Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, My Achin' Tear Ducts!

I've been really weepy lately. Not in a droopy, moping weeping-willow sort of a way but more like a crazy pregnant hormone kind of way. Which thankfully isn't possible. Hurray for IUD's!

I attended my Literature about the Morality of War class on Wednesday and we had two speakers who came to tell us about their experiences in the Vietnam War. Ouch. For the record, I am against war. Easy to say right? I can also say that I'm still supporting our soldiers but also, it's easy to make a statement and a whole different thing to "live it" if you will. So now is when I make a confession: for all that I say I support the soldiers, I scoff at the magnetic "support the troops" bumper stickers. I inwardly sneer at recruitment officers. When I hear how someone enlisted because "it's their duty" I roll my frickin eyes.

Passive-aggressive bad attitude? Oh no doubt. But I was raised in a family that actually would've moved to Canada if any the children were drafted and any mention of joining the military was met with a vehement discouragement. So with that back story, I listened to these two men talk about their war experience:

One had a florid face and was loud and outspoken about his service. He was traumatized from the horrors witnessed and came back to a different America from the one he left. The lack of news halfway across the world kept him in the dark about the social revolution going on at home. He went from 70 degrees in Vietnam to 12 degrees in Chicago and got spat on leaving the train station. He couldn't understand the hatred people had for him, he was called a baby-killer, he couldn't get out of that uniform fast enough.

Now even me, with my inbred suspicion of all things military think that's overboard. Yeah, enlisting was dumb, volunteering for Vietnam while stationed in Germany originally was incredibly dumb but this is one of ours. Hate the war not the soldiers.

He also spoke of his family issues after returning home. He didn't talk about the war until 10 years ago. His guilt and and shame and disappointment and silence eventually turned him to booze, he admitted to our entire class that he became a mean drunk. His wife divorced him, he thought of suicide. The one thing that really stuck with me was that "this ordeal he went through was 30 years ago, why couldn't he just get over it?" and "how could he come out and talk about it now, 30 years later and blame his problems on it when it's been so long."

He created a war veteran's outreach program, kicked the alcoholism and now speaks and speaks eloquently about his experience. I bit my cheek three times in 30 minutes trying not to cry.

The other speaker was shy and nervous and had the nicest smile I've ever seen. If he were 30 years younger... Back on track, he was a chaplain for the Marines and spoke more on moral issues. He was enrolled in a Morality PhD program at a liberal school in Chicago when he decided to go to Vietnam. When asked his reasons by his incredulous colleagues, he said "I just want to help people." My kind of man.

He spoke about commanders having to make difficult decisions on whether to evacuate displaced villagers via helicopter or abandon them to certain slaughter. (He abandoned them as they might have had enemy placements in the group.) He spoke of a time when his father went to a six grade class with him and listened to him speak. When a child asked how his service affected the family back home, he redirected the question to his dad. His father mentioned a time when the family was watching the news and heard a chaplain in his battalion was killed but no name was mentioned. He discussed the uncertainty they lived in, the fear they had and the shameful hope that it wasn't their son, but someone else's. Shit, I was crying now.

Those two men really hit home that people are out there suffering from these experiences, that even if they come back whole and alive, they come back changed. I think that I've always been preoccupied by the returning-hero fairytale where men go off, do manly, war-like deeds and come home to their fresh-out-of-high school wives and make zillions of army brats. Cliche, cliche, cliche but I think that's the pit I've been falling into. One encounter with charismatic speakers won't undo a lifetime of anti-military conditioning but it can make me think things over...and cry.

No comments: