Thursday, May 26, 2005

Cycles of Recrimination

From the Collection of the United States Postal Service

As Memorial Day is this coming Monday and as I have a few servicemen visiting this blog, I thought it appropriate to provide a link to a paper I wrote a few years ago -- "Cycles of Recrimination: The Re-integration of the Vietnam Veteran Into American Society from 1969 -- 1974."

There's no question that the paper is poorly edited, though I hope not poorly written nor researched.

Here's the last page:

As I completed the research, I found a series of websites about dogs who had served in Vietnam as sentries, as well as for minesweeping and tunnel searches. At the end of the war most of the handlers wanted to bring their dogs home. The military refused to allow them to come back to the United States. Most heartbreaking was a story of a handler holding and stroking his German Shepard as the animal was injected with a green shot of death. Most compelling though was this official response from the Marine Corps to a handler who wanted to spare his dog this fate:

“A militarily trained dog is conditioned to operating in a noisy, violent, and sometimes confusing environment. Experts in the field of training such dogs have stated that a military dog cannot be completely detrained. The danger always exists that, while a dog may appear docile, a loud noise or other outside stimulus may cause the dog to react in a violent manner thereby resulting in severe injury to persons in the immediate vicinity. To place such an animal in a civilian community would be most hazardous and could ultimately lead to serious human injury or death.”

The letter continues to talk about the possibility of dogs bringing home unknown diseases. Substitute the word “soldier” every place where “dog” is found and I believe that is a fair assessment of how we saw and continue to see the Vietnam vet. Maybe we don’t see him as crazed or drug addicted anymore. But the strange disease he carries can’t be cured — that of fighting in a war we lost.

If one accepts the premise that all Americans had a hand in the war either as direct participants, as taxpayers, or as citizens, then we all lost. Since we can’t give ourselves or the veterans the green shot, we try to inject it into our collective memory to both kill it and allow for the invention and perpetuation of new stories of spat upon soldiers, of a feminized military, a left-leaning electorate, a spineless Congress, two derelict presidents (Johnson and Nixon), a savior president shot before he could end the war, and so on. But the stories don’t heal and so we are left with nothing but endless recrimination.