Choosing Life A Challenge
Several right-wing leaders of civil society have recently declared that a large, costly military is necessary for Nepal’s survival in the 21st century. They believe that some of the costs can be offset by participation in UN peacekeeping operations, but this would be a small part. Some propose a role as a mercenary provider. They argue that having a hundred thousand soldiers hanging around the barracks is far more important than having an equal number of teachers, health care personnel or infrastructure construction workers. Under their plan, perhaps the army could make marginal contributions in this area, but their major role would be military. The nation’s number one priority at present, as demonstrated by that most discerning test, the amount it is willing to spend, is its killing machine.
I’m afraid I have to disagree. Only a fool would believe that any conceivable Nepalese army could repel an unlikely attack by India or China. These critics gloss over the NA’s horrific human rights record and the obvious lack of commitment among its top ranks to democracy. They seem to imagine that Nepal is somehow invulnerable to military coup d’etat. The militarists think that a big army is a mark of prestige; I think it is a mark of disgrace.
With people starving to death in the west and horrifying maternal and infant mortality rates, spending so much on a fighting force is cruel, immoral and shameful. Surely the police forces can be cleansed of their numerous thugs, murderers, rapists, robbers and extortionists, better trained and made more accountable to handle domestic security. The remaining military personnel can be disarmed and assigned to healing, teaching and rebuilding the nation. Nepal’s leaders would do well to heed the words attributed to God in the Bible, “I have placed before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life that you and your children might live.”
I want to pose a challenge to the government. I was hoping you could give me the support I need and depute 100 NA and Maoist cadres I select to attend an 18-month Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic training program. This training will be new to Nepal and is intensively focused on the care of serious or life-threatening injuries, illnesses or other medical events such as childbirth and its complications. As a career emergency medicine specialist and teacher, and given the number of bright, motivated young people in Nepal, we can turn out world-class personnel who can be posted to district hospitals to save lives in emergencies at no additional cost to the nation.
Let me take the challenge one step further. Nepal’s high unemployment, high population growth and low economic growth require that young people work abroad. But instead of working as mercenaries, as envisioned by the pro-military factions, or as labourers or prostitutes, why not train nurses, whose skills are in demand worldwide and whose wages are excellent? Can’t Nepal export professionals? Wouldn’t their much greater remittances contribute to economic growth at home? Give me some bright young soldiers of both genders and some support, and we’ll train them for 3 years; during their clinical assignments they will augment staffing in the zonal hospital, and after graduation, they can serve a 3-year “payback” term after which they are free to go abroad.
These programs should be conducted in the areas of greatest need and with students drawn primarily from disadvantaged castes. If the country is to achieve political stability, it has to get beyond the Kathmandu-centric, high-caste dominated model that has prevailed for the past 237 years. Had projects like this been undertaken after the Jana Andolan I, there likely would never have been a Maoist insurgency. People didn’t join the Maoists for the snazzy uniforms or the pithy saying of Mao. Still, a better life and any government which does not make rapid progress toward delivering it are destined to fail.
Forget its powerful rivers, its majestic peaks or its remarkable biodiversity. Nepal’s greatest resource is its sincere, intelligent, hard-working and adaptable people. As my hero, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” Give us some support, and we’ll show you what we can do.
Admittedly this proposal is small in scale, but better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. It can serve as a prototype for other programs for the vocational retraining, psychological rehabilitation and social reintegration of a generation traumatized by war, desensitized to suffering and denied more constructive careers.
Surely Nepal’s youth are better utilized by bringing out the best in their nature—compassion, kindness, scientific knowledge and life-saving skill—than the worst—violence, hatred and lust for blood. And as for courage, who needs more of it, the adrenalin-pumped, psychologically manipulated, armed soldier or the paramedic who braves flames and landslides to save strangers’ lives? As Dante Alighieri taught us, “Think of your breed. For brutish ignorance, you were not made; you were made human to follow after excellence and knowledge.”
By Prof. Brian Cobb, M.D.
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Choosing Life A Challenge
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