It was interesting yesterday to listen to two Vietnam veterans talk about what are the important issues for the veteran community today. There were a number of things that were raised. Perhaps too many to detail.
One reflection I have is that it is a total blindspot for me. There is some explanation given by the two guys who spoke for why this might be so. One in particular offered a reasoning for why Veterans cut themselves off and feel cut off from the non-Veteran community. Their disdain for a trend towards the valueless society was palpable; and while it could be debated there is something of a point here I suspect.
For good or for ill military training is characterised as instilling a sense of values, and modern society rather regards value systems as something to be eschewed (the irony being that the eschewing of values is of course a pretty strong value!).
The other thing that struck me was a quite moving tribute to a dozen or so mates who had been killed in the Vietnam war. The guy (very articulate and thoughtful) outlined what had happened to the ones who were killed, the repatriation of their bodies and the way their families had been treated. He detailed from an obvious personal knowledge what effect these deaths were still having on families. And it was appalling. The ongoing legacy of war continues to be the price that young men and their families pay for the political posturing of old men who do not fight.
Neither Howard nor Downer nor Nelson have served in the armed forces, Bush (it is well-documented) seems to have avoided military service through family contacts and by taking the soft-option of what we would call the CMF or the Territorial Army. Some commentators also claim he did not take even that obligation terribly seriously.
Who am I to talk?
I still remember the fateful day the marbles were rolled to decide who would be conscripted and who wouldn't and the tangible relief I felt when I missed out. Until that day I hadn't particularly worried about it and was rather surprised about the emotional release; and I have often wondered what would have happened if I had gone....those of you who know me can only imagine. I am glad I didn't.
The sort of community rejection that returning Veterans faced is something I have heard about but not encountered, for them it seems very real.
I was struck, particularly, by the articulation of the simple reality. We are not victiums we are verterans and choose to live that way. The true victims are the families.
Let me remind you too that war is the game that old men play with the lives of the young. It was ever so. Read Wilfred Owen's "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young" for a powerful statement of this awful grim reality.