An excerpt of the poem "Buttons," written by Zbigniew Herbert.
It is known as the Katyn Massacre. In 1940, approximately 4,000 Polish military officers held as POWs were each shot in the back of the head by Stalin's NKVD secret police--a monstrous breach of war convention. Their bodies were secretly discarded in a mass excavation in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, Russia. Inexplicably, hundreds of buttons from the victim's coats and uniforms later rose to the surface of the grave. The buttons became clues leading to a horrifying crime site.
In total, 22,000 Poles were murdered in Russia during World War II, among them doctors, university professors, lawyers, pilots, journalists, priests, writers, and government officials. The mass execution was a Soviet attempt to bleed Poland dry of its intellectual capital.
On April 10, 2010, a plane crashed in the same Smolensk area, killing Poland's President Lech Kaczynski, his spouse, and many Polish dignitaries. They were on their way to participate in the first joint memorial ceremony of the Katyn Massacre. The bone-chilling irony--the crash killed all 96 aboard, tearing yet another hole in the Polish political, military, and social elite at the same location.
I followed many blogs and news reports after this incident occurred. Many questions were, and are still, being posed: Was the crash due to fog or pilot error? Was it caused by incomprehensible communications between the flight deck and Russian air traffic control? Or did something more sinister happen? The investigation continues and we may never know all the answers.
From a risk-management standpoint, I ask, why were so many high-level officials travelling on the same flight? Why was the risk-control measure of "separation" not applied? Was it due to financial restrictions? Some suggest the president may have pressured the risky landing.
The Economist described Kaczynski as "a man of unquestioned, almost painful, integrity." Representing the Polish people at this historic ceremony and shedding further light on this heinous crime and exonerating the victims of the Katyn Massacre was of integral and deep ethical importance to the Polish delegation and generations of Polish families. Could it have been critical enough to risk a less-than-optimal landing?
If it ever bears true that the decision to land was in fact instructed by the commander-in-chief, should we consider it a poor risk-based decision? Moreover, should decisions be based solely on safety or should we consider other social justice motivations?
I immediately think of the passer-by who jumps into a freezing pond to save a child from drowning. Is that considered a poor decision, or is it heroic?
Is it possible the Polish delegation aboard may have been driven by a genuine sense of ethics, moral obligation to thousands of Polish families and their dead loved ones?
I can't say for sure, but in spite of all my training, I know I would do just about anything to be present at a family member's funeral or memorial and possibly even take a risky flight to get there. For me, it is simply the right thing to do.
JOANNA MAKOMASKI, the former risk manager for an energy delivery company, is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques with V3 Advisory Group.
June 1, 2010
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