Healing The Physical And Spiritual Wounds Of War

With war raging this Christmas weekend, Jacki Lyden speaks with three people who minister to the wounded in war zones. Dr. Najib Hanoudi is an eye surgeon in Baghdad; Air Force Maj. Janis Dashner completed two tours of duty in Iraq as a chaplain in military hospitals; and Father Louis Iasiello, a Roman Catholic priest and former head of Navy Chaplains, speaks about ethics in a war zone.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott is away.

At least four more American soldiers were reported killed this weekend in Iraq. Three from the 89th Military Police Brigade died in Baghdad; a fourth soldier was killed in Diyala province, east of the capital. More deaths were also reported today among Iraqis. At least seven policemen were killed by a suicide bomber northeast of Baghdad. With the nation still at war this holiday weekend, we wanted to spend time with those who care for the wounded of this war - body and soul, American and Iraqi.

We'll speak in a moment with two members of the clergy who serve as military chaplains. But first we go to Baghdad, to Dr. Najib Hanoudi, a man I met three years ago working on a story. Dr. Hanoudi is 72. He's watched countless physician friends leave Iraq; his family is now in Jordan. Two years ago, Dr. Hanoudi's son was mistakenly wounded by an American soldier and left in a vegetative state. But Dr. Hanoudi, an ophthalmologist, doesn't want to leave Iraq. He's chosen to keep working at his small eye surgery clinic in Baghdad.

Dr. NAJIB HANOUDI (Ophthalmologist): It is a terrible place now. It's very dangerous. It's very, you know, noisy, but on the other hand, there is a good deal of enjoyment in my stay here, specifically the work I'm doing here.

I mean, when you spoke to me last time, you see, on that very day, there was a huge explosion somewhere near the university and young people and students were hurt. But a few minutes after my arrival at my place, you see, which is usually around 9:00, 9:30, you see, there was a young fellow, a taxi driver who was involved in that accident and he came with his right eye almost cut in the middle, you see. And very fortunately he came this morning with a very, very reasonably looking eye and a functioning eye.

And as far as I'm doing work here, it's becoming very necessary, you see. There is no more health services here in this country, especially in my own specialty. See, all of the good ones have escaped, have fled the country. I am, in fact, the only one from the old generation, you see.

LYDEN: So I guess I will leave you, Najib, by asking - it's just about Christmas and what's on your mind?

Dr. HANOUDI: Hoping. Hoping and I don't very usually pray, you see, but I'm praying tonight. I am probably going to church tomorrow for a change, you see. I will be praying for the country as a whole and also to some extent for the miracle we are hoping and waiting for in the case of my son.

LYDEN: Well, we wish you a Merry Christmas.

Dr. HANOUDI: Thank you. The same to you and the same to all my friends in there. I would like you to, on my behalf, wish them all my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very happy and prosperous new year.

LYDEN: And now to someone who's also served on the medical front lines, a former nurse, now an Air Force chaplain. She's completed two tours of duty in Iraq in hospitals that received wounded troops.

Ms. JANIS DASHNER (Air Force Chaplain): Those young soldiers are totally out of control of their own bodies and they need to have reassurance.

LYDEN: Chaplain Janis Dashner is now back at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. When I spoke with her, she recalled a vivid moment when a young soldier was brought into a military hospital in Iraq.

Ms. DASHNER: When he went into surgery, the surgeon told him that he would do everything he could to save his left arm. And as he came out of surgery, the surgeon had told me that - he said, Chaplain, I wasn't able to save it.

And so we - I waited at his bedside and I was standing on his right side and holding his hand when they were bringing him out of sedation and waking him up and his surgeon told him that he was so sorry that he wasn't able to save his left arm. The soldier was very, very brave and he squeezed my hand with his right hand - I thought he was going to break my fingers, he was squeezing so hard. And once the surgeon walked away, he turns to me and he said, Ma'am, would you hug me?

And so I gathered him up good and he cried.

LYDEN: Father Louis Iasiello recently retired as chief of Navy chaplains. He's now head of Washington's Theological Union. I spoke with him about the ethical dilemmas of war, especially for troops facing an elusive and changing enemy.

Father LOUIS IASIELLO (Former Navy Chaplain): I was in uniform for over two decades, and for me, I was always amazed at the level of ethical behavior and also the ethical awareness of our men and women in uniform. They're not only very moral people but they're people who are truly concerned in a political and an ethical way about the events of the world. So obviously for them a discussion of whether or not actions are just would be part of their daily lives.

LYDEN: How have the ethical questions changed over time in this war?

Father IASIELLO: Last year I was invited to the Naval War College. I was invited to speak on any issue I wanted to, and I said, well, why don't you sort of poll the students and find out what they'd like me to speak about.

Their question to me was, how do you fight an enemy who either ignores or exploits the rule of war? And my answer to them in my lecture was what you do with an enemy like that is you don't ask yourself what should I do? You ask yourself who am I? And we're Americans. We're supposed to be representing the United States. We're supposed to be representing those constitutional values which we hold so dearly that we'd even die for them. And so for us to do anything less than remain ethical and moral in the prosecution of a war is something that Americans should not do. You know that and I know that, and that's the way we have to proceed, even with an enemy that ignores or exploits the rule of war, and even if that means putting our own life or limb at jeopardy.

LYDEN: You're a Roman Catholic chaplain, are you not?

Father IASIELLO: Yes, ma'am.

LYDEN: Saint Augustine wrote a great deal about going to war. What teachings of Saint Augustine's do you use in talking to chaplains and troops?

Father IASIELLO: Well, of course for me "The City of God" is not only a classic of literature, it's pure genius. And I say that because Augustine talks about the dialogue that a Christian must have as a citizen in an empire or in a state. There are certain dictates of the faith which are pretty direct, such as thou shalt not kill.

On the other hand, living in a modern nation state, we're called to dialogue with the state, and so talking to young people about the genius of Augustine, I talk about the dialogue that they should have as people of faith and as citizens.

LYDEN: And of course Augustine's great fear was that people could lose their humanity in a time of war.

Father IASIELLO: Absolutely. I think Augustine, although he lived almost 1500 years ago, Augustine would have made a terrific military chaplain, because he understood that sending someone into the most inhuman of all situations, a situation where you're pitting human against human, that was his major fear. In his letter to Faustus the Manichaeum, he talks about the evils of war, and for him the evils of war really sort of zeroed in on what you just said, Jacki, that a person would lose their humanity, and for him that would be the ultimate evil.

LYDEN: Father Louis Iasiello, retired chief of Navy chaplains.

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