Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts as Memorial Day approaches

I just watched a program on PBS Frontline - The Wounded Platoon. I was galvanized to start a blog, but it turned into a project: I'm working on a full-blown essay that I hope to post to my Website soon. [Update: that essay is done and has been posted here] What I'm posting here is the short version.

This PBS program revealed how the horrors of war have ravaged some of our soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Life is all about choices, and our soldiers are responsible for the choices they make, even in wartime and certainly afterward. But they didn't necessarily choose to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That happened because they were doing their duty in a terrible situation: combat is always terrible. And they're suffering the consequences of PTSD in awful ways: rage, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, murder, suicide. If we're going to make our young people suffer such things, one would hope that it would be for a good reason (e.g., WWII) rather than bad ones (Vietnam, Iraq).

Although I was in Vietnam, I only experienced a shadow of what real combat troops went through. You couldn't call me a PTSD victim. But still I was horrified by the casual acceptance of terrible things in war, even in the relative quiet of Phu Bai in 1970. I suppose becoming numb or indifferent to horror is a coping mechanism. What was really difficult to accept when I returned to my civilian life in 1972 was that civilians who've never served have no grasp of what war can be for the soldiers. Only another soldier can understand.

As Memorial Day nears, I hope our nation will honor their warriors, even though they may hate the war. After Vietnam, our nation generally has improved its support for our 'war fighters' but there still seems to be little understanding for PTSD victims. We as a nation need to help support them. While I don't condone the choices some of them make, I'm saddened by the way our nation has used them and then discarded them. We collectively are responsible for what happened to them, and for the military simply to give them bad discharges and turn them loose is just not right. The first Rambo movie, First Blood, was about this - however bogus and stupid Hollywood can be, at least this was an attempt at a sympathetic treatment of PTSD victims when they return home to find themselves to be strangers in a strange land.

Think that over this Memorial Day weekend ...

No comments: