[sixties-l] Veterans Memories And Today's Wars (fwd)

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Date: Tue Apr 23 2002 - 14:43:54 EDT

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    Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 18:38:59 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Veterans Memories And Today's Wars

    Veterans Memories And Today's Wars


    An Israeli Soldier Has Questions; A Vietnam Vet Has Wounds

    Shepherd Bliss, D.Min., studied at the University of Chicago
    Divinity School, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era,
    and currently owns an organic farm in Northern California.

    Published: Apr 18 2002

    "It is killing us from inside," said an Israeli soldier in this
    morning's paper [April 18, 2002]. It is not the Palestinians he's
    talking about, but, "this stupid war. It's awful. Killing people,
    as many as possible -- there is no point in this."

    This soldier is one of a growing number of reluctant reservists,
    reported Anna Badkhen of the San Francisco Chronicle. He is not
    one of the over 400 Israeli soldiers who've refused to fight in
    the occupied territories since January. He was willing to go to
    war, but now he is having a crisis of conscience.

    These soldiers' dilemma is one that I faced as a young officer in
    the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. I enlisted to continue the
    military tradition of my father, his father, and our ancestors,
    who gave our name to Fort Bliss, Texas.

    Sometimes I forget that I am a military veteran. My service was
    long ago. My battle wounds have been well-hidden over the decades.
    But they haven't gone away. These are days that make me remember.

    War will indeed 'kill us from inside,' even those who return
    alive. I have listened to the stories of combat veterans for years
    in vets' groups as they struggle to survive, heal, and recover
    from war trauma.

    My story is predictable. I had requested assignment in Vietnam,
    hoping to move up the ranks to become another Gen. Bliss. Though
    demanding, basic training with my buddies at Ft. Riley, Kansas,
    was rewarding to this teenager wanting to become a man.

    I was 'gung-ho,' until I met Martin Luther King, Jr. I had not
    connected our war games in the woods to killing people. When I saw
    pictures of napalmed babies, I knew that I couldn't kill innocent
    people in Vietnam, as the Israeli army is currently killing
    innocents in Palestine and as the American military has been
    killing innocents in Afghanistan and threatens to expand its 'war
    on terrorism.'

    Though I resigned my military commission and thus never saw
    combat, I still feel haunted by what my nation did in Vietnam. For
    years I tried to pretend that there was no war inside me and that
    by leaving the military I was not a war casualty.

    While still in my 20s I ended up in another war zone. I followed
    King to seminary and became an ordained Christian minister. Chile
    called to me. On another September 11, 1973, the United States
    toppled Chile's democratically-elected government of President
    Salvador Allende. Among those tortured and killed was my best
    friend, the American citizen Frank Terrugi. My girlfriend, a Latin
    American, was also tortured.

    When we went to Frank's funeral in Chicago, they would not open
    the casket. We weren't allowed to see his tortured body. But I
    carried it aloft as a pallbearer. Something from Frank's young,
    once playful body, entered me, and it has stayed there -- just as
    other veterans carry with them memories that can't be easily
    explained, understood or erased.

    By the 1980s I realized I needed help. I had lots of unfinished
    business from the Vietnam War and my military legacy. I was
    diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and treated at a
    Vets' Center.

    Though that professional counseling helped, it has been vets'
    groups over the years that have helped keep me glued together.
    Knowing that I can talk about my pain in a vets' group, and write
    about it, helps me endure. Basically, we just talk. Tell stories.
    Speak the truth, even when it is painful. It's not always easy.

    My father didn't have a vets' group where you could talk openly
    and intimately. He never talked about World War II to his family
    as we were growing up. He bottled it all up inside. Not until
    after his retirement from a lifetime in the military and his
    stroke do I remember seeing him cry, laugh and talk freely. The
    stoke released some ancient male restrictions in him. By that time
    he was an old man close to his own death. He made it through
    battle in World War II, but he lost much of his soul there.

    American vets will soon be coming home -- from Afghanistan and who
    knows what other countries. Though the U.S. military is eager to
    recruit young men (and now women) into the armed forces, it does
    not deal as well with them when they return with scars to body and

    Those contaminated by the pesticide Agent Orange in Vietnam still
    have to struggle for benefits, as do those with the mysterious
    Gulf War Syndrome. Who knows what form Post Traumatic Stress
    Disorder will take for vets returning from Afghanistan and other
    distant countries where the U.S. military may soon fight.

    It will be up to the rest of us -- regardless of what we think
    about the Afghanistan War and however the 'war on terrorism'
    expands -- to receive our 'boys' and now 'girls' back home and
    help them re-integrate into civilian life. That receptivity is
    best if it includes simple things -- like sitting-together, even
    in silence, and listening to stories. No judgment. That's what we
    do in our vets' group.

    Each member of my generation had to decide what to do about
    Vietnam. We were all war casualties -- those who went and those
    who watched. Many of us still carry Vietnam and our decisions
    about it inside us. I especially feel for the young men and women
    today who must decide what to do.

    Reading about the Israeli solider who refused to go and those who
    are now in battle, my heart goes out to them. What's saddest about
    the events in the news today -- and not just in the Middle East,
    but also in Venezuela, where the United States once again
    supported military traitors to unseat a democratic government --
    is history is repeating itself, inflicting predictable cycles of
    pain. It's not so much in my mind that I feel such matters, as in
    my wounded heart and body.

    What's in the news today will vanish for most people. But for
    veterans and victims, the wounds will last for years and perhaps
    never be healed. When I read this morning's paper about the
    Israeli soldier who regretted serving his country in their latest
    West Bank war, I understand those regrets. What that soldier
    doesn't yet know is those feelings won't readily disappear. They
    can last a lifetime.

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