Friday, November 11, 2016

Acknowledging our Veterans.


True Honor?
I have been posting and updating this for the past four years. This day is unprecedented given the outcome of the election this week. Every year we pretend to honor the service of those who fight, become wounded and die so we may continue to go about our business with minimal inconvenience. However it is time to tell the truth. A measure of value in our world is to put our money where our mouth is, and in spite of claims to the contrary, our law makers rarely (reflecting the will of the people) allocate support of our veterans. Five times Republicans in Congress have screwed Veterans and now there is no obstacle barring them from getting their continuing way.  

This article is my opportunity to say a few things about all who have sacrificed and served our country. One of those was me. I served for two years as a Marine fighting in Vietnam. The war didn’t kill me physically but it destroyed me mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It also wreaked the lives of all who came in contact with me, as well as all those who died because of my actions in Vietnam. It has now been 49 years since I was released from active duty and I, along with thousands of others who served then, as now, have not been able to forget the horrors of war. Back then there was no name for what is now known as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The horrors were just imbedded into our minds where they would stay for the rest of our lives, haunting us with traumas too awful to face.

One veteran reminds us that, “Every year, there are nearly a million suicide attempts. I am especially alarmed that veterans account for 20% of all suicides. Nearly eighteen veterans and one active-duty soldier take their lives each day.” We spend untold billions training and equipping those who fight to defend our way of life and virtually nothing restoring the lives of those who serve so valiantly. This is a loathsome and repugnant oversight for a people who pride themselves as the “home of the brave.”

So yesterday I ran an experiment: I decided to observe how many acknowledged my service and I am embarrassed and disappointed to say that not a single person did so. The day has become less than a sale at Macys. For ten years following my return to “the real world” I endured a hell worse than what I experienced in Vietnam. The culture which I fought to defend, branded me as a baby-killer and I became a social pariah, unacceptable to the very people I served. Do you know what it’s like to be spit upon by people you love? I know and sadly I am just one among thousands who experienced the same thing everyday.

And then one day, ten years following my release from active duty, our society had a momentary twinge of guilt and decided to “honor” Vietnam vets by throwing a ticker-tape parade in New York City where I was living at the time. Thousands of us turned out to march together, and thousands more lined the street and waved American flags. Everyone cheered and felt good...for a moment.

We continued to march down Fifth Avenue to Battery Park where the parade fizzled out along without any substantial and meaningful support. I, and all who marched with me, felt deeply ill. In the dispersion of Battery Park we figured it out: this wasn’t a parade to acknowledge us; we had been duped a second time (the first being persuaded that fighting and dying in Vietnam would protect our country from evil Asians). Now instead of being simple cannon fodder to advance the wealth of war mongers, we were being used to absolve the psychic discomfort felt by those who had previously used us (but afterwards became uncomfortably guilt ridden). The parade was just a charade to assuage the guilt of those regular folk who didnt want to be late for some planned social event, and thus had no time to do anything of substance before, while thousands died during the time they tipped a few with their likewise disconnected friends. The crowd got what they came for: release from any sense of guilt, and just went back to their normal comfy, superficial lives. If that sounds bitter, its because it is. I am now beyond bitterness and on to betterness, but Ill never forget.

It was all an extension of the duplicitous game we play every day of our lives. We get all excited over the marshalling of troops and imagine days of glory, fighting the good fight defending our way of life. The only problem is the way of life our veterans are being asked to defend is a way of life that excludes them once they have fought. When they leave active duty they are on their own, with minimal support (which they have to fight tooth and nail to get), most are suffering with deep and profound mental and emotional issues resulting from the horrors of war, they can’t get jobs, are expected to live normal lives and thousands have no choice except to live on the street and stand in breadlines begging for food. More young men and women commit suicide than die in war.

So I don’t attend Veteran Day parades any longer. I have unbounded gratitude for those men and women who fight and die for our country. They deserve genuine honor but are getting only grief. Thus I have nothing but disdain for people who send our youth off to war and then abandon them when they return. If we are not prepared to support and defend our veterans with something more meaningful than a parade, then we have no right to send them off to fight for us. We should be ashamed, but sadly we are not.
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