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Relative Value

by on April 12, 2019

Relative Value

by Marco M. Pardi

Each person is born to one possession which out values all his others——his last breath.” Mark Twain. 1897 Following the Equator.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together…all things connect.”

Chief Seattle

All comments are greatly welcomed and will receive a response.

Long before I entered the military I learned that insurance companies have tables of values for the loss of certain body parts and/or functions. Lose one hand: X many dollars. Lose both hands: X-plus many dollars. And so on. They even have it down to fingers and toes. Later, I read about pin-up models getting their breasts insured. Insured against what? Could someone run off with them? Would cup size determine Petty Theft versus Grand Theft? Scanning some of these tables I wondered who came up with these and on what basis did they assign value. I remembered schoolyard discussions about what one super power one would choose (I still prefer invisibility), and a few discussions about what parts or functions we could do without (Hell, no). So I wondered, How do dollars replace a hand? Moreover, how do they replace eyesight?

I supposed that in some cases the money was intended to go toward rehabilitation, or even a prosthesis if possible. Later, that started me wondering about people who sell their organs, such as a kidney. Do they simply settle for market price, haggle, hold out for high bid?

When I joined the military, during the early build up of the Viet Nam “War”, I got a dose of the ultimate balance of value: possibly giving one’s life for one’s country. While not a new concept, the actual possibility was laid at my feet for the first time. I was never a “team player”, although I did play football in high school. I don’t recall ever being concerned about who won or who lost a football game; my only interest was in the legalized one-on-one combat I could engage in with different colored jerseys. I certainly knew of military heroes, but never planned on being one. Country was abstract, life was interesting and here now. It seemed to me throwing one’s self on a grenade was an act of wanting to be a hero without realizing one would not be around to accept the applause.

At CIA headquarters, at Langley, Virginia, there is a bronze statue of Nathan Hale (“Saint Nate”, as he is known within). It’s a copy of a Bela Pratt casting done in 1912 and actually quite good. As you know, he was hanged by the British as a spy on September 22, 1776. He is best remembered for his final speech in which he declared his regret for having only one life to give for his country. He was 21 years old, and did not live to see the country he was dying for.

I was not in the Army, and my assignments were for the most part solitary. But as the war ground on I learned that, per capita, Black soldiers were taking casualties at rates orders of magnitude higher than White soldiers. It turned out they were being put out “on point” and in other forward positions far more often than Whites. I read some Army soldiers’ comments opining that they were “more naturally camouflaged”. Of course, booby traps and well laid ambushes don’t see that anyway. But I now wonder how Black Lives Matter would have viewed this unofficial, but common practice.

I’ve always idealized rational thought, being able to obtain all the evidence, weigh it and make an informed decision. At the same time I feel I always tried to incorporate an understanding of feelings into my calculus. And so, when my daughter was born and I saw her for the first time I was absolutely overwhelmed by my feelings for her. Still am. If someone had taken us captive and said, Your life or hers, there would be no hesitation on my part beyond demanding that she never know I had agreed to forfeit my life so she could live. And that has never changed over the years. But before anyone takes this partial evidence and reaches a conclusion I would ask one question: Does anyone for one moment think I could live knowing I had bought my life with my own daughter’s? Does anyone really think I would choose to live in the worst hell I could imagine? (Okay, that’s two questions, but you get it.) And speaking of super powers, I always said, Anyone who even thinks bad thoughts toward my daughter will suffer a most hideous, painful and prolonged death.

Of course, that’s my daughter. How about someone else’s daughter? How about a spouse? We might glibly voice our choices, but would we honor them? So as those ripples emanate out further across the great pond of life where does our commitment decrease, where do we say, I’m not getting involved? We each certainly do have our limits; there’s no sense denying it. How often have we heard the term Good Samaritan used over a grave site? And the world goes on as before.

One of the more extreme examples of setting values can be found in the subject of abortion. But let’s be clear: This is not about whether all abortions are good or all abortions are bad, or some are good and some are bad. It is about how one imputes value and acts upon it. I will stipulate at the outset that I do not consider a fetus younger than survival age outside the womb to necessarily be human. It may have the potential to be human at some point, but while simply in development there cannot be a claim of its humanity. Furthermore, having been exposed to many grim hours of teratology in undergraduate and graduate school, and during my 23 years with CDC, I have deep reservations about some classes of entities delivered at term.

What I am referring to here is the decision, undeniably taken by some, that from the point of conception a fetus is deserving of protection up to and including the murder of someone who might abort (“abort” simply means stop) it. Demonstrably there are people who impute a higher value to a fertilized egg than they do to a highly trained and educated physician who, as part of his/her practice, provides abortions to women who may very well have been given sound medical reasons for obtaining one. As so many cases have demonstrated, these people then go on to assassinate the physician. One must assume that, like throwing one’s self on a hand grenade, they envision themselves as heroes in the eyes of their god or at least their peers as they are inevitably caught and sentenced to prison. We shouldn’t doubt that this fantasy is also fed by aspiring politicians who press for the death penalty for abortion doctors, prison terms for staff, and even prison terms for the woman obtaining the abortion.

On reading this one might connect to the jihadi suicide bombers, supposedly seeking martyrdom and divine approval. Of course, there are many who believe that and act on their beliefs. But the little publicized fact is that an admittedly unknown number of these individuals do this because they have been assured their families will be killed if they do not. And if they do go through with it their families will be cared for as compensation. Or so they are told. So, rather than flee and possibly save their own lives at the expense of others they go through with it.

So where does this leave us if we are not thinking about abortion or planning a jihad? Some people say they could not take another person’s life even if they are within the circumstances legally recognized as defending one’s self, family, or home. They do not and will not own a gun. Is this a case of misplaced or unbalanced value?

Remember the “tough love” craze of not so many years ago? This gained much of its strength from the Alcoholics Anonymous concept of “enabler”. An enabler was someone who covered for a drunk, calling in sick for them, making excuses, etc. Enablers were then labeled “co-dependents” and told they were as sick as the alcoholic. The remedy was encourage the alcoholic to get help, but if he/she continued to refuse, to let the alcoholic pay the price for his/her behavior. I have shut the door on alcoholics I tried for months to motivate, even taking them to hospitals or detox centers. They were sick people, yet I valued their friendship when they were sober, or at least dry. There came a time, though, when I wondered if I was misplacing value. In one case it was an uncomfortable decision to make.

A final example of relative values dates back to the immediate post 9/11 era. The CIA, DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), and the FBI jointly developed a program known as HIG – the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. But the CIA and DIA employed the more controversial “enhanced interrogation” methods where the FBI concentrated on building rapport with the detainee. This came at a time when a popular FOX program, “24”, was airing brutal interrogation techniques in its drama.

After abuses came to light, and three days after the inauguration of Obama as president, Obama issued Executive Order 13491 – “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations”. This limited techniques to those already approved and listed within the Army Field Manual and followed the philosophy that the more brutal the questioning the more unreliable the answers.

But the Republican Party fought hard to block every breath Obama took. As Senate leader Mitch McConnell said, “Our Number One priority is to ensure that the Obama presidency is a failed presidency.” Of course a failed presidency, of either party, could be disastrous for the entire country. But the lines had been drawn, and are there even more clearly today: Country doesn’t matter, Party does. I wonder what Saint Nate would have to say.

Write blogs, sign petitions, or see what’s on television? Time to get my values straight.

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4 Comments
  1. Sorry for taking so long to comment; a short power outage this morning caused my computer to crash. It had to be forced to repair itself, and has been giving me fits all day. I suppose I should be glad it is working at all.

    I’ll start by writing about organ donors. I have a acquaintance whose life was recently saved by receiving a liver from someone who had died; thank goodness his family saw fit to follow his wishes. I think people who donate their organs are heroes. I have been a potential organ donor since I was first old enough to check ‘yes’ on my driver’s license, and I believe that every healthy person (unless it is forbidden by their belief system) should do the same. Living donors are among the bravest of souls; I read recently that someone lost their own life trying to save another. I’d like to believe that most of us would do this for a member of our family, or someone we love. What I will never understand is selling an organ. To profit from someone else’s tragedy is unthinkable. Still, for the receiver, I suppose it is better than nothing.

    We’d all like to believe that we would die for our children; certainly I have lived for mine. Under extreme circumstances, I’m equally sure that there no measures to which we would not go to save their lives. I left my son in jail for a few months in an attempt to resolve his drug issue. Thankfully, it worked, and yes, I would do it again.

    When you write about prosthetics, my first thought is of my father. You would have liked him, he was an extraordinary man. He was hit by a mortar shell during the police action in Korea and lost both limbs on his right side. His leg was never found (he always said the Korean kids ate it), and his arm was mangled beyond repair. When the medics arrived, he told them to take care of the others first, for which he was awarded a Silver Star. His arm had to be amputated, and they wanted to take it off above the elbow. He insisted that the joint be left; it was amazing what he could accomplish with only a few inches of lower arm. He had a prosthetic arm, but only wore it on “dress” occasions. His leg was so short that they initially told him he would be in a wheelchair; not so much! “Build the leg and I’ll learn to walk on it.” Fifteen months later, he and my mother were married, and remained so until his death. My parents are my heroes, and my example. Nothing is impossible if your will is strong enough.

    • Thank you, Rose, Your life, and the lives of your family members are truly inspirational. I can only imagine how difficult it was to leave your son in jail. Yet, the outcome worked.

      Yes, I would have loved knowing your father. He sounds like a genuine role model not just in a specific sense but a general sense as well. If you know of any of his feelings about being in the Korean police action to begin with, we would really benefit from reading them. I can imagine him saying to himself, These are the times that try men’s souls.

      • My father loved this country; he was a true patriot, not the “hate everyone else” variety which seems to prevail these days. He joined the army knowing he would be sent into combat. He volunteered to take a buddy’s guard duty the night he was hurt. The only thing I remember him saying about Korea was that it was cold there. His attitude was that those who had truly experienced combat didn’t talk about it. I never heard him say a disparaging word about the USA, or about his time in the military. I believe he would have been a “lifer” if it had been possible. He was a lifelong Republican, and he would have hated what is happening to our country right now. Even though I miss him, there have been many times during the years since his death (Mar. 11, 1992) that I have been glad he didn’t have to live through what was happening.

        One of those times was when my son was doing drugs. It lasted about two years, and it changed me in ways that are hard to imagine. He went to jail for back child support and driving under a suspended license. Honestly, I was relieved; he was safe and I was free. Leaving him there was not easy, but it gave me a chance to breathe, and him a chance to heal. Tough love is still love.

  2. Thanks, Rose. I’m certain I would have enjoyed long talks with him, in private.

    I’ve never been a Republican or a Democrat, and would never formally be either. I’ve voted for both since 1964. But, try as I might with some people, there are still those who simply can’t grasp that the Republican party is absolutely not the Party of Eisenhower. In fact, just the opposite.

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