“Ballistics: the science of the motion of projectiles in flight; the flight characteristics of a projectile.”– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
In the span of forty minutes, I’ve learned the ways in which firearms and explosives are specifically designed to damage the human body. Cold, scientific descriptions of velocity, joules of energy, blast pattern, range, fragmentation, cavitation, are punctuated with chilling descriptions of injury patterns and death rates, and illustrated with images of mangled bodies.
There are greater than 125 million Kalashnikov assault rifles in circulation worldwide. A variety of mines are available, providing three distinct patterns of injury from which to choose. Many are designed to look like toys, because the maiming of children is a good strategy for crippling a population, both physically and psychologically.
I feel I’m staring into the very face of evil. What allows someone to disengage so completely from their humanity that they can even consider and discuss such things as if they were designing a toaster? If shown a photograph of a mangled human body, how does one think, “We can do better.”?
I will spend the day in the anatomy lab, where the fresh-frozen bodies of seven civic- and science-minded folk will be the training ground work I will do abroad. They are Americans, too, I’m told. So we are eight.
The other 29 participants of the course are from all over the world: Lebanon, Palestine, Italy, Brazil, Iran, Canada, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Nigeria, India.
This collection of surgeons has come to hone their skills and learn to adapt them to “austere environments ”- poor, disaster-stricken, war-torn regions where the need is great, the resources few, and devastating injuries requiring prompt surgical care come in a flood.
It’s raining this morning in Manchester as I walk the mile or so to the University. The city is waking up. I pass groups of men with reflective vests and hard hats, women in business wear. Young people laden with backpacks huddle around the Starbucks. Cyclists weave between delivery trucks. A jogger splashes me as he runs through a puddle. I’m struck by both the sameness and the difference in how people live their lives here and at home. The familiarity is comforting, the strangeness exhilarating.