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the distance between civilians and vetarans

This I wrote on a veteran's website that asked, "what does veteran's day mean to you?"

I'm a writer. I'm a woman. I'm in my thirties. I have never had family in the military, and I have only known second or third hand anyone who went to Iraq or the middle east during the war now or during the early 90s.

Yet, I am drawn to war. I am especially drawn to the Vietnam War. I have committed myself to so much reading--have pretty much cleared the shelves of my local library--and the more I learn, the more confused and upset I get. I am so ashamed of the way our government used our foot soldiers in Vietnam.

I understand that infantry is a powerful and important weapon--because it is the human element of weaponry. I understand that infantry must fall, that casualties must occur. But what happened in Vietnam was just horrible, the way soldiers were used to terrorize and to bait. They had no land to conquer, no people (in country or stateside) to celebrate their awful work, no idea of the point of their missions (beyond kill, kill, kill). And yet, they still did it--with absolutely no motivation beyond getting through a year and doing what they could do for their fellow soldiers.

And they came home to what? That is what hurts me so much, the way we civilians acted towards our soldiers--when the idea of coming home was something that kept them fighting and surviving day after day. Today, I am "the people," I am "home." A mother of three, a teacher...that's who I am. I play fundamental roles in the construct of "home" and "America." I shudder to think that I could have ever been one of those civilians spitting on soldiers, but I have no evidence that I wouldn't have gone along with the masses. The Vietnam war created a chasm between civilians and soldiers that is still huge and terrifying.

When I think of Veteran's day, I feel that gutwrenching distance between me and the veterans of our military. I'm too young to connect with Vietnam vets, too ignorant to connect with vets from our conflicts in the middle east. I'm a woman and a feminist--what veteran is going to want to put up with that? (The media has told me that "women in the military" is a hot and unwanted topic.) I feel like if I approached a veteran with my interest, I would seem exploitative and obnoxious or I would act like I just saw a celebrity and be all awkward and speechless. I want to say, "Thank you, I love you," but then I would seem like a complete weird-o!

I think I would. Another sign of this rift between military and the people is that I don't know any veterans. Surely they are roaming about my city, but they are probably doing so anonymously because of the shit they're likely to get from us. Especially Vietnam vets. And I also feel like veterans stick close, which I understand. But all these are assumptions.

My husband and I have three kids, we are just getting stable financially. On my short and humble wishlist is to get to Washington to see The Wall--my husband and I hope to take a three day trip to D.C. sometime in the next year. Of everything there is to behold in our nation's capital, I want that black expanse of dead and hopefully a veteran who notices that young people still shed tears for them and is comforted by that. I want to touch names, I want to cry and grieve for the veterans who must have at some time or another wished their names were on the wall instead of the local telephone book. I want to connect. I don't know how, but I want to. Perhaps I can do that in D.C.

I wish I knew how to get in touch with local Vietnam vets or more recent vets, but it's hard to be tenacious when I feel like all the cards are stacked against me--which began with how our government used and abused our soldiers in Vietnam.

I used to read civil war dramas and gush over the reunions between mothers and their sons, wives and their husbands, maidens and bachelor veterans. The men were war torn, but they had made it home and were safe in the bosom of their loved ones. Being a girl, I imagined myself on the welcome-home end of it, pushing my hair behind my ear and batting my eye and the young single soldiers returning home. And I got older and learned how American people waited for the freedom birds to land so they could SPIT on the soldiers! SPIT on them!? Veterans couldn't talk about the war--nobody wanted to hear about it. I would like to think I would have been like my fantasy American woman, ready to hear the horrible war stories, ready to put a war souvenier into a shadowbox to hang on the wall...

But as it is, I am an American woman disconnected from her soldiers in the middle east and her soldiers returning home. I live my life; they live theirs. And I wish it wasn't like that. I wish I could find Vietnam veterans who believed I cared and wanted to share with me whatever they wanted to share.

Hopefully this Veteran's day, I will find something local and go to it and muster the strength to say something that conveys those feelings of, "Thank you, I love you."

Hopefully veterans know there are people like me in my generation who love them. Because there are. Me and my friends are liberal and against hate and war and violence, but we love our soldiers and know that their work is what affords us our internet and our cars and our air conditioning and our cozy American way of life.

To any veterans who happen to read this: Thank you. I love you.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 24th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC)
May I send this to my father and my brother? My father is a vet, though not from Viet Nam, and my brother is a very recent vet, too, he just came home from an assignment in Africa working in Djibouti and Somalia. I know they would appreciate it, especially coming from a person from whom they normally really would estrange themselves (feminist, liberal, etc).
Jul. 24th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
yes, of course you can. i'm working on my novel, which is about soldiers in vietnam. but if they were willing to e-correspond, or even have a phone appointment, i would love to ask them what we civilians can do and also how would they want to be represented in art (my novel), how would they think vietnam soldiers would want to be represented.

so yes, you can send them this, and if they're interested in an interview or in someone who's interested in listening, hook them up with my email, nancydrewmfa@yahoo.com.

your dad a vet in what what conflict?
Jul. 24th, 2007 08:14 pm (UTC)
i wrote my thesis on the Vietnamese war (which I'm sure Bellee has already told you), specifically, Chicano veterans of the Vietnamese war, and their identity issues (not accepted fully by Americans because of their race, and very similar in appearance and culture with the vietnamese) in the war.

I might be able to find my syllabus and let you know what books we read...I know for certain we read Hell in a Very Small Place (which is about the Fall of Dien Bien Phu, and tells you in a very detailed way just exactly how it got fucked up) and Dispatches, which you've probably read since it's one of those Canon books for Vietnamese War studies. Just let me know!
Jul. 25th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC)
saw this today and thought of you:
ALSO i keep forgetting to answer your tequila question. in the mid-range i would say go for sauza...there are three or so types. conmemorativo is the best, but highest. hornitos is pretty good and reasonably priced. my favorite tequila of all is don julio reposado. it's sooooooooo good but also expensive. however sometimes i find myself at a bar where it's $6 a shot and i say OKAY! usually i stick to the brown tequilas...silver just means it hasn't aged yet, so it's not as robust. which, i think if you're going to drink tequila you should go whole hog, ya know?
let me know what you come up with!
Jul. 25th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
this is beautiful, it gave me a tear in my eye. you are so right on.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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