Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
The Doctor’s Dilemma
(The following is the complete text of a message sent by Cpt. Irvin S. Roger to a Moratorium day meeting of GIs in San Antonio. Roger, who is now in Vietnam, is the doctor who announced that he would not send any troops back into action, no matter how slightly they might be wounded. See the previous issue of GI Press Service.)
One of the interesting facets of GI dissent both country-wide and here at Fort Sam is the paucity of officers in the movement. The reason for this apparent lack of interest would shock and dismay most Americans but is really quite effective. The method used by the Army to silence non-career officers is simple: professional blackmail. We are reminded quite often while in officer basic at Fort Sam that dissent and failure to toe the Arry line will result in: (l) courtmartial, which, if convicted, would prevent the doctor from obtaining a license to practice in any of the 50 states; (2) the much more insidious “professional litter.” This letter is sent out by the senior professional officer (for example, the senior medical officer for a doctor in the medical corps) to residency program directors, hospital administrators and/or state licensing committees. We are told by our supervisors that the letter could state, for example, that a doctor is inefficient, is not respected by his colleagues, and is considered undesirable as a physician. This letter is sent as doctor to doctor, so that no claims of “Army vendetta” can be made.
The next obvious question is why then am I risking my career and my family's welfare by involvement in anitwar activities? Why am I on the staff of Your Military Left? I am protesting now because I -- like countless other Americans -- feel that continuation of the Vietnam war is immoral. Further, since my entry on active duty, I have found it impossible to remain silent in the face of countless violations of basic civil rights which I had naively thought were the cornerstone of American liberty. I myself have found out what the Army thinks of anyone who rocks the Army boat, but that damn boat needs rocking.
I am currently on orders to Vietnam to serve as a battalion surgeon. My function would be to “conserve the fighting strength” by sending as many men back into action as possible. However, we are dealing with an undeclared war, a war from which we are trying to extricate ourselves with minimum loss of face. I am not concerned with loss of face. I am concerned with loss of life -- 38,000 lives in RVN. How can I justify the death of a single soldier I send back into action? Do I tell his parents and family “He died a hero to save political face and perhaps help a political party in the 1972 election”? I would be guilty of allowing a death I could not justify.
I must and I will stand up for my patients' right to life at all costs. Were I to sacrifice a single soldier's life to protect my own future I would violate the Hippocratic Oath and my future career would be a sham. I must and will be counted on the side of the GIs to whom I am professionally committed for the next two years. I protest professional black- mail and regret that it silences so many of us. I sincerely hope that no attempt will be made to disparage my professional reputation and that if such an attempt is make my past record will demonstrate my true capabilities. I am not a Communist and do not advocate the violent overthrow of our government. My record in college and medical school was exemplary and I graduated as a member of Alpha Omega Alpha honor medical society.
However, if my country feels that putting one's patients before his career is grounds for revoking my license then I have no further desire to practice medicine in the United States.
GI Press Service, vol. 1, no. 11