Worst is Yet to Come
By David Leaf
spent close to four years on active duty in the US Army starting
in 1968. I was stationed in Germany, Viet Nam, and Fort Ord
in Monterey, California. My tour in Viet Nam lasted 13 months
as a 1st LT. and then as a Captain. I spent most of the time
as a platoon leader or as a company commander. I served in
Viet Nam from October 1969 through November 1970.
Although I was Airborne qualified, as member of the Transportation
Corps I was not in a "combat" unit and I was not
subjected to many of the hardships or the misery experienced
by so many of my fellow soldiers assigned to the combat arms.
That does not minimize however, the lessons and the impact
the Viet Nam experience had on my life.
I received my commission after graduation as a result of
completing ROTC at Hofstra University. I never intended to
make the military a career. I believed that I owed my country
a debt because I thanked the United States for just about
everything I was able to achieve. I still do. At the time,
there was no valid excuse for me not to serve. I was sure
that if I did not serve I would live with a sense of guilt
for the rest of my life. I believe I served with honor and
integrity and I am proud of my contribution.
Although I can't say I was an ardent supporter of the war
in Viet Nam I was not opposed to it when I left for the war.
I had accepted the propaganda like the "Hearts and Minds"
film we saw, narrated by Glenn Ford, and designed to make
us feel that our mission was sacrosanct.
About two months after my arrival in Nam, I found myself
profoundly opposed to the war. I not only hated the North
Vietnamese but those of the South as well. I found it hard
to accept their disdain for Americans. I could not understand
their apathy at best and their anti-American assistance to
the Viet Cong at worst. I, like so many of my fellow soldiers,
were there to save them from the misery of Communism and they
seemed not to care. Many seem to rejoice at our casualties.
My tour became a simple attempt to complete my company and
platoon missions with the least risk of casualties to the
troops under my command.
It is hard to explain how removed from the world one feels
in a combat zone. The sense that what you see as reality conflicts
with information being given to the people at home feels like
a joke, albeit a very bad one. As General Hal Moore stated
in his book We Were Soldiers Once... and Young the
war becomes a fight to stay the course and take care of each
other the best you can. The sense of political purpose and
overall goals take a back seat.
It was not until years later that I had the epiphany as
to why the war was so wrong. We went into Viet Nam with all
our preconceived ideas of what that country wanted and needed.
We destroyed their economy, we impregnated their women with
thousands of illegitimate Amerasian babies, and we tried to
foist a corrupt South Vietnamese Government upon them that
was no better than the one we were fighting. We considered
what was in our best interest but never what was in
theirs. We were not really trained in their customs
nor did we seem to care. We violated their beliefs and really
mocked them by the things we did. I believe we saw them as
something less than human. It is no wonder they viewed us
as something to endure rather than as their saviors.
Terrible things happen in the name of war. Soldiers do things
that can only originate in their darkest depths. In many cases
these things are heroic because, while they destroy lives,
they also save them. For people with no morals or compassion
these deeds are no problem. For a person with conscience the
salve used to adjust is the knowledge that it was done for
a greater good and the overall betterment of mankind. That
is why we talk about WW II as the good war.
The fact that we did not feel that way when we returned
from Viet Nam is part of the reason we had so many psychological
casualties after the veterans returned. It resulted from a
public that was apathetic at best and outright hateful at
worst. But it also stemmed from the fact that we felt betrayed
by those who were supposed to insure that we were only sent
in harm's way as a last resort and for a just cause.
That is why it was so easy for me, and many other veterans,
to see the fallacious basis for the war in Iraq. This is why
so many of us protested before the invasion. I don't know
how I would have voted on giving the president permission
to war if I was a senator and had been exposed to the phony
intelligence they were given, but without it, the situation
was crystal clear. It was obvious that we had contained Saddam
Hussein, he was no threat to the US, and war was unnecessary,
immoral, and illegal.
Now that more information has come out we find that the
war in Iraq was based on lies and misinformation. What is
worse, we may have actually been the dupes of a theocratic
Iranian regime. We have once again attacked a country we claimed
to want to save, and once again we failed to consider any
of the actual interests of that country. We removed a vicious
dictator. We also removed any security, dignity, or "sense
of self" the people of Iraq may have had. The appearance,
if not the total reality, is that this was a corporate war
fought for the benefit of Bechtel, Halliburton, and the acquisition
of oil for a country unwilling to increase the miles per gallon
achieved by SUVs.
The problems of veterans who have been released from the
military after wartime service does not get much attention.
Now we have a new generation of soldiers who will have to
deal with reality upon their return.
Jocelyn Y. Stewart writes in the LA Times that nearly 25%
of homeless in the US are veterans. If someone was paying
attention there would have to be a national outrage about
the treatment they are receiving:
After the homecomings are over and the yellow ribbons
packed away, many who once served in America's armed forces
may end up sleeping on sidewalks.
This is the often-unacknowledged postscript to military
service. According to the federal government, veterans make
up 9% of the U.S. population but 23% of the homeless population.
Among homeless men, veterans make up 33%.
... Or Ken Saks, who lost his feet because of complications
caused by Agent Orange, then lost his low-rent Santa Barbara
apartment in an ordeal that began when a neighbor complained
about his wheelchair ramp.
"I'm 56 years old," Saks said. "I don't want
to die in the streets…. This is what our [soldiers in Iraq]
are coming home to? They're going to live a life like I have?
God bless them."
While much attention has been given to the dead and some
to the wounded, I have not seen very much said about the walking"psychologically
wounded" that will be much harder to recognize. Thank
God we no longer spit on our soldiers. We do not hold them
responsible for the follies of our government. But we still
face an entire generation who will have to deal with what
they did during the war.
The fact that the cause wasn't as noble as first thought
because they were lied to will have to be addressed. They
will have to eventually come to terms with the fact that even
though it was a lie, their motives were right and they can
be proud of themselves. While they may not have achieved the
goals they thought they were there for, their hearts were
pure and they are still heroes to be honored and respected
Unfortunately achieving this self recognition will take time
and a great deal of pain. I am therefore afraid that the worst
of this war is still to come when the war is over and our
soldiers return. If you think they will simply come home and
adjust, please look at the history of what happened after