International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 115 19th March 2006


I. 'The Dilemma of 'Non-Violence'' by Nathan Segars

II. 'Dialectic of the One and the Many and 'Radical Constructivism'' by Herman J Pietersen

III. 'Letter from Iraq' by Jon Kerstetter, MD

IV. 'The Silver Lining' by Susan Pye Nordell



The philosophers Heraclitus and Hegel are both notable for emphasizing the way that concepts have a curious tendency to turn into their opposites. Ample evidence for this observation can be found in the present issue.

Dr Nathan Segars from the Heritage Christian University Alabama raises a philosophical question about so-called 'non-violent' resistance such as that conducted by the civil rights movement in America in the 60's, under the leadership of Martin Luther King. Is violence, either physical or psychological unavoidable? Is the idea of a totally non-violent strategy even conceivable?

Professor Herman Pietersen in his response to Nick Redfern's article 'A Brief Outline of Radical Constructivism' (Philosophy Pathways Issue 112) questions whether proponents of 'radical constructivism' are guilty of failing to apply their constructivist view of knowledge to their own position, arguing that radical constructivism cannot, consistently with its own principles, present itself as the only valid approach to knowledge.

Jon Kerstetter is a Pathways student who has just finished a two year tour of duty as Flight Surgeon with the US forces in Iraq. Whatever one's views about the war, his account of the experience of men and women in the Medical Corps is a moving reminder of human resourcefulness and courage in the face of adversity.

Susan Pye Nordell is another Pathways student, taking the Philosophy of Language program. Her poetic reflections on the confusing nature of metaphor will strike a chord with anyone who has ever stopped to puzzle over how words designed for one use can come to mean something apparently totally different.

Geoffrey Klempner



The efforts in the United States toward righting the wrongs performed by the privileged upon the oppressed, has had a history both famous and infamous. The struggle has had its moments of joy and triumph. That said, social justice has not come so far as one might have hoped. For the purposes of this paper, attention is given to the inequalities between black and white America. The economic realities are undeniable. The political barriers are still in place. Educational opportunity continues to be elusive for African-American families. One's 'blackness' remains a factor to the average American psyche.

In so many years shouldn't we expect more? Are the means by which social injustice has been confronted the right tools for the job? If so, are they being used in a manner fitting their function? In this paper, I will be addressing the latter of these questions. It is my contention that there has been much confusion about just what the chosen methods of bringing social justice are all about. Further, if this confusion could be cleared up, I expect there might be a greater hesitancy in enjoining those methods. I do not intend to criticize the project of condemning racial inequality as it has most often been advanced. I only wish to expose the nature of that project so that a fair assessment is available for those who endorse it. My proposal is to show violence to be a necessary part of non-violent resistance, the popular effort to peacefully relieve racial injustice.[1]


There have been various positions on the prospect of ending white dominance over blacks.[2] As we will examine non-violent resistance as the most popular American effort to overturn racial injustice, I turn to the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was influenced by the teaching and practices of Mohandas Gandhi in his work for civil rights in America. The ruling principles behind Gandhi's work in India and South Africa were the Hindu ideal of ahimsa and the concept of satyagraha.[3] Ahimsa may be generally understood as the respect for all life. Satyagraha literally means 'holding to truth,' but as an activity it is resistance of the present order with the principle of ahimsa in mind for the sake of positive social results. The lessons learned from Gandhi's non-violent struggles with the British government lent a great deal of optimism and momentum to the vision of King and others in America. Non-violence in both protests and marches became an identifying mark of the civil rights movement. Volunteers for the cause were schooled in the doctrine of non-violent resistance. They were taught how to respond to force peacefully. They were taught that this type of resistance would ultimately overcome the powers of oppression.

But how peaceful was this non-violent resistance? Is 'non-violent resistance' a possibility at all? The language of King leaves one to wonder. There is an ambivalence in how the movement in America was presented. King described the non-violent demonstrations as an intentional move 'to create a situation... crisis-packed.'[4] He talks of progress made by the movement as the result of 'non-violent pressure.'[5] He concedes that 'freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.'[6] The tension in these phrases comes from the mixing of language that suggests both aggression and non-aggression. It suggests something that is at the same time forceful and peaceful. The movement was designed to force conciliation of some sort from the oppressive ruling culture. While there was always strict caution placed on inciting violence, the quest for freedom seems laced with implications of at least a subtle form of violence.

But is this a fair reading? Are we being unjust in squeezing out a rare drop or two of latent force and connecting it with violence? Does this really indicate that force lay at the source of the civil rights movement? Clearly this sounds foreign to ears that have grown accustomed to descriptions of non-violent protests and the stories of volunteers subjected to police cruelty for their peaceful demonstrations. Perhaps, though, we should consider a broader notion of 'violence' than the common notion associated only with physical harm. If there is a more appropriate way to think about violence, it may apply to the methods used in non-violent resistance.


To assist us along these lines I turn to the work of Howard McGary and his distinction between physical and psychological violence.[7] We are quite adept at recognizing physical violence when we see it, but psychological violence often fails to register as strongly in our minds. McGary reminds us that violence may have other forms that are just as damaging.

     To do violence to someone is to injure that person, but
     persons can be injured in two basic ways: we can injure
     someone by physically abusing that person and we can injure
     someone by causing that person's psychological distress....
     Psychological violence often results from the misuse of
     others through the manipulation of their emotions and

The context of McGary's explanation of psychological violence is its abundant use in marginalizing people along racial lines. While physical violence has certainly been a part of African-American history, many suggest that it is the psychological violence that has done more damage over the years.

It can safely be assumed that there is such a thing as psychological violence. The question is whether it can be fairly associated with the non-violent teaching of King and others. Could the methods of civil resistance have psychologically violent effects on the oppressive culture to which it responds? I believe the answer is 'yes.' My justification for this conclusion calls on the essentially violent nature of self-defense.

It is ironic, given our present discussion, that McGary's work in declaring the seriousness of psychological violence as compared to physical violence is placed in the context of self-defense. His concern is to show that self-defense by African-Americans is a legitimate, warranted response to the psychological violence found in the prevalent denial of human rights.[9] What is most important to us from his argument is the open assumption that self-defense is a kind of violence.[10] If self-defense may come in the form of physical violence, it can just as certainly come in the form of psychological violence. Where a physical response to a threat might be ineffective, it is likely that psychological self-defense would be opted for to prevent further harm from an attacker.

I want to reiterate my earlier disclaimer that however psychologically violent we may find King's program to have been, I am not suggesting in the least that it met the level of violence used by the oppressive white culture. My contention is only that a measure of violence is necessary to the non-violent resistance taught by King and others, even in self-defense. While McGary argues that a violent response in self-defense is morally permissible, I leave that issue to others.

How, then, may the self-defense of King's resistance be seen as violent? What harm could be said to be brought upon others by non-violent resistance? What effect did marches and demonstrations have on the oppressive culture in a psychologically violent way? The answers to these questions may come from looking into the intention of non-violent resistance is in its particular usages.

Take for example a sit-in at a lunch counter that refuses to serve blacks in the same manner as whites. What's the purpose of the sit-in? The goal is to change the policy of the establishment or at least thrust the unjust policy into the public eye. In either case, psychological force is clearly in play. If the owners are put under enough pressure by the demonstrators and the negative attention brought by them, whatever the outcome may be, psychological distress is placed on those owners. If the example is changed to a higher profile exercise of non-violent resistance, the level of psychological pressure also rises. This being the case, when non-violent resistance is put on a national stage, the psychological force placed on government officials and citizens, even those on the periphery, could be called an act of violence. Again, it might not reach the level of violence motivating the oppressed demonstrators, but it is a clear instance of violence.

The bottom line for King is that his movement purposefully used psychological force as a means of deliverance from oppression. Next to the social structures he was concerned to cast off, his acts were decidedly mild and even peaceful. As a method of self-defense against a daily burden of racial discrimination however, non-violent resistance is in reality nothing more than a creative form of protective, psychological violence.


There are two objections I should consider before closing. One is the objection that the psychological pressure of non-violent resistance does not actually constitute harm in a real sense. The second is not actually an objection, but rather an offer of a true non-violent alternative to overcoming racial division through educational discourse. In either case, I believe total avoidance of violence to be too optimistic.

The first objection admits psychological pressure as a part of the strategy of non-violence, but denies that it rises to the level of a true harm. It may be true that from the viewpoint of the oppressed there is not much for the oppressors to complain about in giving up whatever hold they have on a suffering people. Yielding the former dominance of white culture in the workplace does not threaten the human rights of whites in the way the presence of that dominance has threatened the human rights of blacks. However, this does not mean that some real loss does not accompany that change. Very real harms, both tangible and intangible, are made by white culture in allowing equality and just treatment for others. In the category of tangible things, equal opportunity means that white job seekers and college applicants will encounter lower chances of being hired or accepted than before. Intangibly, a sense of losing hold of a superior position in society can have deep effects.

The second objection presents an option that does not carry the psychological harms of non-violent resistance. As a representative of this option, I look to a suggestion by Robert Gooding-Williams.[11] His proposal is a multicultural, 'race conscious' education that will enable students to interact and listen to other perspectives, ultimately changing the dominating social structure into one that is more aware and sensitive to multiple cultures.[12] The goal is a blending of cultures that follows from the natural progression of discourse rather than revolutionary upheaval and violence.

     Acquiring a know-how and a feel for cross-cultural
     hermeneutical conversation is likely to reinforce a
     student's inclination to understand and learn from the
     self-interpretations of cultural 'others...' In the case
     of multicultural education, one cultivates a skill which is
     motivationally conducive to the sort of mutual understanding
     that is critical to the flourishing of deliberative
     democracy in a multicultural society.[13]

By this means, people are to come to a recognition of the cultures around them and a deeper recognition of their own culture as a part of the resultant blend of cultures in a community.

This is a beautiful picture of democratic society. But as with most beautiful pictures, it is also quite naive. The social reality of our situation, democratic or not, stands in the way. In the first place, the amount of time necessary to produce a society that fully recognizes multiple cultures and their value in this manner would be horrible to endure. King was firm in his claim that we had waited too long, endured too much.[14] The slow process of multicultural education, even if it were successful, would have to achieve its end student by student, year by year. It would have to overcome counter influences from the generations of status quo that would vilify such an education. It is a long and painful history to be surmounted by such a methodical and tenuous process.

Secondly, the absence of violence in some form from such a discourse is not only unlikely, but perhaps even a hindrance to such a project. Can we really expect that such vastly different cultures can be put in such a vulnerable setting and not encounter some moment of offense? Ours may be too painful a history to expect so benign a resolution.

     Additionally, Judith Butler has a further point to make on
     the prospect of this beautiful picture of cultural
     blending. One of the reasons multicultural conversation
     often seems so difficult is that it often turns on such
     moments, ones that can quickly become paralyzing, tempting
     the 'rational' speaker back into his or her own linguistic
     stable... But this break can operate as a violent
     inauguration of a new understanding as well, one that must
     break with dialogue in order to begin it again. Importing
     this sort of violence into the hermeneutic scheme may well
     allow us to develop a view that prizes the 'we' as a
     condition and effect of dialogue without sacrificing the
     mobilizing force of difference.[15]

That is, violence seems to be an unavoidable part of the discourse of multicultural recognition. It may be a lower lever of violence than that experienced by oppressed people, but it is violence nonetheless.


Recall the question I said would provide the impetus for this essay: Are the means by which social injustice is confronted in our society being used in a way that fits their function? I believe we have found the answer to that question to be 'no.' The assumption that a nation with such a violent past in regard to racial discrimination can be brought to task through non-violent means is rather Polly Anna-ish. Further, many who have worked most effectively for civil rights and stumped for such non-violent means have in reality made use of violence to overcome violence.[16]

This leaves those who endorse non-violent resistance with a dilemma. On one side is the recognition that violence is part and parcel with the struggle for racial equality. As intimated earlier I make no judgments about whether that's a good or bad thing. I only suggest that those who are truly interested in non-violence will probably not be so enthusiastic to sign on. On the other side is a rejection of all violence, 'non-violent' resistance included. The problem with this side is that it does not appear to offer any real hope of ending injustice at all. If for the sake of avoiding violence we shun the former efforts of equalizing black and white culture, we may have put ourselves in the position of just having to live in a world where black culture is exploited and repressed. Perhaps the only course for the second option is to wait for those not opposed to violence to fight the battle instead. Whatever route is taken, it seems that violence must be relied upon in one form or another to bring the resultant healing that has been the desire of so many for so long.


1. I will be avoiding here the methodologies of assimilation and emigration as they are neither the popularly adopted means nor concerned for a true resolution to oppression.  Nevertheless, I would argue that the common feature of violence is also part of these movements.

2. For a helpful overview of the major strains of thought behind movements toward resolving issues between black and white culture, cf. Cornel West Prophecy Deliverance! (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), pp 69-91.  The position of non-violent civil resistance could be motivated by either the 'marginal tradition' or 'humanist tradition' he speaks of.

3. Ahimsa is also associated with other Eastern religions such as Jainism and Buddhism.

4. Martin Luther King, Jr. 'Letter from Birmingham Jail,' in Expanding Philosophical Horizons, Max O. Hallman, ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1995), p 251.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. This is found in  Howard McGary, 'Psychological Violence, Physical Violence, and Racial Oppression,' in Reflections: An Anthology of African-American Philosophy, James A. Montmarquet and William H. Hardy, eds. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2000).  This distinction is certainly no discovery of McGary's, but it is his use of that distinction which makes it especially interesting to this discussion.

8. Ibid. p 210.

9. Ibid. p 212.

10. Ibid. pp 211ff.

11. Robert Gooding-Williams, 'Race, Multiculturalism and Democracy' in Race, Robert Bernasconi, ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001).

12. Ibid. p 249.

13. Ibid. pp 249-50, his italics.

14. King, p 251.

15. Judith Butler, 'A Reply to Robert Gooding-Williams' in Bernasconi, p 264.

16. I don't find this to be a surprising discovery given what we find among the great minds of early work toward conciliation in this country.  Such variant outlooks on the prospects of black culture in America as W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, for all their disagreement, agreed on this point at least in practice: Whatever true gains African-Americans make in this society, it will be made by taking it for themselves.  Even though Dubois and especially Washington tended to frame the race situation as a battle of black culture with itself, the oppressive work of white culture is what made that internal battle the difficult fight that it is.  Recognizing how hard a task it would be to avoid violence in overcoming racial injustice, one can appreciate the honesty of those like Malcolm X.  Though delivered in brash tones, his assessment recalls the realization of Nietzsche that power and position are only obtained by some means of exercising power.  If something is forcibly taken from you, forcible means are the only recourse to getting it back, whatever subtle form of force you may choose.

(c) Nathan Segars 2006




In his article in Philosophy Pathways (2005), Issue 112, Nick Redfern introduces the 'radical constructivism' of the psychologist Ernst von Glasersfeld as an approach that purportedly goes beyond or avoids the dialectic of the One and the Many (Pietersen, Philosophy Pathways, 2005, Issue 111). According to Redfern there is:

     ' reason why philosophy should be confined to these
     opposing positions, or why we should carry on this
     dialogue. In this essay I outline Ernst von Glasersfeld's
     Radical Constructivism as a theory of knowing that does not
     conform to Pietersen's description of the conversation of
     philosophy. It is to be distinguished from both realism and
     solipsism, and offers the possibility of moving beyond an
     exhausting and exhausted debate'.

Since his paper is largely aimed at introducing the constructivist theory of Glasersfeld to Philosophy Pathways readership, and does not otherwise engage with my discussion of Rorty's thought, the present essay will briefly consider aspects of the dialectic of the One and the Many, in relation to Redfern's comments and Glasersfeld's 'Radical Constructivism'.

In my view, Redfern is wrong to think that Glasersfeld's Radical Constructivism (or any other constructivism) does not fit into, and that one can get 'beyond', the Dialectic of the One and the Many, or, phrased differently, 'beyond' the dynamic interplay of ongoing objectivist and subjectivist tendencies in human thought. After two and a half millennia of this continuing dialectic, a choice for something called 'post-epistemology' or 'beyond epistemology' (Redfern, 2005), as a sort of replacement theory of knowledge, is not a viable option, meta-theoretically speaking.

Glasersfeld, in his 'Knowing without metaphysics: Aspects of the radical constructivist position' (1991), is concerned with the way in which (on the assumption of a radical uncertainty about the existence of a world separate from the thinking subject) human cognition works in interaction with others thinking subjects, and also with 'the construction of experiential reality'. For this purpose he outlines key principles of his own particular version of constructivism, in sympathy with the Neo-Pragmatism of Richard Rorty (see von Glasersfeld, 1991: p12). Interestingly, and contrary to his otherwise strong claim for Radical Constructivism, Glasersfeld also inserts the following disclaimer:

     'Radical Constructivism merely provides a different way of
and its values will depend mainly on its
     usefulness in our experiential world...' (Glasersfeld,
     1991: p13).

My own, philosophical, approach (see, for instance, Pietersen 2003a and 2003b) acknowledges the presence of a metaphysical or meta-theoretical content in human thought, in contrast to Glasersfeld, who dismisses metaphysics -- which he seems to equate with an outdated pre-Kantian ontology -- out of hand (1991: p13). In this regard a problem with subjectivist thought (e.g., 'social constructivism') is that, though it has value as one among a number of archetypal knowledge perspectives, it continues to be plagued by a meta-theoretical inconsistency. It denies metaphysics yet at the same time propounds its own foundational idea(s) or guiding principle(s) (that all knowledge is a 'social construction' or 'linguistic awareness').

Constructivism, like any other approach to knowledge, therefore has a metaphysical component (see Pietersen, 2003a and 2003b for a discussion of different approaches to metaphysics). Furthermore, constructivism is also, internally, subject to a reciprocal interplay of the One (basic pragmatist/ constructivist principles or 'givens') and the Many (different constructivist theories and models for research in different fields).

In a post-Kuhnian (and, one should add, post-Berger and Luckmann) world of thought, the family of constructivist approaches to knowledge has taken up its own intellectual space, as an alternate source of ways of making sense of things. True to its overall grounding in a subjectivist (pragmatist) worldview it cannot (and does not -- as even Glasersfeld, 1991, p13, by implication acknowledges) privilege any discourse -- including (it should be said) its own paradigmatic view of knowledge as inter-subjective agreement. Yet, the problem for the wider community of thinkers and scholars is that by and large the pragmatist/ constructivist literature persists in violating its own premise (of non-privileging thought) and exhaustingly keeps on carping about the inadequacy of foundationalism (Platonism), and the supposed superiority of a social constructivist approach to knowledge. This is also characteristic of Glasersfeld's (1991) exposition.

Interested readers should note that Glasersfeld's 'Radical Constructivism' is one variant (influenced in the main by Piaget' experimental psychology of thinking) in a range of different constructionist approaches, such as Gergen and Gergen's 'social constructionism'; Jorgenson's 'co-constructionism'; Soderqvist's 'embodied constructionism' and Steier's 'ecological constructionism' (see Steier, 1991, p9). The debate sparked off by Kuhn's own historicizing social psychological theory of scientific knowledge development, has, arguably, run its course and must surely make further attacks on a naive or lay person's conception of knowledge as a strictly 'objective' representation of an external reality, unnecessary. A fallibilist view of knowledge is now common among thinking people, scholars and scientists. The trend is toward epistemological moderation in knowledge endeavours. However, this does not imply a resolution of the objectivist-subjectivist bifurcation, (and the dialectic of the One and the Many) in human thought. Epistemological tensions continue, even within the same meta-theoretical approach (see, for instance, Pietersen, 2003c for a discussion of differences between leading figures in the Psychoanalytic Movement, who otherwise share the same meta-approach to knowledge of the psyche).

To return to my article in Philosophy Pathways, Issue 111, Redfern seems to have missed the point that my remarks about philosophies of the One and of the Many were intended as a note of caution to thinkers to avoid the excesses of both a strict foundationalism (One, immutable, once-for-all approaches to truth) and a strict voluntarism or anti-foundationalism (relativism, philosophies of the Many). My own immersion over the years in the history of philosophy in particular, has convinced me that ancient intellectual divisions (such as between Empiricism and Rationalism, episteme and doxa) have not been, and will most likely not in the foreseeable future be, resolved or superseded. It still provides distinctive, root positions in the ongoing philosophical conversation.

In this regard it would, for instance, be foolish to declare philosophy to be obsolete -- as thinkers (and I am not here referring to Redfern) coming from one or more of the special sciences are sometimes inclined to do. Unfortunately many scholars and scientists (physical as well as human scientists) who become interested in a philosophical level of discourse, do not take proper cognisance of the history of philosophy, and the works of at least its more famous figures, in order to obtain what will prove to be most valuable insights into its development and ongoing concerns. Instead, there is a tendency to uncritically rely on quotable philosophical 'truths' and extracts, usually picked up in the works of one or the other contemporary commentator, or borrowed out of context from a modern luminary such as Richard Rorty or Thomas Kuhn.

Lastly, with reference to the categories of the One and the Many, Redfern concludes with the statement that:

     'It is an antiquated debate, but unfortunately one that
     shows no signs of flagging' (Redfern, 2005).

In view of my comments above, I suggest that it would be well worth his trouble to ponder the continued existence of this dialectic. Far from being a closed issue, as Redfern prefers to think of it, it is actually a substantive, if not central, matter in human thought that is in need of explanation -- not mere dismissal.


Glasersfeld, E. von (1991) 'Knowing without metaphysics: aspects of the radical constructivist position', in F. Steier (ed.) Research and Reflexivity. London: Sage: 12-29

Hall, D L (1994) Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet of the New Pragmatism, New York: State University of New York Press

Pietersen, HJ (2003a) 'A review of metaphysics: Part I', The Examined Life, Vol. 4, (14) [http:---]

Pietersen, H.J (2003b) 'A review of metaphysics: Part II', The Examined Life, Vol. 4 (15)

Pietersen, H.J (2003c) 'Jung, Freud, Rank, Adler: Narrators of the psyche in meta-perspective', The Examined Life, Vol. 4 (13)

Pietersen, H.J (2005) 'Critical commentary on Richard Rorty's thought', Philosophy Pathways, Issue 111

Redfern, N (2005) 'A brief outline of Radical Constructivism', Philosophy Pathways, Issue 112

Steier, F (1991) 'Introduction: Research as Self-Reflexivity, Self-Reflexivity as Social Process', in F. Steier (ed.) Research and Reflexivity. London: Sage: 1-11.

(c) Herman J Pietersen 2005




[Image: https:--- ]

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Final greetings from the theater:

I just wanted to send this final letter of greeting from me to you who have been so faithful in your support. This artistic rendering [image] is a hospital ship from WWII. The artist has taken great care at capturing the spirit of what it is the Army Medical Corps does. In its finest hour, our professionals are dedicated to one task -- that of caring for the wounded, the injured and the sick. Ours is a mission of restoring people back to wellness and back to a condition of being able to serve again. We do it under all kinds of conditions of austerity and have to maintain a 'can do' attitude in order to accomplish our mission.

In my service here in Operation Iraqi Freedom I have been privileged to have served with some of Americas and Coalition Forces finest officers and enlisted and I trust that my service has been likewise notable. So many of those I have met in the theater of war have been the recipient of some of the best medical care in the world. Those have included our American and Coalition fighting forces, Iraqi citizens, including women and children, Iraqi soldiers -- including those who were wounded in direct attacks against our forces and other foreign nationals. All of those have been treated with the highest standards of medical care. Many have been given a second chance at life. Many others have been returned to home with a permanent disability -- but have indeed been returned with the ability to carry on in meaningful work and to live above their circumstances. That is not to minimize any lifelong disability. War should never be minimized nor forgotten in terms of the cost of human life and human disability. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have sacrificed in service in the armed forces.

In all of the nearly two years in mobilization, I have seen so many cases of courage, heroism, service and sacrifice that I cannot recount them all. I cannot begin to tell you of the countless long hours that our men and women work and serve. I have been so proud to have served with them.

I have debated with myself whether to write these next few lines but I think I shall since the scene I will describe is so powerful a statement of what we do in the Medical Corps. In view of all the public misinformation in the press, I think it is important for you to know how much we do and how much is sacrificed here.

During my first tour of duty in Baghdad, I had the occasion of being in our Combat Support Hospital with the one of our Generals from the CJTF7 Headquarters. We were visiting wounded solders in the Intensive Care Unit in the hospital. One particular young American infantryman had sustained a critical head injury in the midst of battle. His injuries were of the nature that were inoperable in spite of the surgeons' best efforts.

As we visited him at his bedside I simply held his head and shoulder as a father would do for a young son in comforting him from any injury. The General and I prayed for him and for his family. Shortly after, he died of injuries sustained in battle. I do not remember his name. But I do remember him and that he was comforted in his time of greatest need -- and that he was not alone or forgotten. I often remember him and those few quiet moments of solace when it seemed to me that the entire war stopped right there in that room -- to let him know that we would remember him and the sacrifice he gave for us.

I regret not being able to talk to his mother and father to let them know that we were there for him. But, I suspect somehow, that they know and trust that he was cared for and comforted. I shall never forget him and his sacrifice. He is to me, the epitome of the Unknown Soldier -- that fallen comrade who has done his duty, his service, his mission and has given his final sacrifice as a professional soldier -- all without the fanfare of public light. This is the soldier who faces the battle with all his human strengths and human weaknesses and at the end of the day, holds his head high with the personal dignity and pride that comes from being a professional soldier in battle.

May God bless him and his family. And may we all aspire to dedicate ourselves to our mission -- whatever it may be and wherever it may take us. Let us not be torn in our resolve as Americans to be united in our cause and in our faith which has brought us so far. As we seek the direction of our nation and our families, let us strive to maintain our freedoms, our peace and our faith.

Let me close this letter from the field with the words of my favorite statesman, Abraham Lincoln, as he gave the shortest Inaugural address in history -- his second given to the nation and within the context of civil war.

     'With malice toward none, with charity for all, with
     firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let
     us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the
     nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the
     battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which
     may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among
     ourselves and with all nations.'

May God Bless,

Jon R Kerstetter, MD, MS, FS Major, Medical Corps Flight Surgeon Aviation Task Force 3/126 Aviation Bn U.S. 3rd Army CFLCC

(c) Jon Kerstetter 2006



     I got to stop seeing things so graphically.
     If I jump in the sea to swim out to a new
     proposal being floated, it's pretty clear
     I'll never find my way out of here.
     I can see that proposal floating along,
     plashing gently, bobbing in the shift of waves,
     gentle because it's a big proposal, very sturdy,
     wider than a house that doesn't lurch or pitch,
     a flat and massive new proposal.
     What I want is to swim out there, hop on,
     and sail away on it like a life raft, out
     to fleets of new proposals waiting out at sea.
     I mustn't miss the boat.
     No wonder nobody understands me.
     Long ago I disconnected trying endlessly
     to figure out why people thought
     it would encourage me to tell me every cloud
     has a silver lining. There it is:
     a graceful cloud aloft in a sky blue arc,
     dragged down by a heavy silver lining.
     That's encouraging? Makes no sense.
     It must be nice to be a cloud, toddling along,
     scudding across the sky. I think I want to be a cloud
     without the weighty metal lining.
     God! I was confused!
     But still, I'd like to be a cloud, and when I'm overfull
     down I'll come, wet like juice, noisy, sloshing,
     rain, water, sluicing below wherever I want.
     What a lot of fun it will be.
     What were people trying to say?
     I'm not too sure I want to know.
     I've never liked the looks of this place.
     I'm going to jump in the sea
     and when I make it out to that new proposal
     rocking quietly, nice and easy,
     I'll climb on board and sail to the south
     until I rise in the sky and become a cloud.
     And one day when you're on a picnic,
     Boom! Splash! I'll rain straight down on top of you.
     Better watch out. That'll be me
     letting loose the silver lining. Here it comes!
     Get out of the way! Splooosh! I caught you.
     Must be careful. I don't want to miss the boat.
     (c) Susan Pye Nordell 2005

© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020