Happy Veterans Day
- By Doug Anderson
(Children and teachers in the Village of Dong Loc, Vietnam, where there are memorials to children and road workers killed by American bombing. Photo by Doug Anderson.)
Happy Veterans Day, brothers and sisters, especially those of wars that turned out to be unjustified and incompetently led.
I speak from the Vietnam generation of vets. We were young and dumb and following our parents—inhabitants of the “Greatest Generation.” It was in our cells, and the pull to serve overpowered whatever reflection we might have been capable of at that time. Some refused to serve, some went to Canada. I also consider them brothers, veterans not only of a war but of a historical moment we should have learned from but did not. I honor the Vietnamese community in exile, and my former enemies in the NLF and PAVN who fought us with such sacrifice and ferocity. I honor the civilians in this war who died in huge numbers, as many or more than the military. Those who survived are veterans too. It behooves us to share the tragedy, without ideology, but with a grieving heart. We had a long journey home. Jonathan Shay has honored us with his comparison to Achilles and Odysseus. He is the author of the term “moral injury,” which is defined as “A betrayal, by a person in authority, in a high stakes situation.” He has depicted us in Odysseus’s long trip home from Troy. Our long trip home was to ourselves, impeded by alienation and contempt. These are the monsters we met on the way home. In the sixties we languished in the land of the Lotus Eaters, some drugged, some joining the antiwar movement, some withdrawing into the woods or in the darkness of their rooms; all spiritually tortured by the memory of mindless war of indescribable destruction. We were called “baby killers” and war criminals while the wealthy authors of the war slipped away into the shadows. Many of our peer group rejected us but some were wise enough to embrace us, to hold us during this strange trip home. I am grateful for those who were capable of kindness and expansiveness of mind.
I am thinking of Afghanistan right now, of the slaughter of innocent Afghans caught between two great stupidities. The Taliban were not and are not as noble as our Vietnamese enemies were and I see them as fools and criminals intoxicated with a great religious fraud. We should not have been there at all. What the US has not yet learned is that you cannot go into another country and demand they live a certain way. However medieval the Taliban version of reality is, the Afghans must fight this fight themselves to become whoever they will be.
The veterans of the Afghanistan War will now speak out, especially as they are discharged and no longer constrained to silence. We will or will not learn from them, but many of their voices will be profound.
I honor the Afghan refugees who have lost their homeland because of this war and who will become Americans. I do NOT honor the racists who oppose their residence.
The Afghan refugees are veterans of that war. We should honor them. In the countries where we fight our wars EVERYONE is a veteran; there is no discrete boundary between military and civilian. This we have not understood yet, and perhaps the understanding of it will prevent us from invading anymore countries.
Happy Veterans Day, all. This holiday slips by mostly unnoticed. Waving a few flags and giving vets free meals does not touch the meaning of this day.
Doug Anderson is an American poet, fiction writer, and memoirist. He served as a navy corpsman attached to the Marines in the Vietnam War, and written about his experiences in Vietnam in both poetry and non-fiction. Among other books, he is the author of the poetry collection The Moon Reflected Fire (1994), the memoir Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, the Sixties and a Journey of Self-Discovery (2000); his most recent book of poems is Horse Medicine (2015).