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Integrity, Honor and Loyalty -                  Healing and The Fog of Way At Home

Note:  This was submitted, but not published in the Lincoln Times-News because the editor (thus, this columnist) left the paper. It was submitted to multiple online sites concerned with veterans, peace and the war.

There is controversy with regard to the war and the idea of counselors not presenting a bias in work with clients.  However, my wartime and life experiences drive me to address the impact of war in terms of offering healing intervention at the world community level. I perceive integrity, honor and loyalty as significant elements of mental health and the declining value of these traits in our society as an indication of our collective decline in mental health. My perspectives on war issues originate from these, not political, concerns. Please be advised, my war experience significantly impacts my perception and judgment in these matters.

      As a disabled Vietnam Veteran, I watch in anguish as this administration, by the acquiescence of Congress, perpetuates another endless war for its own self-serving purposes.   

This is an administration and society that (unlike Vietnam days) says, "Support Our Troops," but that is not happening. This administration, backed by Congress, has been following policies that fail to provide adequate infrastructure for combat operations; policies that overwhelm and exhaust our troops; policies that punish our troops for their exhausted mistakes in the heat of battle; policies that do not adequately support new veterans upon their return home and policies that selfishly and dishonorably sacrifice our troops for a questionable cause that was initiated upon lies and deception.   

It is a war, once declared "won" that continues to escalate among an Iraqi leadership and citizenry that has yet to take adequate responsibility for its own governance.  Iraqi lawmakers take extended vacations while blood-thirsty factions are more interested in killing their way to supremacy than negotiating a fledgling democracy. Through it all, our troops continue to be maimed and killed. And, trust me, the days of their feeling betrayed by their country are coming. Far more than can ever be predicted on the face of it, our troops’ realization of that betrayal will cripple lives. 

I don’t know another Vietnam Veteran who doesn’t share my perception that the combat dynamics and psychological pressures of this war are virtually identical to Vietnam.  Change the jungle for the desert and you have it. Change Vietnamese culture for Iraqi culture and you have it again:  nobody knows who the enemy is – until he or she blows you up.  But what do the chickenhawks in Washington know? 

In Vietnam, I experienced the horror of war as a helicopter ambulance pilot.  I saw firsthand how it felt to be in daily combat situations without the moral and logistical support of the leaders in the war effort. I volunteered as the son of a WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, but then – as now – the leadership of the country was not supporting us for a noble cause.  At age 20, I finished growing up in Vietnam, feeling completely betrayed by my leaders and everything they stood for.  Branded as a "baby killer," I was one of many veterans who spent a lifetime unable to acquire decent employment – not even after working myself through college on an inadequate GI Bill.  To this day, I do not know where my pathology – my PTSD – ends and the pathology of our society begins.  

Now, we are breeding a whole new crop of betrayed veterans.  These are among the best, brightest and most patriotic of our youth who left our shores willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  What they are discovering is they have been sacrificed, body and soul, to a cause known only to the clandestine pursuits of our present nefarious administration – sold out in the pursuit of a ruse, then manipulated to remain in this God-forsaken setting, hoping – as we did in Vietnam – that they will not be the last to die for a mistake.  

In today's war, however, the last one to die would not be dying for a mistake, but a lie – a treacherous lie! Added to this, after neglecting diplomacy and throwing the rock into the hornets’ nest by electing to fight the wrong war, we are now less safe than we were after 9/11. As a psychotherapist, I honestly wonder whether we are dealing with insanity or psychopathy.  I am reminded of some clichés commonly used by people who are actually working on recovery from their addictions and afflictions: “We are only as sick as the secrets we keep.” Then there’s that great definition for those who are out of touch with reality: “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”  However, add together lies, disrespect for the law, self-interest repeatedly elevated to lethal consequences, along with lack of remorse and we have the formula for psychopathy. Also, the catalyst for turning troops into cannon fodder, as history will confirm. 

The percentage of troops returning alive from this war, but maimed for life due to war wounds, PTSD, or both, will be greater than previous wars – thanks to more advanced battlefield medicine. However, even battlefield medicine has its limits. Will our troops be psychologically stranded on the battlefield, as they were in Vietnam? It will be the personal experience of our troops – in terms of the value they experience being put upon them and the long-term reception they receive upon their return home – that will determine their ability to "come home" to live the rest of their lives. It all begins with not asking unnecessary sacrifices. 

There were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein is dead and our continuing military presence inspires daily enlistments into Al Qaeda and the insurgencies. Based upon continuing needless sacrifice of our troops, how can our troops possibly feel valued?  Many of them may not be aware now – but they will grow up in war, as I did, and they will realize how little value they have in the eyes of this country's chickenhawk leadership! 

What does such betrayal do to the adjustment of veterans, returned from the war?  Speaking for myself and many Vietnam Veterans, plus veterans of the current war I have had exposure to, many of us feel we have been lied to, manipulated, conned – and in many ways, we were – and are.  The stories of decaying medical facilities, vets returning to non-existent jobs and media references to “crazy Iraq Vets” is just the beginning for this era.  This is an administration that cuts funds for veterans' services even as it ups the ante in our current war effort!  Further, it is an outrage that the Department of Veterans Affairs, many of its dedicated staffers veterans themselves, gets the blame when its well-planned programs are not properly funded.

Weeks ago, as the Senate prepared for filibuster debates, MoveOn.org sent me an email, asking me if I would share my story as a veteran.  The substance of my message is this document. What I am seeing every day is my story!  I see Vietnam all over again – only worse in many ways. At least folks in our era were honest in their intentions not to give us "baby killers" support on our return.  I anguish over how little support follows the lip service about supporting our troops. I especially anguish over how our exhausted troops have their tours extended or are returned to combat duty without proper rest and recovery. Over the years since this war began, I have lain awake at night in silent vigil for our new generation of forsaken warriors, have flown Iraq Dust Off missions in my nightmares and anguished at the growing disparity between the  rising number of casualties and the depletion of justifiable reasons for this war. 

It is said that 58,000 died in Vietnam and at least that many Vietnam Veterans have died since at their own hand. In this new era of war, we are setting the stage for another round of destroyed lives – not just outright combat casualties, but another generation of veterans who will come home to a country that does not support them in recovering from an unjustified war, alienated from themselves and their families due to untreated PTSD, and subjugated to endless lip service backed by under-funded programs.   

We all face the consequences of this warfare dilemma together – not just our leadership – and our troops most of all. They must be honored for their sacrifices and the honor to be found in service to country.  

On the other hand, it is not realistic to expect to completely end with honor an enterprise that was initiated on the basis of lies and deception. As a nation, we must return to a state of honor and integrity – worthy of the troops who defend us. We can take our country back from self-serving political parties and corporate lobbyists. We can demand accountability of our leadership, return to the rule of law, and reinstate balance of power in government.   

However, change of leadership is the only way we can expect to bring integrity, honor and healing to our fractionated country – both in our eyes and the eyes of the world.  Our country’s immediate change of leadership may be the most decisive act to end the “war on terror.”  The evidence has accumulated indicating impeachment as the most appropriate and immediate vehicle of accountability. We have already declared victory in Iraq, as far as overthrowing a dictator and ascertaining an absence of weapons of mass destruction are concerned. We can now declare that our military role is over and bring our troops back home to a country with a renewed leadership that values diplomacy over military solutions, and the needs of human beings over corporate globalization, in international relations.   

If we continue to pursue a military solution in Iraq, we – as a country – will face a fate more destructive than the enemy of terrorism. We will completely fracture ourselves and split away from the qualities that built this country in the first place: honor, integrity, freedom and justice for all. 

Overseas, our military sons and daughters are putting their lives on the line for this country.  Is it too much to ask for a Congress that will take the comparatively milder risk to stand up to a corrupt administration for the sake of our country and those who are willing to die for it? 

Granville Angell   © 06/2007 - This article may be copied, quoted or distributed for non-commercial purposes with credit to author.

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