(HOST) There’s a new television documentary that commentator Bill Seamans says captures powerful and compelling images of life – and death – in a combat zone.
(SEAMANS) Last Monday night a tv program called “Baghdad E.R.” was broadcast by HBO – it was the most graphic representation of the personal tragedy of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that I have seen. This documentary was shot in the emergency room of the Army hospital in Baghdad and should be seen by as many people as possible, especially by those living in the national bubble of denial. I hope that HBO repeats it.
Baghdad E.R. is the kind of story that returning wounded veterans find it impossible to tell their families and friends. It shows it like it is as the wounded are brought in and the E.R. people strive to save lives and stabilize the victims enough to be flown on to more sophisticated treatment at a hospital in Germany and then on to the U.S. It is a scene of quiet medical professionalism under the most extreme physical and emotional pressure as the most grievous wounds are treated with none of the shouting histrionics of that other fictional E.R. on tv every week. In perhaps the most poignant scene the life of a young Marine slips away despite the heartbreaking efforts of the surgeons.
It is a fact that President Bush has tried to play down the casualty story including barring a national appreciation ceremony and media coverage of flag-covered coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Perhaps Baghdad E.R. will provide some transparency for that story.
Aiding the wounded in Baghdad E.R. is the remarkable story of how military medicine has progressed over the years. According to the American Legion magazine in World War II 30% of the combat wounded died. In Afghanistan and Iraq, 10% of the wounded have been lost. Speed provided by the helicopter and jet plane can transfer the most seriously wounded back to the U.S. in less than four days – during Vietnam it took 45 days. In World War II in Europe they were lucky to get back to England.
The increased number of wounded is creating new problems back home. Beyond the follow-up medical support provided by the Veterans Administration, it has been determined that more personal community support is needed. However, it’s said that while the folks back home want to help they really don’t know what to do because most don’t know what combat does to the serviceperson.
The Pentagon and the American Legion have agreed on a joint effort to coordinate the efforts of all local veterans groups, business leaders, civic organizations – the core of the community – to give the wounded veteran the hands on personal support needed to renew life as a civilian.
This is especially important because President Bush has said we are engaged in a Long War and that means that the E.R. in Baghdad will continue sending wounded veterans back home to be helped – we hope – by those who want to lessen their burden.
Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.