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The Worst is Yet to Come
June 25, 2004
By David Leaf

I 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 by all.

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 Viet Nam.

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