Cambridge Professor Embedded in Afghanistan Military Hospital
Explores the Courage, Compassion, and Comic Tragedy of Modern War
“There is a massive propaganda industry, embraced by all institutions from schools to the press and churches, that seeks to deny the stark facts de Rond chronicles. This is why the British Ministry of Defense did not want the book published. De Rond shines a light on a reality we are not supposed to see. It is a reality, especially in an age of endless techno war, we must confront if we are to recover the human.”
—Chris Hedges, author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
We weren’t supposed to read Mark de Rond’s new book Doctors at War.
A high-ranking medical officer in the British Ministry of Defense insisted de Rond write this book, and do so without fear of censorship. However, upon its completion, the ministry told de Rond it would oppose the book due to his exceptionally candid and true-to-life account of a trauma surgical team at work in the “world’s bloodiest” field hospital, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan. Despite such pressure, Mark de Rond has chosen to publish the book.
Doctors at War tells of the highs and lows of surgical life in hard-hitting detail, bringing to life a morally ambiguous world in which good people face impossible choices, and in which routines designed to normalize experience have the unintended effect of highlighting war’s absurdity. Mark de Rond, a professor of organizational ethnography at Cambridge University, lifts the cover on a world rarely ever seen, let alone written about, and helps rebalance popular and overly heroic, adrenaline packed tales of what it is like to go to war. Here the crude and visceral coexist with the tender and affectionate, as do pleasure and guilt, kindness and cruelty, courage and cowardice, and the profound and pointless. In sum, it provides a unique insight into the lived experience of war from the point of view of good people forced to make difficult choices in an absurd environment.
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Interview with Mark de Rond:
Scenes from Camp Bastion Excerpted from Doctors at War
To Die Comfortably or Live in Pain – Ethics of Camp Bastion
“Matching sets of double and triple amputees underlined the war’s agonizing ambiguities: which is the crueler, to prop up Afghans with quick fixes and the sort of sophisticated analgesics not available locally for the handful of hours they’d spend in Bastion, or let them cash in on their convictions pronto and meet their Maker? Ingenuity, after all, can render death quick nowadays and pretty much pain-free.” (page 11)
Recovering from Everyday Injuries
“‘Stick your tongue out for me, will you?’ the anesthetist said.
‘Have I got a tongue?’ Jack asked. His voice was distorted for the bloody bandages around his head and face.
‘You’ve got a tongue.’
‘Is it all there?’
‘Your tongue is all there, yes. You’ll be all right for the ladies.'” (pages 47-48)
Resilience of the Children
“It’s the kids that depress. Doctors tell me they’re the toughest to treat, even as they rarely cry and are beautiful to behold with fine features and sun-kissed complexions not yet sucked dry by decades of conflict. Their hair varies in color from black to light brown, as do their irises, occasionally set in big round eyes with strong elongated eyelashes. Are these kids any less scared than their elders going into surgery? Their injuries are no less severe and, one would assume, no less painful. Then why is it they don’t howl like the grown men do?” (page 50)
Unspeakable Pleasures of War
“A US Army soldier recalled laughing at a man whose leg had been shot clear off, and how the man kept crawling around until he crawled no more, and thinking to himself, ‘That was a fucking human being, you son of a bitch. You fucking crazy bastard, that was a human being you fucking killed.’ And yet, he’d do the same thing again, he said, for ‘it’s like an evil thing inside your body.’ To a monster, everyone is a monster, and when veterans don’t talk about war perhaps it isn’t because they suspect we won’t appreciate its horrors, but because we won’t understand its pleasures.” (pages 130-131)
Guilt of the Surgeons
“Why so emotional about this marine when he’d seen so many others go the same way? Was it because he had known all along that operating would be pointless under any circumstances? Was it that he knew, as later he told me, that the guy was beyond help as soon as he arrived, seeing his heart was full but refused to beat, but that he felt that he should give him every possible shot at life, however remote, and take him into the theater, but feeling guilty about this because even as he opened the chest he knew that in doing so he was merely going through the motions and that his decision to take him into theater would mean he would die on the operating table and that would be shitty for everyone?” (page 107)
Questioning the Role of God and Religion
“Why would anyone wish to play any part in a proselytizing faith if it causes so much pain and injustice? Why submit to a religion that pits people against each other? Why would a benevolent, all-powerful and all-seeing God allow his creation to suffer and to inflict such terrible suffering?” (page 59)