By Raffique Shah
October 11, 2021
When generations ahead of us evolve many years hence, and scientists in their labs or students in their classrooms look back at us, at the problems we faced and how we addressed them, I fear they won’t be charitable in their evaluations of their ancestors of Trinidad and Tobago. I can see them spending long hours in laboratories analyzing fossilized brains and associated DNA particles and still being stumped by our quantum leaps in science, but simultaneously, and incomprehensibly, we could not solve simple problems such as stimulating productivity among a few million people, or use pre-school-level math to track and capture a few thousand thieves who robbed us blindly, siphoning large sums of public money and stashing it in their private acquisitions or bank accounts, and escape prosecution and punishment in their lifetimes, as well as their heirs and successors’ who enjoyed opulence while the salt of the earth and their wretched offspring sucked salt, quite literally.
I thought of these inequities and injustices in the wake of Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s budget presentation, the furore over the Prime Minister’s invitation to a television talk show host to kiss his posterior, and the never-ending conflicts that have characterized our politics, especially since the war against Covid-19 erupted.
Now, I am not making excuses for the PM’s social media outburst. He has added nothing to what has been made public of the spat, so I guess the matter ends there. But I wonder if he, or anyone else among his advisors, sensed that the man must be suffering from battle-fatigue, or more accurately, war fatigue? It’s not some outlandish explanation I am conjuring in my mind. I studied many aspects of warfare during the two years I spent at Sandhurst, followed by three months of intense infantry training. And among the topics I recall that came up for discussion were battle fatigue and psychological warfare.
Bear in mind the Second World War, which lasted six years, was followed almost immediately by the Korean War, which was shorter, but more brutal. The Koreans and their allies had mastered psychological warfare. They would gather intimate information on personnel in the British regiments that were deployed against them, and would use megaphones in the still of the cold nights to tell their targets, by name, who was warming their beds back home while they suffered in freezing conditions.
Such tactics worked well, since all the targets’ colleagues heard the broadcasts, knew of suspected liaisons, and quite often drove the victims into the hospital’s psychiatric wards.
Battle or war fatigue was even more insidious. Soldiers, including officers at command level, suffered severe ‘burnout’ when deployed for lengthy spells. Dr. Rowley has chosen to lead the war against Covid-19, which, for all the comfortable lifestyle he enjoys as Prime Minister, hardly makes life easier. In fact, two-to-three months into what many thought then would be a fairly brief campaign, I used to wonder what effect the constant pressures would have on chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram, his aides and the wider medical personnel. As medical facilities across the world collapsed and images of widespread death invaded and occupied our television screens, with my background and training for war, my fears rose.
If they collapsed, I thought, ‘all ah we dead’.
What was worse then were what I call the fifth columnists, doctors and influential politicians who trivialized the pandemic, who undermined the drastic measures the government, working with WHO guidelines, took, in their bid to stem the pandemic, contain the contagion.
With body-bags piling up, intensive care units bursting at the seams, medications for treating the virus unknown, and vaccines still ideas in the heads of scientists, people do not know how close to chaos we came. Add to that hundreds, sometimes thousands of ‘imps’ who just had to party, with all the ramifications that carried.
On top of this Covid war, or maybe just below it, a major campaign for economic survival raged, led from the front by Dr Rowley. Commodity prices collapsed which meant little or no US dollars coming into the Treasury. Local food production, most times grossly insufficient, had to be stimulated. Our farmers rose to the occasion. Then there were tens of thousands of hampers to be distributed to hungry people. Again generous donors and social workers alike fell into place like a disciplined army of volunteers.
From money to food to medications to vaccines to pampers, Dr. Rowley and his Ministers had to coordinate the efforts. Ultimately he took the responsibility and shouldered the blame for anything that went wrong. So if the man got angry at one ‘imps’ and used a soft four letter word responding to him, what the hell? Maybe he should have shown me the corner where the ‘imps’ passed and I would have cuss-up his…