SWORDS INTO PLOUGHSHARES
There's something happening here/ What it is ain't exactly clear/ There's a man with a gun over there /Telling me I got to beware
Lyrics by Stephen Stills, "For What It's Worth"
The war in Ukraine still raging, and now the shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde and, this morning, Tulsa, guns and gunfire are annealed into our psyches. As we sell weapons of war internationally, and simultaneously lobby to restrain and curb the use of these same weapons in America, have we gone mad, developed split personalities? We are certainly in the midst of a domestic humanitarian crisis. Weapons of war in our schools? In hospitals? It's unconscionable.
In the interest of sanity, I decided to reach out to Robert Séamus Macpherson, who wrote a prize-winning book about using his training as a soldier to heal broken lives, Stewards of Humanity; Lighting the Darkness in Humanitarian Crisis. He'd been a Colonel in the United States Marines for thirty years and was injured in Vietnam. After his rehabilitation, he segued to humanitarian work with the agency CARE where he coordinated and monitored safety and security for the agency's 15,000 staff in 72 global programs.
When we first connected, some months ago, I asked about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, our most recent 20-year war. Had it been worth it? All those lives lost? Soldiers and civilians injured beyond repair? Is it fair to ask a soldier that question?
We were on a Zoom call so I wasn't sure if he threw up his hands, shrugged his shoulders, or just quoted the numbers. Thousands of lives lost, military and civilian. And where are we now? Barely a year ago, the Taliban re-conquered Afghanistan, the scrambling to escape reminiscent of the airlift out of Saigon when the People's Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong entered the city on April 30 1975. The Fall of Saigon, as it became known. led to the reunification of the country.
I was talking with Bob, his wife Veronica, and Bob's service dog, Blue, while they were on vacation in Maine. At my request, Bob introduced me formally to Blue, trained by Southeastern Guide Dogs. And, yes, I was talking to this adorable 90-pound white Labrador, who is by Bob's side 24-7, an "empath," the trainers call him. They should be provided free to every returning veteran, every retired and psychologically or physically wounded first responder. Just imagine the guilt all those officers in Uvalde have to live with now, and forever. Is it any wonder that soldiers, humanitarian workers and domestic front-line workers suffer from PTSD. It took a while for Bob to acknowledge his struggle, but he faced it, as he had all the other challenges in his life.
"How does writing help with the PTSD?" I asked him.
"I believe the events I write about affected me deeply. I found that once I started writing about them, all the facts seemed to unfold like a movie. Every name, event and nuance seemed to appear in front of me—just when I needed it."
The book took five years to complete. Was it cathartic, a healing exercise in itself? Absolutely, he says.
Will he write another?
"Yes, about my relationship with Blue."
But my main reason for getting back in touch: What does this decorated Marine and humanitarian worker think of gun control? This is his reply:
"I've been an advocate for gun control for decades. In 1994, I breathed a sigh when assault weapons were banned for ten years. I thought that was only a formality and the ban would continue. What troubles me the most is that behind the refusal of elected officials to act to mitigate gun violence is something sinister. I have always hesitated to say evil because I think that gives it a "religious " connotation. Now, I wonder? I'm angry, frustrated and disheartened about the continued violence…I believe we lack a coordinated effort to address and assist the common will of the American people to end this slaughter.
Sorry, to run on…