Medical Relief for Everyone

By Joe Martinez

Are you a resident of a country that is in a desperate medical situation but happens to be unpopular with a great or not-so-great power? Do the Western activism media organizations simply not have a bureau in your country to cover the fact that somebody cut your hands off? Did some editors in an air-conditioned office bury the story about your village being blown to bits because their ignorant readership wouldn’t even know your country exists, let alone that their tax dollars funded the crime? Do you live in a country that’s at odds with, let’s say, the USA, Russia, or the UN, but your leg was just blown off by some good old American-, Russian-, French-, Chinese-, or North Korean-made ordnance? Are you a desperately poor person with cholera whose own government is run by criminals who steal international aid to fatten their army of thugs at your expense? Did an earthquake destroy your water system, leaving you drinking from puddles? Does your country happen to have no oil or resources to speak of, leaving your plight unknown to people who might want to help if only they knew of it? Are you on the run from your land with only the clothes on your back due to a conflict in which you hold neither culpability nor material interest? Does your skin have a tacky overabundance of melanin that debases you in the eyes of a world populace still clinging to racist ideologies?

If you suffer from one or more of these problems,doctors without borders chances are you might be even more screwed if it weren’t for an organization that is dedicated to the cause of helping the helpless victims of war, pestilence, famine, and unfortunate natural occurrences regardless of the status of the nation from which they come. This organization is Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), and it is proof positive that good still exists in a world rife with genocidal regimes equipped with modern weaponry and primitive minds. The charter of MSF reads as follows:

Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders or MSF) offers assistance to populations in distress, victims of natural or man-made disasters, and victims of armed conflict, without discrimination and irrespective of race, religion, creed, or political affiliation.

MSF observes strict neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance, and demands full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions.

MSF volunteers undertake to observe their professional code of ethics and to maintain complete independence from all political, economic, and religious powers.

Volunteers are aware of the risks and dangers of the missions they undertake and have no right to compensation for themselves or their beneficiaries other than that which MSF is able to afford them.

Sure, there are many organizations that will help victims of unfortunate circumstances, but all too often the help comes with strings attached or goes away when things get nasty. Those strings might be a missionary telling you that worshipping your chosen deity is bad. Those strings might indebt your government to a rich nation whose economic or foreign policy might have caused your problem in the first place. The aid agencies might pack it up when their security is threatened, leaving the recipients of aid at the hour of most dire need.

MSF workers have been beaten, kidnapped, and tortured, yet they keep coming. These heroic men and women don’t care what color your skin is, who runs your country, or what god you may worship. They only care that you are a human being, and as such are entitled to food, medical care, and dignity.

MSF not only offers aid to people desperately clinging to desperate lives, but it also publicizes the plights of people ignored by mainstream media. Each year it issues its "Top 10" list of the year's most underreported humanitarian stories, which reports on tragedies that might otherwise go unnoticed by the developed world. While Europeans might be exposed to this sort of information via their infinitely superior news sources, Americans, who are reliant on tripe such as Rupert Murdoch’s empire of yellow journalism, are often in the dark.

Unlike a nationally funded organization such as the Peace Corps, MSF offers a carrot but no stick. While it is not my intent to disparage the Peace Corps, it is quite clear that its status as a US governmental agency makes its help unpalatable and unacceptable to certain nations, leading to the rejection of aid, even if said aid is offered in the first place. If you look at the list of countries where the Peace Corps is or has been active you won’t find Iraq, Vietnam, or North Korea. Conspicuously absent are many countries that are or were in need of humanitarian aid at some point. While some might call me callous for pointing this out, this is an example of how governmental organizations fail. Despite their best intentions, governmental organizations are still stained with their governments’ other policies and misdeeds.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Serbia have all experienced aerial bombardment courtesy of the USA, resulting in the maiming and deaths of hundreds of thousands. The Soviet Union and its successor state of Russia have committed and continue to commit atrocities in Chechnya. Their disgusting behavior in Afghanistan, including the spreading of millions of so-called “butterfly mines” specifically targeting children, was criminal by any estimate.

Both of these great powers were responsible for the major proliferation of landmines around the world. These are the scourges of many third-world countries. Consider that in Cambodia alone, as recently as 2000, an average of two people were maimed by landmines EVERY DAY, even after major mine clearance efforts. In 1996 that number was eight people per day. And the USA, the self-appointed moral authority of the globe, STILL is not a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty.

The doctors and nurses of MSF are active wherever you find the victims of landmine explosions. There are many people hobbling around former battlefields on crutches due to American and Russian mines, not to mention the myriad cheap toe-poppers manufactured by China, etc. Even if it’s just your water buffalo, cow, or camel that gets blown up, it still sucks. The USA’s favorite is the “Claymore” mine. With untold millions produced, its lethality can be described as follows:

When the mine is detonated, the primary blast pattern describes an arc of 180 degrees wide by 275 yards deep to a height of 8 feet. The kill zone is a pie-shaped wedge of 60 degrees 55 yards deep, a moderately effective depth of 110 yards, and a danger zone out to 275 yards. Secondary blast effects may be felt within the remaining two 60 degree by 275 yard deep areas on either side of the kill zone. The back side of the mine is also dangerous. There is a 180 degree kill zone 18 yards behind the mine and the danger zone extends back another 110 yards.

Now that’s the stuff, eh? At least they are designed to kill and not just maim unlike so many lying in wait. For more information you can check out the site for the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. Its an ugly world, but clearing and banning these sleeping menaces would go a long way toward making it better.

Before you write this off as an anti-USA rant I implore you to first read up on the history of the 20th century. The USA is especially prone to heavy bombing of targets that can’t defend themselves very well. Simply put, big nations have done some heinous stuff to small nations and have ignored humanitarian crises by virtue of politics. In my mind, the sins of the US government are especially damning, considering our whole moral superiority complex in dealing with other sovereign nations. Deals between great powers not to interfere with each other’s spheres of influence often lead to people starving to death or receiving no aid. Proxy wars fought using lesser states as pawns also account for egregious suffering. Guess who supplied Iraq with intelligence, weaponry, and cash for their fight against Iran? You guessed it: you did if you were an American. Think about that the next time our Prevaricator in Chief, George W. Bush (a.k.a. LT. AWOL) talks about how evil Saddam is. He was just fine with previous administrations when he was “our” monster. If nothing else, the big boys are responsible for supplying the weapons for all manner of regional, civil, and extralegal conflicts.

Some might argue that the governments that refuse aid from governmental sources are at fault, but, for a glaring example, let us remember, as noted above, the USA has done immeasurable harm to millions of people worldwide, often with dubious justifications. Would you accept a helping hand from an infinitely stronger person who just beat the crap out of you or is threatening to do so? That assumes that the hand is even offered, considering that the other party may simply keep staring daggers at you from across the room because you had the unmitigated gall to defend yourself. Might a nation, for good reason, suspect the worst about the intentions of governmental entities rendering aid? Like it or not, some countries have made up their minds not to kowtow to the big boys due to brutal histories of colonialism.

The resulting vacuum must be filled by non-governmental organizations devoid of a political agenda to impose on the people they help. I won’t pretend that MSF doesn’t have a political agenda, but it has no vested interest in spying, recruiting covert operatives, proselytizing, or sabotage. MSF also lacks a religious agenda, eliminating any possible ideological taint that might deny aid within societies with a ban on religion or a state-mandated one.

Simply put, MSF is a worthy organization dedicated to alleviating the suffering of people who often have no one else to which they can turn. Please consider making a donation to help support MSF’s global medical relief missions. Never underestimate man’s inhumanity to man, or your ability to change it.

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Copyright© 2003 by Joe Martinez.

All photos: MSF.

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