Sitting In Offices vs. Working In Warzones

Tom Ricks, on Kimberly Dozier: “The more I hear from Kimberly Dozier of CBS, the more impressed I am. This is from her commencement address at Wellesley College. She is talking about being hit by a car bomb a few years ago in Baghdad:

Now I was lying there on the ground, didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’d lost most of my blood, I had shrapnel to the brain, both eardrums were blown out, both femurs shattered and there was burning shrapnel studded in my legs from my hips to my ankles.

Now they say your true nature is revealed at a time like that. I immediately started alternately asking questions… and then a bit later, bossing my poor besieged rescuers around. I’m O positive. I have extra bandages. They are right here. Do you need them? You don’t need them. Is my helmet on? If my helmet is not on, I think you should put my helmet on because I can hear some ammunition burning off and that’s not good if it hits me. The poor guy is trying to put tourniquets on me and probably thinking, Lady, that is the least of your problems….

I had to do physiotherapy. Now because they hammered titanium rods through my legs, and I had a head wound. Some bizarre things happen with these injuries. Bones overheal. My bones were overhealing with like flakes of coral bone that were going into my joints and fusing them. There was one way to fix this, otherwise they would fuse and I would walk like a peg leg for the rest of my life. I had to pick up my legs, and crack the knees, and break the flakes of bone. They would have to give me extra painkillers and it still hurt like hell. You would scream through gritted teeth. They had to lock mom in the waiting room, behind two closed fire doors, to allow this to take place.

My dad, meanwhile, knew this had to be done, would stand next to me, hold my hand and listen to me scream. Both of them are just absolute love, just different ways of expressing it.”

Holy smokes. Ricks: “A lot of people have suffered similar agonies in recent years, but Kim does a good job of capturing it.”

This is exactly why leaving the day job is so important. Sitting in offices has its benefits, but at the end of the day, it’s bullsh*t. Not because there’s a masochistic imperative to suffer in the name of enhanced credibility, or a requirement to chase the the glamour of gore and groundwork, but because ultimately there’s little to be gained by second guessing the character of war as a REMF, and everything to be gained by witnessing it and knowing it first hand. But I digress…

3 comments

  1. Nate Wright

    While I generally agree with your sense of the need to get out there and into it, and I appreciate the clarification in your update, I worry that there are other implications swirling around in this notion of being "a part of" violence. It’s not so much what you’ve said — you only made a brief comment, after all — but what travels along with a generalized glorification of "being there".The distribution of risk, which you acknowledged in your REMF comment, is one thing. War and violence appear very differently for those who are at risk and those who aren’t. In this sense, I would generally agree with your sentiment that we must make ourselves vulnerable, that it is a part of coming to terms with what violence is in our society. Day-to-day living with risk can teach us a lot about our own rationality (not to mention the day-to-day living with the consequences of violence, as Dozier’s account shows).But I think there’s another narrative embedded here, one which posits a kind of redemptive role for violence. It’s tempting to think of violence as accessible in some tactile way, that by becoming a part of it we access its meaning. As someone who has chased, and still chases, that kind of experiential proximity to violence (though not as a soldier), I’ve found that violence in the lives of those I’ve met is rarely redeeming. In most cases it is disorienting and disabling in an unproductive way (as opposed to the kind of productive disorienting experience of critical reflection or challenging empirical evidence). No doubt, violence can be revealing in the lives of those who have experienced it, but this is hardly common and, I suspect, relies a lot on the capacity of an individual and their society to make sense of the violence they’ve experienced.Of course, the problem you’re addressing is real. How do we confront violence in an age of remarkable distance from it (even while being largely responsible for it)? We (speaking for comfortable, mostly middle-class, Westerners) have lost track of violence as a tactile experience. It is aesthetic, in the sense of Hollywood’s visualizations, or it is narrative, in the sense of the kinds of heroic (redemptive) stories we tell out about. But in my mind, this is not so much a problem of access — of whether we’re wading through the jungle city or sitting in some office behind safe walls. It’s a problem that arises from the relationships we’ve established to the violence. Even when it dismantles our usual distance, it becomes re-articulated within this sense of redemptive violence (the response to 9/11 was not one of awareness, but of vulnerability that must be rapidly redeemed through destruction). The distance fights back.This is, of course, where the merits of your recommendation become ambiguous. Being amongst violence appears to be (and, I think given the right approach, can be), a way of dismantling this distance. But it can also be a way of re-inscribing it. It can be a way of simply reading the redemption into our own lives — a bit of self-congratulations that many of those proud of "seeing it for ourselves" (and I include myself here) risk indulging.With none of this do I mean to suggest that people ought not get off their asses. I am certainly a proponent of the theory that living is an important part of thinking. But I’m afraid it’s not enough. Sitting in an office and being in the midst of violence are not quite as simple as we’d like them to be.

  2. Mike Innes

    Nate, these are all valid issues. Choosing to witness violent conflict, whether up close or by remote, can also be a fundamentally irresponsible and self-indulgent exercise. I was expressing frustration with two issues, neither entirely unrelated to your points nor clearly expressed in my original entry. The first is exasperation with the sort of knowledge claims made from far away offices that second-guess eyewitness accounts as exaggerated, erroneous, missing the big picture, and so on. The second – an extension of the first – is the character of witnessing, and the politics that privilege or reward some forms over others.

  3. Nate Wright

    Mike, thanks for the response. I probably over-thought what was meant to be a more casual post, but only because it is something I am working through myself.

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