Monthly Archives: September 2014

A MULTITUDE OF SINS


All the males I knew in high school were subject to being drafted and sent to Vietnam.  It was simply a fact of life.  Like their fathers before them, they went when they were called up to serve their country.  Those who saw combat paid a heavy price and those who survived continue to pay, to this day.

Their PTSD driven guilt and shame led to Vietnam veterans having a divorce rate above 90%.  More than 500,000 were arrested or incarcerated, with an estimated 100,000 in prison, and 200.000 on parole.  50% to 75% tried to ‘self medicate’ away their pain with drugs and alcohol.

According to a 2009 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, “The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 131.000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and approximately twice that many experience homelessness over the course of a year.  Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country……47% of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.”

A report by The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that “..on any given night 200,000 veterans are homeless, and 400,000 veterans will experience homelessness during the course of a year, and according to the VA, 97% of those homeless will be male.”   

And of course, there is the suicide rate for Vietnam veterans.  According to a report by Chuck Dean, executive director of Point Man International, a non-profit organization based out of Seattle, a VA doctor estimated the number of Vietnam veteran suicides at about 200,000 men.  He said “The reason the official suicide statistics were so much lower was that in many cases the suicides were documented as accidents, primarily single car drunk driving accidents and self inflicted gunshot wounds that were not accompanied by a suicide note.”  The report added “According to the doctor, the under-reporting of suicides was primarily an act of kindness to the surviving relatives.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs in a report released in February 2013, the average veteran suicide rate is twenty-two every day, or an average of one every sixty-five minutes, and more than sixty-nine percent of veteran suicides were of individuals aged 50 years, or more.  The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to have an accurate count.  Not all suicides leave a note or are found with a bullet in their head and a ‘smoking gun’ in their hand.  In fact, very few veteran suicides are that obvious.  All too often, veteran suicide comes in a far more subtle form and those deaths are attributed to other causes (i.e. drugs, alcohol, ‘accidents’, etc).  As of 2010, the national accidental death and suicide rate for veterans was 14,000 per year, 33% above the national average.

So far, we Americans have never had to experience life in a war zone back here at home.  Our veterans have gone overseas to fight, in order to spare us that horror.  It is to our shame that we have allowed our veterans to suffer such conditions.  They were our children, spouses, parents and friends, and we seem to have turned our backs on them.

 Oh, we thank today’s veterans for their service (unlike our treatment of Vietnam veterans).  We might even give them the occasional obligatory parade, but for the most part, we turn our backs.  It is not only the Vietnam veteran that has to fight the VA for their benefits (some have gone for years waiting for help, and some never received any help, at all), it is the veterans returning from every war since Vietnam that find themselves in the same situation, and as evidenced in the current VA scandal, some have even died, while trying to get in to just see a doctor.  We have not even begun to see the tip of the iceberg of problems that today’s returning veterans will encounter.    

There is a difference between those who go to war, and those who do not.  There is a Grand Canyon sized gap between the two and it is not possible for anyone that has not experienced combat to understand the feelings of someone that has.  The combat veteran coming back to the world encounters a civilian population that is completely alien, just as the civilian population finds that veteran is a complete stranger, no matter how close a relationship they had in the past; and that civilian population seems to prefer to blame the veteran for the problem, rather than accept any responsibility.  It is as if they are each on a different plane, and neither can relate to the other.  The veteran is unable to simply just “get over it.” And the civilian seems unwilling to try to understand and accept veterans, as they are, in order to help them heal.

These are some of the reasons I wrote “Heirs of Honor”. I hope by sharing my story I can help other veterans and their families & friends understand this whole concept a little better.

Unfortunately, the history of the Vietnam veteran seems to be repeating with the veterans of today.  Shame, America, shame.

IF TRUTH BE TOLD…


We are taught in America that our nation operates on the highest of principles, freedom, democracy, and justice for all.  We are the good guys that wear the white hats with selfless intent, and it is our sacred duty to protect and preserve these principles.  That is what we are told by our government and our media, but all too often in the recent past we have learned that our government has not always behaved with such integrity and nobility.  All too often our government has done things not for freedom and democracy, as we are told, but for the benefit of wealthy corporations and rich individuals, things done in secret that we only learn about twenty, thirty, fifty years, after the fact, and then only with the release of sealed documents after lengthy legal battles.

Most Americans view September 11th as a day that is our own personal day of horror and loss.  We can remember exactly where we were, and what we were doing when our nation suffered the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, and on every September 11th that followed that attack, we remember how we felt.  Our emotional pain overwhelms our politics.  We are all Americans and we are united….but we are not alone, as we relive that anniversary date.  We share that date with the people of Chile, except the attack they suffered on that date in 1973 lasted for seventeen years and was created and enabled by the US government.

At the end of WWI the United States replaced Britain to control Chile’s resources and economic activity, essentially preventing Chile from gaining any economic independence. Two major US companies Anaconda and Kennecott took control of Chile’s ‘highly profitable’ resources, and after WWII Chile could not even exploit any extra copper they produced since the copper was marketed solely through subsidiaries of the U S companies, and there was a ceiling price on copper products fixed by the allied government during the war.

As Chile’s working class began to demand a higher standard of living, higher wages and better working conditions, the idea of a leftist government as the people’s salvation gained ground.

According to the 1975 Church Commission Report, covert U.S. involvement in Chile between 1963 and 1973 was ‘extensive and continuous’. The CIA spent $8 million between 1970 and the military coup on September 11.1973.

In a report released September 19, 2000 acknowledging relations with Pinochet’s regime ( “CIA Activities in Chile,”), the CIA revealed that the head of Chile’s secret police, DINA, was a paid CIA asset in 1975, and that the CIA maintained contact with him long after he sent agents to Washington D.C. for the purpose of assassinating former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American associate, Ronni Karpen Moffitt.

“CIA actively supported the military Junta after the overthrow of Allende,” the report states. “Many of Pinochet’s officers were involved in systematic and widespread human rights abuses….Some of these were contacts or agents of the CIA or US military.”

Documents discovered at the US national archives and records administration in Maryland, by Chilean journalist Loreto Daza, detailed Reagan administration debates on policy options for removal of Pinochet as head of Chile’s government.  US army general John Galvin went to Chile in 1986 to ‘assess the growing street protest and guerrilla efforts to overthrow Pinochet’, and fears of civil war forced the Reagan administration to consider alternative plans including, as one document stated, “An honorable departure for President [Pinochet], who would be received as a guest of our [US] government.”

“One of the possibilities was to offer him [Pinochet] asylum. It was an offer to travel to the US and leave power,” said Daza, head of the journalism faculty at the Universidad del Desarollo in Santiago.  

While the US encouraged a military coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of a socialist, Salvador Allende, ”… by the mid-1980s, Pinochet had become such a polarizing figure that US officials feared his continuation in power might help the Chilean left regain public support”, said Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File.

“An asset like Pinochet becomes a liability when he is no longer seen as capable of stopping the forces of the left and creating a stable economic climate,” said Kornbluh. “Reagan admired Pinochet and wanted to go to Chile to personally thank him for ‘saving Chile’ and tell him [Pinochet] that ‘it was time to go’,” Kornbluh said (per declassified White House records). “But George Shultz [then secretary of state] said absolutely not. Pinochet had too much blood on his hands”.

According to official figures, 40,000 people were victims of human rights abuses under the Pinochet dictatorship and more than 3,000 were killed or disappeared.

Pinochet was ‘our boy’, put into power, and kept in power by us.

Saddam Hussein was ‘our boy’.  He was put into power with a coup turned bloodbath, backed by the CIA under John F, .Kennedy in 1963, making it possible for Western Corporations like Mobil, Bechtel, and British Petroleum to set up business in Iraq   In the 1980’s President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush both supported Hussein against Iran.

The agents of the US government have created and backed a number of dictatorships in the name of freedom, justice and democracy, but in reality it has been for the benefit of wealthy corporations to take control of a country’s resources.  In Chile it was copper, in Iraq it was oil.

It is important for Americans to look past the sacred history projected at us by a media that receives the bulk of its information from our government, and not just accept everything we’re told as sacred truth.  We should not fail to recognize that, especially in these days of ‘Citizens United’, our politicians serve the wealthy that lobby them, before the people of the United States, and the information they put out just may be designed to sell us on the program they’ve been told to sell.  It might help us to better understand why we may not be seen as the noble good guys by the rest of the world, and why they may just hate us enough to become terrorists, whose sole agenda is to destroy us in a holy war.

Resources:

www.nytimes.com/2003/03/14/opinion/A-Tyrant-40-Years-In-The-Making.html

www.theguardian.com/World/2014/sep/11/Augusto-Pinochet-asylum-United-States-Ronald-Regan

www.bbc.com/news/world-Latin-America-29106846

www.abcnews.go.com/International/Story>id=82588

www.latintimes.com/Chile-Remembers-911-Why-Date-Important-South-American-Countrys-History-260845

www.2.gwu.edu/nsarchive/news/20000919/

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/augusto_pinochet

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Intervention_In_Chile

UNJUSTIFIED POSITION OF POWER ….PART ONE


Like most Americans, I am disgusted with the gridlock in Washington, perpetuated by the pettiness of politicians that seem perfectly happy to destroy the middle class of America, in order to further their own agenda at the cost of the welfare of the American people.  With the exception of presidential races, I must admit that I have not paid a lot of attention to politics, outside of my own state, until now.

After the release of a VoteVets ad by Vietnam Veteran, Charles Erwin, accusing Senate Minority leader, Mitch McConnell of failing veterans by blocking $21 Billion in funding for veterans, my curiosity inspired me to research McConnell (i.e. military service, voting record, etc.).  I began my search with military service records, and discovered multiple layers of murky possible scenarios that opened up like a set of Chinese boxes.  Mitch McConnell’s military record has been under question for decades.  He allegedly enlisted in the Army Reserve (or the Enlisted Reserve, as it was referred to in 1967, and as I recall, difficult to get into.  It usually required knowing someone with influence, like having a Congressman or Senator write a letter for you) in July 1967.

While McConnell was still in boot camp at Fort Knox, as a member of the 100th Division of the U.S. Army Reserve, Maj. Gen. A.D. Surles, commanding general at Fort Knox, received a letter (and several telephone calls) from U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper (McConnell was an intern in Cooper’s Washington D.C. office in the summer of 1964), dated August 10, 1967, advising the Major General that “Mitchell anxious to clear post in order to enroll NYU.  Please advise when final action can be expected.”  (According to the NYU Registrar’s office, McConnell never applied for, nor attended any classes at NYU.  In fact, he already held a law degree from UK in 1967, prior to enlistment in the Army Reserve).

McConnell’s former Chief of Staff, Hunter Bates, told the Herald-Leader that Cooper wrote that letter to “expedite a discharge” at the request of McConnell’s father after the Army informed McConnell his condition was grounds for leaving the military.

At that time, McConnell’s Army Reserve Unit was serving its’ summer active duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  Normal military procedure would have required that McConnell transfer from the training unit back to the Army Reserve Unit, prior to release.  However, McConnell was released from military service directly from the training unit by the Commanding General of Fort Knox.  This violation of procedure would only have occurred under the most critical circumstances.  Remember, this was at the height of the Vietnam War, and it was just not that easy to avoid service….unless, of course, you knew the ‘right people’.

There have been conflicting explanations for McConnell’s release from military service.  Robert Steurer, a press secretary for McConnell in Washington, was reported to have said that McConnell never served in the Armed Services.  One ‘official’ reason given for McConnell’s discharge is a diagnosis of optic neuritis ,even though McConnell apparently never had a physical exam,  a condition easily cured by steroid treatments in 1967, and not a valid reason for discharge, in itself.

One ‘unofficial’ account, was given by Alan Lynch, a Lexington Postal Clerk, who served with the 100th Training Unit Army Reserve in Louisville, Kentucky in the summer of 1967.  Lynch worked for a Major who was the assistant Adjutant in S-1, the administrative section of the unit.  The Major told him that a new member of the unit had been arrested in the barracks for sodomy, and the guy was getting out of the service under the medical excuse of an eye disorder because the soldier had served as an intern to Senator John Sherman Cooper, and Senator Cooper called the Commanding General of Fort Knox to arrange the discharge.

I cannot find any indication that Mitch McConnell has attempted to sue Alan Lynch for libel, and in spite of years of rumor and requests for McConnell’s service records, he has refused to make them public.  I can only speculate as to why.

On a personal note, I don’t care about Mitch McConnell’s sexual preferences, even though he is publicly homophobic (but then, many closeted gays are that way).  I don’t care that he used his political connections to evade going to war.  But, like the gay that is homophobic, I can’t help wondering if Mitch hates veterans because they went to war, in spite of their fear…leaving Mitch to privately question his own manhood….and feeling the need to punish veterans.  That is something I care about.

ARTICLES:

www.dailykos.com/story/2013/02/24/1189537/-The-Strange-and-Possibly-Sordid-Story-of-Mitch-McConnell-s-Military-Service

www.hillbillyreport.org/diary/976/Senator-Mitch-McConnells-Military-Service

www.kentucky.com/2008/10/22//563718_McConnells-Military-Record-Attacked

www.barefootandprogressive.com/2014/09/Mitch-McConnells-Terrible-Labor-Day-Weekend-Senate-Race-Video-Round-Up

 

PTSD Dreams


HoH Cover (2)Nightmares are a common event at my house.  Even though the Vietnam War has been over for my husband almost fifty years, he re-visits those battlefields, nightly.  It has become such a normal event that he rarely remembers the details of his dreams when he wakes up, only that he was back in the jungle fighting the war.  I can tell when he is running through the jungle by his violent leg movement, tossing about, and groans, but as I said, these are normal occurrences and we have grown to accept it as part of our lives.  Every now and then, he has more intense and vivid dreams, dreams that seem so real that they incorporate every one of his senses and cannot be forgotten in the light of day.  Those are the dreams that haunt him, and will not allow him the luxury of just ‘putting the war behind him’.

Last night, my husband had one of those dreams.  He could smell the mud, as he burrowed down into it to escape the rounds he heard flying past him.  At one point, a frag hit his chest and he could feel the heat as it burned into his clothing and rolled down toward his crotch, burning his fingers as he tried desperately to brush it away from his skin.  It was that desperation that sent him flying out of bed and up against the bedroom wall, where he found himself waking out of the dream.   When I asked him about it, this is what he told me….

“….I was struggling to get up a small hill, a mound really, that was coated in black slimy mud.  I tried to balance myself by sinking a hand deep inside that mud, to hold myself up.  I remember that everything smelled of putrefaction, like the smell of old grain inside a barn.

I remember being annoyed because it was the beginning of the Monsoon season, and the rain had come early.  The mud was very deep and thick, and as I stood up at the top of the mound, I could hear the rounds coming in on us, so I threw myself belly down, back to the base of the mound for cover.  I heard this ‘flack, flack, flack’ sound of the rounds sinking into mud, making craters where they hit.

Something hit my pack, and I remember thinking to myself that it was a good thing I dived for cover, when I felt something burning, as it rolled around in my clothing.  My fingers burned as I tried to brush it off.  I was very scared, and I climbed to my knees, as I tried to find that hot thing, that chunk of metal that was burning its’ way through my clothes.  As I desperately tried to find that frag before it burned into my crotch, I felt something very hard and cold against my ass.  Then I had to fight like a demon to find out what that was and ever so slowly, I realized that I was standing on top of carpet, and I wondered ‘where the hell did this come from?’  I kept checking my hands for the burn marks, but they didn’t seem to be there…..then I knew where I was….back in my bedroom, leaning against the wall.  Even though I knew it was a dream, I found myself checking my hands for blisters and burn marks, hours after waking.”

As I said, the instances of such vivid dreams have lessened over the years, and usually involve his team mates that died, calling to him as if they were just a few feet away.  They are always together, back in the jungle, fighting for each other.

Even though we are decades past the Vietnam War, a part of my husband remains behind in those battlefields.  No matter how much time passes, he can never fully escape that war.  He just does his best to live with it.

In 1976, my husband suffered one of those ‘vivid dreams’.  He woke up in a park in North Hollywood, California, surrounded by police who had tried for hours to catch him.  He thought they were Viet Cong, trying to kill him.  He spent the next thirty-six years writing about his experiences in Vietnam, as therapy, and in an effort to understand.  ‘HEIRS OF HONOR’ was published in 2012.