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To Bear Witness

A Journey of Healing and Solidarity

Kevin Cahill

Publication Year: 2005

For more than forty-five years, Kevin Cahill has been helping to heal the world: as a leading specialist in tropical medicine and as a driving force in humanitarian assistance and relief efforts across the globe.Physician, teacher, activist, diplomat, and advocate, Cahill has touched many lives and helped right many wrongs. In this book, he chronicles extraordinary achievements of compassion and commitment. Bringing together a rich selection of writings-essays, op-ed pieces, speeches, and other works, many out of print or hard to find-he crafts a fascinating self-portrait of a life devoted to others.The writings reflect fully the range of Cahill's passions. Reporting from places under siege-Lebanon, Somalia, Nicaragua, Libya, and Ireland-Cahill writes as a physician and activist working to restore lives wounded by land mines or threatened by violence and disease. Closer to home, there are his visionary statements from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, powerful critiques of the politics of famine and public health, and programs for new forms of humanitarian assistance to transform health and human rights.Looking back as the Bronx-born son of an Irish physician, he also touches on more personal-but no less passionate-concerns and on the impact on his life of the worlds of pain and suffering in which he has traveled. Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., is Director of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University and President of the Center for International Health and Cooperation in New York City. He is the author and editor of many books, including Human Security for All: A Tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello and Technology for Humanitarian Action, both in the Fordham series International Humanitarian Affairs.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6


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pp. 8-11

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pp. 12-11

This volume was designed and formatted by my dear friend Massimo Vignelli. Mr. Robert Oppedisano, and the staff at Fordham University Press cooperated, with enthusiasm, throughout the production of this book. It was typed by Renee Cahill and edited with Beatriz Cifuentes. ...

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pp. 13-16

More than a quarter century ago I insisted on a last minute change in the title of one of my books. I did not want the planned Threads in a Tapestry, but rather, Threads in a Tapestry. I had to convince the publisher that the original title implied that a tapestry was already completed, while I still see, even today, the tapestry of my life as an ever evolving one. ...

Part One: Locations

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The Middle East

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pp. 18-27

We lived for several wonderful years in the early 1960s in the Middle East. In those Vietnam War years, all physicians were drafted into military service. After graduating from medical school and training in New York, the U.S. Navy allowed me to spend a year completing a graduate degree in tropical medicine in England. ...

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pp. 28-43

By the time refugee crises had become an almost regular part of Somali life in the 1980s, I had already worked in that country for part of every year for almost two decades. I had walked the length of the country, studying the diseases of nomads, from the Ethiopian border in the extreme North, across the desert and scrub lands of the Horn of Africa, ...

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pp. 44-67

Shortly after a midnight earthquake destroyed the center of the capital city of Nicaragua, I received a call from their government asking me to establish a health service amidst the ruins. I left New York on a private plane at two in the morning and arrived at the damaged Managua airport while the ground was still shaking and the sky was illuminated with burning buildings. ...

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pp. 68-84

The RCSI is a venerable Dublin institution founded in 1784. It is the most international medical school in the western world, with a student body from over thirty nations. A mosque in the basement allows Islamic students to pray towards Mecca via a central Dublin park. ...

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Part Two: Academia

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pp. 85-87

A significant portion of my adult life has been spent in academia. Research and teaching have been an integral part of my medical career, but, as will be clear from the speeches and essays selected for this section, I do not accept a restrictive definition for my profession. ...

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New Realities, New Frontiers

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pp. 88-94

It was not too many years ago that I sat at just such a graduation, here at my alma mater, eager for the ceremony to be over, eager to shed the student’s shackles. I left this great university and hospital complex with a healthy trepidation for the future and a sailor’s respect for those sudden gusts of wind that so often alter the expected course of our lives. ...

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The Peculiar Élan

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pp. 95-100

In the long haul of life, it is the philosophy - in this instance of an administration - that may make it memorable. The details of specific bills or the relentless activities of a bureaucracy are easily forgotten. It is so easy to lose the peculiar élan of an era and let sheer size - whether it be in business or academia or government - crush the individual flair and approach. ...

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The University and Revolution

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pp. 100-104

Universities reflect the societies they serve. At all times, universities try to teach the young to learn and to accept the burden of leadership; they prepare a new generation to take the torch of responsibility and educate those who must expand society’s vision while preserving its traditions. ...

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The Symbolism of Salamanca

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pp. 105-111

Several years ago, in an address at your neighboring college here in Managua (The University of Central America, 1987), I suggested that “a university reflects the society it serves,” that if academia was to thrive in the throes of a revolution it must assert its relevance by crossing the campus gates, ...

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Grief and Renewal

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pp. 112-114

It is a privilege to be asked to share in this memorial service at Pace University but also, and just as important, to be present at your time of renewal. These emotions - grief, approaching despair, and overwhelming, abiding hope are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. ...

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To Bind our Wounds

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pp. 115-124

Throughout the centuries, those who survive disasters have offered memorials to the dead, and they have done so with different tools and different skills: Picasso did it for the victims of Guernica with oil paints. Verdi mourned the poet/patriot Manzoni with a musical masterpiece. ...

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Loaded Words

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pp. 124-130

A number of years ago, after I had accepted the invitation to give my first commencement address, I thought back to my own graduation, and, for the life of me, could not remember who the speaker was attacks of last September 11th, responses that are predictable, and even understandable, ...

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Dreams and Travel

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pp. 130-132

When a middle aged Jewish farmer in rural Wales experienced spiritual visions - the Paraclete twice appearing with instructions to “Become A Doctor” - it was fortunate that Harry O’Flanagan was Dean and Registrar of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. ...

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A Necessary Balance

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pp. 132-141

In 1729, the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Jonathan Swift, in “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents,” suggested that the poverty stricken, famine threatened, and economically exploited Irish peasantry, ...

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Part Three: Continuity

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pp. 142-145

I was one of eight children raised in a loving but slightly dysfunctional home dominated by my Jesuit trained father, a physician who recited Latin and Greek poetry as bedtime lullabies. He insisted, if we wanted his attention on any serious matter, that we “put it on paper” declaring that “if it’s important enough to you then write it down.” ...

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Health on the Horn of Africa

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pp. 146-153

The eastern Horn of Africa is the land of the Somalis. It is a harsh, arid land whose culture reflects an existence geared to an eternal struggle for survival. All aspects of life revolve today, as they have for centuries, around the semiannual monsoon seasons and the success or failure of the rains. ...

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The Untapped Resource: Medicine and Diplomacy

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pp. 154-159

Medicine is one of the last, and certainly the most promising, untapped resources in contemporary international diplomacy. That is the unqualified contention of this book, published at a critical time. The future of foreign assistance programs is being debated. ...

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Irish Essays

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pp. 160-163

My father was a physician who, not incidentally, knew more poetry - and could recite it with more intense passion and feeling - than anyone I have ever met. Undoubtedly, I absorbed his view of the world, if not by osmosis then surely by forced participation, while traveling on medical house calls in the Irish immigrant neighborhoods of the Bronx. ...

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Threads for a Tapestry

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pp. 164-167

This collection of speeches is culled from several hundred addresses I delivered during an intense six year period of public service when I directed New York State’s health and human services departments. Conceived, written, and delivered in the heat of battle, ...

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pp. 168-169

Though blood may flow in both, there is a clear difference between a minor laceration and a hemorrhage. So, too, we must not confuse undernutrition or even hunger with famine. Famine is of a different scale, reflecting a prolonged total shortage of foods in a limited geographic area ...

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The AIDS Epidemic

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pp. 169-173

Several years ago, healthy young men began to die in large numbers from an unknown disease. As so often happens in the history of medicine, the early cases were considered isolated extremes in the normal spectrum of any illness, and there was, in retrospect, an inadequate appreciation by the health professions of a growing disaster. ...

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A Bridge to Peace

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pp. 173-175

A bridge is a blend of poetry and practicality. By appreciating - and harnessing - tensions and forces man can span abysses, link separated lands, and create a thing of beauty. But soaring girders and graceful arches must be firmly anchored in a solid foundation, or even an expected load will cause collapse, destroying both bridge and travelers. ...

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Imminent Peril: Public Health in Declining Economy

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pp. 175-179

The metaphors of the human body come naturally to a physician as he views the ills that plague modern society. Just like patients, cities can rot from within until nothing remains but a hulk artificially maintained by emergency infusions. ...

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A Framework for Survival: Health, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Assistance in Conflicts and Disasters

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pp. 179-195

In a world where chaos and conflict are endemic, at a time when violence and votes are sweeping away the political contours we once thought permanent, in countries battered by economic collapse and internecine wars, when great nations are disintegrating into unworkable ethnic enclaves, ...

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Clearing the Fields: Solutions to the Landmine Crisis

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pp. 196-203

In the fertile grazing grounds of Somaliland, mothers now tie toddlers to trees so that the young children cannot crawl, innocently but dangerously, out among the more than one million mines that have been haphazardly laid there over the last decade. ...

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Preventive Diplomacy

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pp. 203-213

One of the supreme creations of the human spirit is the idea of prevention. Like liberty and equality, it is a seminal concept drawn from a reservoir of optimism that centuries of epidemics, famines, and wars have failed to deplete. ...

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Traditions, Values, and Humanitarian Action

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pp. 214-218

Our most profound thoughts evolve, often very slowly, and coalesce, sometimes, into workable concepts only after prolonged gestation. Someone asked me at the conference that led to this book, “How long did it take you to plan and organize this?” I thought for a moment and answered, “About forty years.” ...

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Technology for Humanitarian Action

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pp. 218-220

Hospitals, once charnel houses where the incurable and the contagious were isolated from contact with healthy society, and which then became holding pens to await the inevitability of death, are now centers of research and hope as well as service. ...

Books by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D.

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pp. 220-222

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Part Four: Personal

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pp. 223-233

In the Introduction to this book I cited the profound influence my wife had - and still has - on every aspect of my life. When we were very young she would ask, “What makes you tick?” In this final section, I offer some articles and addresses that discuss my family, love, education, ...

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The Influence of Yeats

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pp. 224-245

As we gather to celebrate the bicentennial of this great university, its present leaders asked that I reflect on liberal education, human excellence, and classic texts, on our own evolution as the products of an academic tradition trained to draw from, and maybe even add to, that special body of literature ...

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On Being Short

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pp. 246-248

As an obviously compassionate fourteenth birthday gift, my parents gave me a book entitled Short Sports Heroes. Although I had participated fully in boyhood athletics, it was becoming physiologically clear that I would never bring a tall, well-formed body to the field. ...

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Suffering and Pain

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pp. 248-250

A physician’s view of suffering is tempered by constant exposure to pain. While philosophers and theologians may ponder the societal value of suffering, the medical doctor must deal daily with the evils of uncontrolled pain and help resolve in the individual patient the apparent tension between theological theory and clinical reality. ...

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A Medical Student’s Impressions of India

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pp. 250-251

The crowd had gathered slowly, and sheltering themselves from the 105 degree heat, the natives waited under mango tree. By noon, there were a few hundred people dressed in saris, dhotis, or nothing at all. From habit they grouped themselves so that all the lepers were under one tree, ...

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The Descendants of the High Kings of Ireland

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pp. 251-254

I have been the President-General of the American Irish Historical Society since 1974. Each year, according to the bylaws of the society, I must deliver an annual address. I include two examples since the society and my ethnicity have been important factors in the life of my family. ...

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Myths, Dreams, and Reality

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pp. 254-255

I begin this Presidential report on a personal note. Many of you - our members and regular guests - will note the absence of an elegant element at this banquet. My wife has set the tone of this dais for the past quarter century. Tonight, the Society misses the subtle direction she gave to our celebrations, ...

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It Ain’t Necessarily So

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pp. 256-261

I am grateful for the opportunity to honor the memory of a great surgeon and admired colleague who made a major contribution to Lenox Hill Hospital. Since I can contribute nothing to surgical knowledge, I was initially puzzled as to what should be the topic of this talk. ...

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An Evolving Tapestry

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pp. 262-265

Threads loosen and the patterns of the past unravel. Violence and neglect tear at the fabric of society, damaging the designs created by centuries of custom, shattering the dreams of those who find beauty and strength in the complex tapestry of life. ...

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To Bear Witness

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pp. 266-269

Shortly after completing emergency abdominal surgery on Pope John Paul II, following an assassination attempt in May 1981, his Vatican and hospital medical team asked six international specialists to come to Rome and serve as consultants. ...

For Your 65th

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pp. 270-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246793
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823225064
Print-ISBN-10: 0823225062

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Medical assistance, American.
  • International relief.
  • Social workers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Cahill, Kevin M.
  • Physicians -- United States -- Biography.
  • Humanitarian assistance, American.
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