Dear Policy Maker, Dear America:
We have the clarity of hindsight, and yet the path is ambiguous. To say it seemed like a good idea at the time is not meant to trivialize those who died, but rather to justify a nation’s actions in sending their youth to the jungles of Vietnam. Those lucky enough to return, albeit missing limbs, innocence, youth, or peace, in desperate need of healing, returned to a hostile country. Their country shunned and despised them.
In Vietnam, the enemy they fought was hidden. Upon their return, our war-weary veterans became the enemy. Our welcoming committees, fraught with verbal and physical abuse, forced them into hiding. Thirty and some odd years later, when health issues compel them out of hiding, we find new methods of punishing them. We refuse them money for benefits, question their integrity, and disrespect their presence once again.
(This behavior triggers a phenominon called "Secondary Wounding" that can be more devistating than wounds sustained in battle. aw)
Truly we believed our involvement in Vietnam to be a good idea – a necessary effort. We believed in the Red threat, it was palatable, not some mad ramblings of a wayward senate committee, drunk on their own power. To a tiny Asian nation, war weary from hundreds of years of takeovers, with a myriad of other problems, not the least of which were food, shelter, medical care and corrupt governments, our youth were answers to their most heartfelt prayers.
Our brave men and women did the best they could with the knowledge they had at
that time. They were American citizens who volunteered or were sent, not asked, by their government to serve – to help keep their mothers, fathers, sisters, wives and lovers free from the threat of communism. For if it wasn’t stopped in the tiny, vulnerable countries, it would be that much more of a giant to wrestle if it came to our shores or the shores of our allies, was the belief of three sitting presidents, their cabinets and their senates.
To say that the war was mismanaged seems too obvious. It was, from beginning to end. To lay blame at any one entity’s feet is a waste of time. It was a war that could have and should have had different results. It was a war some say was not ours to fight; many vets feel once committed to the fight, the military was hampered, and not allowed to win the fight. It was a war we should learn many lessons from. And it most definitely was a war and not a conflict (people died - that makes it a war).
However, it is not acceptable now, any more than it was then, to blame the warriors who fought so bravely and gave of themselves so selflessly, while powerful generals and men in Washington mishandled a concept, a war and a country. And yet, that is what our government does to the Vietnam Vet every time disability claims are denied, health issues are not addressed, or money is not allocated for Veteran Benefits. Read about this sad phenomenon, called "Secondary Wounding" here.
Instead of ticker tape parades, job offers and the same respect and benefits previous returning war veterans received, the Vietnam Vet was greeted with verbal abuse, rotten fruit bombardments and threats. They quickly learned to hide their service, hide their trauma, hide the uniform their fathers and grandfathers wore so proudly – deny the past few years of their lives as though they had never happened and try to move on. (Notice how the sign proclaims the protests were in the name of social justice. Innocent people died. Some social justice. aw)
Some were incapable of doing that. Some were crippled and turned to a nation that
turned its back on them. These are the parents and grandparents of the next generation of warriors, which may help to explain the decline in patriotic young people proudly volunteering for military service and the opportunity to serve their country in Iraq.
The war in Iraq reminds the Vietnam veteran of the futility of committing our young people to another foreign country with questionable involvement issues, placing
them in harm’s way where once again there is no clear front line and all the while, debating the merits of such a commitment, while removing the decisions and strategies of fighting a war out of military hands. Ordering the soldier to fight a war without hurting the enemy is Vietnam all over again. Iraq forces them to remember a year or more of their lives spent without control, in fear, where killing was the cunning enemy’s job, sometimes using women, children and the elderly as human grenades. (See a video example at www.UtVet.com/IED1.html)
Our vets learned to trust no one, there or here, concentrating their energies instead on simply staying alive the best they could, and wondered then, and now, if anybody really cared about them or what they did for their country. Many did not leave the war in a jungle thousands of miles away; it continues to live in them every single day. They would like nothing more than to close their eyes at night and not see blood, death and fear. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very real part of many Veterans’ lives. It is not a ploy to fleece America of millions of dollars; it is the Vietnam Veteran’s personal hell.
Vietnam comes back to all who were there in very real physical health issues, too. Agent Orange left its calling card not only in the forests of Vietnam, but in the breasts, colons and reproductive systems of our soldiers and nurses.
And now diminishing benefits rewards the veterans. When is enough
punishment? America sent them there, believing it to be a good idea at the time.
America signed them up for a year or more of trying to stay alive. America is responsible for their night terrors, their flashbacks, their cancers. We can’t change our mind, now, America. We can’t ignore them and hope they’ll go away – they already gave us that grace when they first returned to an inhospitable homeland. They need you. They have
done the best they can for the past thirty years, living with Vietnam every day of their lives since, every day of their families’ lives.
They are tired. America needs to pick up their weary load. We need to look them in the eye and tell them we appreciate them. That their service, their lost limbs, innocence and youth were not in vain. They are not baby killers to be shunned and disrespected, masking America’s misjudgment, her responsibility with a melee of blame and hate targeted at the Vietnam vet.
We cannot give them back all that was lost in the heat and monsoons of a jungle in a hostile land. We cannot right the wrongs of a government who callously sent its future to a war that had no happy ending; that would justify the insanity. But we can step up and be the men and women they were.
If the country’s bank account needs balancing, do not use veteran benefits as a solution. You punish not only the Vietnam Vet, but also any man or woman who proudly served their country in times of war or peace. Odd, but budgetary cuts never affect the upper echelon, only the helpless, those who cannot fight back, like children, seniors and the forgotten and unappreciated war heroes. It was like that in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, too,
when their names and numbers were called. And odder still is the mentality of a
government who sends their citizens to war, then denies or decreases the returned
veterans’ benefits. The contract between country and warrior needs to be honored.
The Vietnam Veterans, nurses, and civilian volunteers who went to fight or support America in any way they could, often defying their peers, need you now. They
need your thanks, your support, your respect and your determination to right the wrong
that was done them for far too long. Do not cut money or services to them, or question
their disabilities. That is a disgraceful and dishonorable thank you for their service to this country. They are not getting rich on America’s back. I have yet to meet or read about the Vietnam Vet who is receiving benefits in their Beverly Hills mansion’s mailbox. They took on your mistakes, covered your backs for long enough. It is your turn to tell them, “Hey, thanks, I’ve got your back, now.”
Why are we so willing to give money and aide to other countries that ask us, yet deny our own the same?
As a country, we need to make peace with the Vietnam era. Take it out of the closet, shake out the wrinkles of age and neglect, shine the light on reality and truth and make good to our own. Make us a family again. Only then can we move on as a nation – as one. Only then will we make informed, strong decisions regarding the future of our young people and their involvement in the worldwide family of mankind. And only then will future generations regain their patriotism.
When they can witness firsthand how their country cares for those who care for her. It is a lesson in respect. It is the first step in not repeating the grievous mistakes that were made. We owe our veteran’s a debt of gratitude. They are the keepers of peace. It is time we paid up.
Help the Vietnam Vet negotiate a cease-fire within themselves and within their country. Fund fully Veteran benefits.
Suzanne Caplette Champeau