Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The 'other' In America: Vietnam war vetrans

Above is a link to an article written by Dennis J. Stauffer, a Vietnam veteran, about the Washington DC memorial to the war, which he feels is the deserved 'homecoming' veterans never received:

"I left Vietnam nearly 14 year sago and tried to put that phase of my life behind. I kept my experiences private, as did many Vietnam veterans, to avoid the pain of that war. I also kept quiet because the war was not a welcome topic outside the walls of veterans clubs. The Viet vet became a scapegoat for our country’s involvement in an unpopular war. We faced rejection and verbal, sometimes physical assault. That’s why many veterans quickly discarded their uniforms after returning home; it was easier than facing humiliation in public places.

Last month, Vietnam live again for me and for thousands of Viet vets with the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I learned about the memorial over a year ago and knew immediately I had to participate in its dedication, if for no other reason than to fill a void left by the Vietnam War. It touched my life and me generation deeply. Of the four male children on our fatherless family (my father died while still a comparatively young man), three of us were of age during the Vietnam Era.

Two of us had tours of duty in Vietnam. I returned home alive. My brother did not. Also, both of my sister’s husbands saw duty in Vietnam. Consequently, I felt a vested interest in that black granite wall being built in the city of monuments. But there was a stronger reason compelling me to make this journey. It was to be a homecoming long denied veterans of the black period in our nations history."

The account above reflects upon how Veterans from the Vietnam war were mistreated when they returned home in the 60's and 70's. Public discontent with the war was taken out upon the Veterans, deemed to doing the governments 'dirty work'. Horror stories of Vietnamese civilians mistreatment and rape, as well as the widely publicised My Lai Massacre fulled the general public snub of the veterans. As Stauffer explains, Veterans became a 'scapegoat' and faced 'rejection', which led to homelessness, serve mental illnesses- such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide. Veterans have been seen as 'outside the ideological norm of the mainstream' because of their involvement with war, but also because of their physical and mental health issues.

This is not an issue that only relates to Vietnam veterans, in 2007 it was estimated that 1/4 of those homeless were veterans. There has been rejection of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and the government has been criticised for not giving enough financial aid to those who have returned home mentally or physically disabled/harmed. The Journal of the American Medical Association claims 1/3 of Iraq veterans have needed mental health treatment. Members of society with disability or mental illnesses are stigmatised and seen as 'other' to many, and so many veterans are ostracised for reasons besides their service.

Mass American society feels the need to place blame on war and violence, as it is 'un-American'. If it is not the government that is blamed, it is usually some type of 'other' or subculture: The Columbine massacre, blame was placed on goth-culture; Muslims, Jews and 'other' [non Christan] religions have been blamed for the rise of terrorism etc. It seems as though some members of American society feel the veterans personally are to blame for the war, however it is more a lack of support from the government than the public that veterans today face. Vietnam veterans today are widely accepted and respected now that the impact and sensitivity of the war has died down, however the future of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is yet to be seen.

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