It was October of 1962 and to a high school kid the Cuban missile crisis and constantly repeated concern about war with the Soviet Union, nuclear war, caused my buddies and me to revisit instructions we’d received years earlier about what to do in case the U.S. and USSR engaged in lobbing missiles at each other, assuring Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD, because even such global insanity required an acronym.
A young American president stared down the Russian bear and the proper position in which to crouch under a classroom desk as Hiroshima and Nagasaki repeated themselves dozens of times, maybe hundreds, no longer needed to be practiced and the instruction “don’t stare directly at the explosion” was parked, hopefully never again to be dusted off.
We’re not on the brink of a missile crisis with the USSR because the USSR is no longer, although an ambitious and arrogant occupant of the Kremlin corner office appears intent on its at least partial, by force if necessary, reconstruction. The ultimate result of Vladimir Putin’s adventurism remains to be determined, although Putin, as well as several of his government Ministers have mused about firing up the aging Soviet-era nuclear arsenal, with one Minister publicly contemplating the effect of nuking Warsaw.
Here at home, the loss of 24 year old Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Corporal Nathan Cirillo remains a wound still fresh. Hearts will long be heavy over the ambush murders of Corporal Cirillo and his Canadian military family member, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec. A war which rages thousands of miles distant, as six CF-18 fighter bombers join a U.S.-led coalition attack on ISIS forces in Iraq was brought into our neighbourhoods by ISIS sympathizers heeding the terror group’s calls for independent assaults on Canada and Canadians. There are questions about whether mental health matters were at play in at least the attack on Cpl Cirillo, but in the view of RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, the motivation was more terror than mental health-related.
Now add the increasing threat of the Ebola virus epidemic expanding well beyond its epicentre in West Africa and going global. I have spoken with the deputy director of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), as well as Dr. Tim Jagatic, a Canadian beginning his third MSF tour of duty in Liberia providing care to those stricken with the Ebola virus. They both point to at least the Ebola virus crisis being one which had the potential to be successfully avoided in the early months of this year. MSF identified the danger in the beginning of 2014 and called on the World Health Organization to marshal its forces and resources, deploy to Liberia, Sierra de Leone and Guinea and halt the outbreak before it roared into its current reality. The WHO did essentially nothing and MSF was left, in the organization’s own words, “fighting a forest fire with spray bottles”.
Today, Ebola has infected upward of 10,000 and within 10 weeks it is estimated, by the WHO that 1.4 million in West Africa may become infected. Dr. Jagatic likens the situation to the letter ‘J’.
At the moment we’re in the bowl of the ‘J’. In the days ahead, without an all-out global medical assault on the Ebola outbreak, we will begin to climb out of the bowl and straight up the back of the ‘J’, cresting at that more than 1 million West African patients. Were that to take place, as Dr. Jay Keystone, tropical diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital shared with me, ‘it will be a (global) s—t storm”.
It’s a wobbly world these days.