (different constructivist
theories and models for research in different fields).
In a post-Kuhnian (and, one should add, post-Berger and Luckmann) world of
thought, the family of constructivist approaches to knowledge has taken up its
own intellectual space, as an alternate source of ways of making sense of
things. True to its overall grounding in a subjectivist (pragmatist) worldview
it cannot (and does not -- as even Glasersfeld, 1991, p13, by implication
acknowledges) privilege any discourse -- including (it should be said) its own
paradigmatic view of knowledge as inter-subjective agreement. Yet, the problem
for the wider community of thinkers and scholars is that by and large the
pragmatist/ constructivist literature persists in violating its own premise (of
non-privileging thought) and exhaustingly keeps on carping about the inadequacy
of foundationalism (Platonism), and the supposed superiority of a social
constructivist approach to knowledge. This is also characteristic of
Glasersfeld's (1991) exposition.
Interested readers should note that Glasersfeld's 'Radical Constructivism' is
one variant (influenced in the main by Piaget' experimental psychology of
thinking) in a range of different constructionist approaches, such as Gergen
and Gergen's 'social constructionism'; Jorgenson's 'co-constructionism';
Soderqvist's 'embodied constructionism' and Steier's 'ecological
constructionism' (see Steier, 1991, p9). The debate sparked off by Kuhn's own
historicizing social psychological theory of scientific knowledge development,
has, arguably, run its course and must surely make further attacks on a naive
or lay person's conception of knowledge as a strictly 'objective'
representation of an external reality, unnecessary. A fallibilist view of
knowledge is now common among thinking people, scholars and scientists. The
trend is toward epistemological moderation in knowledge endeavours. However,
this does not imply a resolution of the objectivist-subjectivist bifurcation,
(and the dialectic of the One and the Many) in human thought. Epistemological
tensions continue, even within the same meta-theoretical approach (see, for
instance, Pietersen, 2003c for a discussion of differences between leading
figures in the Psychoanalytic Movement, who otherwise share the same
meta-approach to knowledge of the psyche).
To return to my article in Philosophy Pathways, Issue 111, Redfern seems to
have missed the point that my remarks about philosophies of the One and of the
Many were intended as a note of caution to thinkers to avoid the excesses of
both a strict foundationalism (One, immutable, once-for-all approaches to
truth) and a strict voluntarism or anti-foundationalism (relativism,
philosophies of the Many). My own immersion over the years in the history of
philosophy in particular, has convinced me that ancient intellectual divisions
(such as between Empiricism and Rationalism, episteme and doxa) have not been,
and will most likely not in the foreseeable future be, resolved or superseded.
It still provides distinctive, root positions in the ongoing philosophical
In this regard it would, for instance, be foolish to declare philosophy to be
obsolete -- as thinkers (and I am not here referring to Redfern) coming from
one or more of the special sciences are sometimes inclined to do. Unfortunately
many scholars and scientists (physical as well as human scientists) who become
interested in a philosophical level of discourse, do not take proper cognisance
of the history of philosophy, and the works of at least its more famous figures,
in order to obtain what will prove to be most valuable insights into its
development and ongoing concerns. Instead, there is a tendency to uncritically
rely on quotable philosophical 'truths' and extracts, usually picked up in the
works of one or the other contemporary commentator, or borrowed out of context
from a modern luminary such as Richard Rorty or Thomas Kuhn.
Lastly, with reference to the categories of the One and the Many, Redfern
concludes with the statement that:
'It is an antiquated debate, but unfortunately one that
shows no signs of flagging' (Redfern, 2005).
In view of my comments above, I suggest that it would be well worth his trouble
to ponder the continued existence of this dialectic. Far from being a closed
issue, as Redfern prefers to think of it, it is actually a substantive, if not
central, matter in human thought that is in need of explanation -- not mere
Glasersfeld, E. von (1991) 'Knowing without metaphysics: aspects of the radical
constructivist position', in F. Steier (ed.) Research and Reflexivity. London:
Hall, D L (1994) Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet of the New Pragmatism, New
York: State University of New York Press
Pietersen, HJ (2003a) 'A review of metaphysics: Part I', The Examined Life,
Vol. 4, (14) [http://examinedlifejournal.com]
Pietersen, H.J (2003b) 'A review of metaphysics: Part II', The Examined Life,
Vol. 4 (15)
Pietersen, H.J (2003c) 'Jung, Freud, Rank, Adler: Narrators of the psyche in
meta-perspective', The Examined Life, Vol. 4 (13)
Pietersen, H.J (2005) 'Critical commentary on Richard Rorty's thought',
Philosophy Pathways, Issue 111
Redfern, N (2005) 'A brief outline of Radical Constructivism', Philosophy
Pathways, Issue 112
Steier, F (1991) 'Introduction: Research as Self-Reflexivity, Self-Reflexivity
as Social Process', in F. Steier (ed.) Research and Reflexivity. London: Sage:
(c) Herman J Pietersen 2005
III. 'LETTER FROM IRAQ' BY JON KERSTETTER, MD
[Image: http://www.philosophypathways.com/images/kerstetter.jpg ]
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Final greetings from the theater:
I just wanted to send this final letter of greeting from me to you who have
been so faithful in your support. This artistic rendering [image] is a hospital
ship from WWII. The artist has taken great care at capturing the spirit of what
it is the Army Medical Corps does. In its finest hour, our professionals are
dedicated to one task -- that of caring for the wounded, the injured and the
sick. Ours is a mission of restoring people back to wellness and back to a
condition of being able to serve again. We do it under all kinds of conditions
of austerity and have to maintain a 'can do' attitude in order to accomplish
In my service here in Operation Iraqi Freedom I have been privileged to have
served with some of Americas and Coalition Forces finest officers and enlisted
and I trust that my service has been likewise notable. So many of those I have
met in the theater of war have been the recipient of some of the best medical
care in the world. Those have included our American and Coalition fighting
forces, Iraqi citizens, including women and children, Iraqi soldiers --
including those who were wounded in direct attacks against our forces and other
foreign nationals. All of those have been treated with the highest standards of
medical care. Many have been given a second chance at life. Many others have
been returned to home with a permanent disability -- but have indeed been
returned with the ability to carry on in meaningful work and to live above
their circumstances. That is not to minimize any lifelong disability. War
should never be minimized nor forgotten in terms of the cost of human life and
human disability. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have sacrificed
in service in the armed forces.
In all of the nearly two years in mobilization, I have seen so many cases of
courage, heroism, service and sacrifice that I cannot recount them all. I
cannot begin to tell you of the countless long hours that our men and women
work and serve. I have been so proud to have served with them.
I have debated with myself whether to write these next few lines but I think I
shall since the scene I will describe is so powerful a statement of what we do
in the Medical Corps. In view of all the public misinformation in the press, I
think it is important for you to know how much we do and how much is sacrificed
During my first tour of duty in Baghdad, I had the occasion of being in our
Combat Support Hospital with the one of our Generals from the CJTF7
Headquarters. We were visiting wounded solders in the Intensive Care Unit in
the hospital. One particular young American infantryman had sustained a
critical head injury in the midst of battle. His injuries were of the nature
that were inoperable in spite of the surgeons' best efforts.
As we visited him at his bedside I simply held his head and shoulder as a
father would do for a young son in comforting him from any injury. The General
and I prayed for him and for his family. Shortly after, he died of injuries
sustained in battle. I do not remember his name. But I do remember him and that
he was comforted in his time of greatest need -- and that he was not alone or
forgotten. I often remember him and those few quiet moments of solace when it
seemed to me that the entire war stopped right there in that room -- to let
him know that we would remember him and the sacrifice he gave for us.
I regret not being able to talk to his mother and father to let them know that
we were there for him. But, I suspect somehow, that they know and trust that he
was cared for and comforted. I shall never forget him and his sacrifice. He is
to me, the epitome of the Unknown Soldier -- that fallen comrade who has done
his duty, his service, his mission and has given his final sacrifice as a
professional soldier -- all without the fanfare of public light. This is the
soldier who faces the battle with all his human strengths and human weaknesses
and at the end of the day, holds his head high with the personal dignity and
pride that comes from being a professional soldier in battle.
May God bless him and his family. And may we all aspire to dedicate ourselves
to our mission -- whatever it may be and wherever it may take us. Let us not be
torn in our resolve as Americans to be united in our cause and in our faith
which has brought us so far. As we seek the direction of our nation and our
families, let us strive to maintain our freedoms, our peace and our faith.
Let me close this letter from the field with the words of my favorite
statesman, Abraham Lincoln, as he gave the shortest Inaugural address in
history -- his second given to the nation and within the context of civil war.
'With malice toward none, with charity for all, with
firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let
us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the
nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the
battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which
may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among
ourselves and with all nations.'
May God Bless,
Jon R Kerstetter, MD, MS, FS
Major, Medical Corps
Aviation Task Force
3/126 Aviation Bn
U.S. 3rd Army
(c) Jon Kerstetter 2006
IV. 'THE SILVER LINING' BY SUSAN PYE NORDELL
I got to stop seeing things so graphically.
If I jump in the sea to swim out to a new
proposal being floated, it's pretty clear
I'll never find my way out of here.
I can see that proposal floating along,
plashing gently, bobbing in the shift of waves,
gentle because it's a big proposal, very sturdy,
wider than a house that doesn't lurch or pitch,
a flat and massive new proposal.
What I want is to swim out there, hop on,
and sail away on it like a life raft, out
to fleets of new proposals waiting out at sea.
I mustn't miss the boat.
No wonder nobody understands me.
Long ago I disconnected trying endlessly
to figure out why people thought
it would encourage me to tell me every cloud
has a silver lining. There it is:
a graceful cloud aloft in a sky blue arc,
dragged down by a heavy silver lining.
That's encouraging? Makes no sense.
It must be nice to be a cloud, toddling along,
scudding across the sky. I think I want to be a cloud
without the weighty metal lining.
God! I was confused!
But still, I'd like to be a cloud, and when I'm overfull
down I'll come, wet like juice, noisy, sloshing,
rain, water, sluicing below wherever I want.
What a lot of fun it will be.
What were people trying to say?
I'm not too sure I want to know.
I've never liked the looks of this place.
I'm going to jump in the sea
and when I make it out to that new proposal
rocking quietly, nice and easy,
I'll climb on board and sail to the south
until I rise in the sky and become a cloud.
And one day when you're on a picnic,
Boom! Splash! I'll rain straight down on top of you.
Better watch out. That'll be me
letting loose the silver lining. Here it comes!
Get out of the way! Splooosh! I caught you.
Must be careful. I don't want to miss the boat.
(c) Susan Pye Nordell 2005
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