It may be deja vu all over again.
As a relatively high-profile Vietnam Veteran, I'm on a lot of mailing lists used by individuals, groups and organizations insisting that those of us who played in the Greater Southeast Asia War Games got the shaft in one form or another. The flood of screeds, memorials, editorials and generic bitching usually hits a high-water mark around Veterans Day each year. I pay a little more attention than usual around this time as Im usually spooling up for the annual round of Marine Corps Birthday Ball appearances and veteran-related speaking engagements.
This year is no different. Here we are 36 years after the official end to the war in Vietnam and the inbox is crammed with missives bearing the same messages: We didn't lose on the battlefield, we lost at home. A hostile press poisoned American attitudes toward the war. We got spit on and called baby-killers. We were all unfairly tagged as psycho-vets by the media and a fistful of other plaints that youve all heard regularly over the past three decades. Some of that stuff is true. It's also moot unless we do something about it beyond crying the poor-ass.
I've often said the biggest gift surviving Vietnam Vets can give the nation beyond what we offered in our wartime service is to act as empathetic sounding-boards, counselors and mentors for the new generation of combat veterans returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We know what they've been through and we're more than a little familiar with what they'll be facing after discharge. We know all about things like PTSD, survivor guilt, separation anxiety, substance abuse, domestic turmoil and generic post-war angst. We've had nearly four decades of experience with those issues. So the Vietnam Veterans or support organizations who contact me looking for empathy or just another outlet for long-standing grievances or petulance don't get much more than a nod. I'm rarely more than mildly interested unless those individuals and groups are trying to focus their energies and do something positive.
On the other hand, I'm always gratified when I hear from veterans of my generation who vow to do all they can to insure the men and women coming home from overseas service in the most recent engagements are not subjected to the same disregard or indignities that many of us had to deal with after Vietnam. Many Americans old enough to remember the dark, divisive days of Vietnam and its aftermath believe our newest generation of combat veterans are experiencing a whole new deal in terms of public support. Even those who vociferously oppose the wars we are fighting in the Middle East and other parts of the world where our American military is confronting terrorism, will loudly and proudly proclaim they support our troops. So the appropriate separation between war and warrior has been established in a post-Vietnam society.
Some of that is situational. We were never attacked on our own soil by North Vietnamese or Viet Cong forces. On the other hand, we were bludgeoned badly here at home by the terrorist attacks on 9-11 and elsewhere on several other occasions since then. Even the most isolationist Americans can understand we got hit and we had to hit back to prevent it from recurring. You can argue about who hit John and where the violent blowback is required but you'll have a hard time convincing most people that we don't need the military to provide it.
I like to think some of the credit for that goes to Vietnam Veterans who took a look at the controversy surrounding the dispatch of our forces into an undeclared, amorphous war and said we will not allow the people fighting in this conflict to return home to what we faced. Never again, proclaimed the vets. It won't happen on my watch; not as long as I'm still alive to prevent it. Much of the Support Our Troops mania that swept the nation during the early days of fighting in the Middle East was engendered by Vietnam Veterans who knew all about scape-goating in unpopular wars and who understood from painful personal experience how quick the American people are to take military service and sacrifice for granted. They did some valuable work in that regard but I think there's more to be done. As it stands, the men and women returning to civilian life after arduous service on battlefields in the war with terrorists or their supporters around the world have a fair level of emotional - if not practical - support among the citizens they served. Unfortunately, I'm seeing signs of deterioration and that is chillingly similar to the bad old days of Vietnam.
For at least a decade after Americas war in Southeast Asia ended - and maybe longer thanks to movies and TV shows looking for a convenient dramatic device - Vietnam Veterans were viewed as unstable, ticking time-bombs full of emotional turmoil, guilt-fueled rage and very likely potentially violent drunks or dopers. It made no difference at the time that this was all an undeserved canard and demonstrably untrue for most veterans who either quietly and peaceably got on with post-war life or went on to score huge successes in American business, politics or the arts. The public had a disturbing image of Vietnam Veterans and no one said much to counter the charges. There it is...as we used to say in The Nam.
Now I'm seeing a disturbing and eerily-familiar image of our newest veterans beginning to emerge in the collective mind of American society. It's as if that old, hackneyed Vietnam psycho-vet specter has been reincarnated and re-sized to fit yet another generation of returning warriors. If we don't do something about it, our men and women who return from arduous combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to suffer the same unwarranted stigma and debilitating isolation that many of us experienced when we came home from Vietnam.
Beyond all the sentiment expressed on the bumper stickers and other outward signs that America supports the troops, is a growing suspicion among a significant segment of the population that all may not be well with our new generation of veterans. There are regular, alarming reports of suicides, substance abuse, domestic violence and all the attendant problems that Vietnam Veterans experienced. There's a new generation of civilians - very few of whom served in the military or even know someone who has - being slowly but surely convinced by scandal-hungry media that society is being infiltrated by another raft of ticking time-bomb vets. Hello, Vietnam Veterans! Does the term déjà vu meant anything to you? Does all this strike a familiar chord?
Naturally, the hints and allegations about our Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are the same kind of broad-brush general indictments that Vietnam Veterans faced for nearly the entire period of the 60s and 70s, but that won't make any difference in terms of harmful effect unless we stand up and testify. By we, of course, I'm talking about me and all the other Vietnam Veterans who have - or should have - a vested interest in seeing that our new brothers and sisters in arms don't suffer the unfair and unfounded suspicion, disdain and distrust that we did.
Some of us have bully-pulpits like this one, others have organizations they belong to, and virtually everyone has access to the internet. It's time to for us to speak out, time for us to step up and undertake a new mission in support of a new generation of American veterans. We need to remind people of our own struggles and our own successes both large and small. And we need to remind them that our new veterans are the same kind of people we are; just a lot younger. At least the people who hear us will know for sure we're speaking from experience and not just blowing smoke.
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Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 5:18 PM in Category:General News