Tag Archives: PTSD

War and Peaceniks

“Where have all the flowers gone, and the young men gone for soldiers every one.” Pete Pete Seeger Newport Folk Festival 2009-wikicommons-wm-wallace-photoSeeger’s song. The death of that great warrior for peace made me think also about those for whom he became a teacher, the generation born during and soon after World War II.

Called “entitled” now, they are believed (often even by themselves) to have sold out. They were revolutionary proclaimers of a new age of peace and love. Now their children and pundits say they have “dropped the ball,” upgrading their Beemers instead of the world. But not one, I dare say, is unmoved today, thinking about Pete Seeger. Born in 1919, Mr. Seeger was a parent to the “flower children,” and throughout his long life he passed his mission for peace and justice on to their children and grandchildren.

Vietnam War

bumper-sticker if you don't stand behind our troopsListening to him sing, I thought of the Vietnam War. Today, we care about veterans, old and young. PTSD is a recognized issue for soldiers and effective methods of treatment are sought and tried. We nod thanks to soldiers and display bumper stickers of support. We honour World War II veterans. Even Korean War vets have been brought in from the cold, so to speak, acknowledged and thanked for their contribution.

But Vietnam vets? It’s a different story for them. It’s still relatively recent history – lived writerfox.hubpages.com_hub_WarPoems-CivilWarby many still among us. But, I think, the extent of its devastation remains overlooked. It caused the greatest rupture within America since the Civil War. It divided society and families. And we everywhere could watch it unfold, and judge. Combatants in the war about Vietnam were killed overseas and at home. But now, after 40 years, it is remembered in popular culture as a war of drugs and rock and roll and reluctant soldiers.

Conscripted Soldiers

writer.fox.hubpages.com_hub_WarPoems-Vietnam1That last observation is the nub of the issue, perhaps. Vietnam was the last war fought with conscripted soldiers. Thousands of young men fled their country to avoid it, thousands went to jail, thousands found Jesus or any excuse that would get them conscientious objector status. Many completed university degrees that otherwise they might not have sought: it was a way to defer the draft. Until the loophole was closed, the Peace Corps probably got many more recruits good-morning-vietnam-cdsfor its overseas development work than it would have in normal times.

And the poor schmucks who couldn’t escape or chose not to? Only they know what they endured during their tours of duty. But all of us old enough to be sentient at the time know what they endured when they returned. They were reviled. Few parades or ‘thank you for going through hell’ for them. They were spat upon and called ‘baby-killers’.

Those who went to Vietnam, and those who didn’t, all suffered. Veterans suffered because of what they endured there, and the reception they received upon return. Draft dodgers suffered because a) of guilt for escaping while others, including their friends, did not, and b) they left their homes for years, maybe forever, evading FBI and military police. Those who took what they hoped would be a tolerable option, such as medic, were still traumatized by what they had to patch up.

PTSD for all

No one won in that war. No matter which ‘side’ you were on, it was traumatic then and caused lingering pain, guilt and/or regret afterward. For many, the drugs that got them through Vietnam or the anti-war movement at home stayed with them afterward. They helped living with the memories or became a burdensome souvenir. The casualties of the Vietnam War still have not stopped. And yet the horror of it, and the opposition to it, is not talked about all that much. It’s become part and parcel of psychedelic imagery of bell-bottoms, flowers, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and, yes, Pete Seeger singing We Shall Overcome.

PTSD had long been known of course: shell shock, ‘he’s never been the same since’. But it was something you were supposed to get yourself over: put it behind you and get on with your life. The parents of the Vietnam era lived through World War II. They knew what it was to fight, and what it was like to get news of your war dead. Like their parents who had gone through the “Great War”, you went if your country called, like it or not. The WWII fathers knew they had stopped a monster and an invasion. Yet here were their sons saying “hell no, we won’t go.”

Duck and Cover

But perhaps those parents didn’t realize that their children had grown up convinced they duck-and-cover-SourceUnk-www.anthonysworld.com_airraidwouldn’t see adulthood. It was hard to think of ‘battleground valour’ after years of “Duck and Cover” school drills in case of atomic bomb attack. Maybe their awareness that war is hell and no one comes out unscathed led to greater concern with the psychological well-being of veterans now.

And that, children of the Baby Boomers, is what your daddy did in the war. If he doesn’t talk much about it, preferring to blast his eardrums with the Rolling Stones, you might think about why that is. He lived through a time of war never before or since replicated in North American history, whether or not he has a service medal. By the way, Pete Seeger also was a World War II veteran. He was in the US Army in the Pacific.

Poems and song lyrics are from War Poetry – some wonderful writing.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Oct. 16/11)

The Good Soldier

Writing this after Monday’s episode, pretty sure nothing is going to top Gary’s Gary stops Izzy and apologizesdescription of what happened in Afghanistan.* Gary has been unraveling since he came home. He’s pushing his parents and Izzy away, missing physio appointments. Unable to cope, yet unable to tell anybody why or what happened when his patrol was attacked.

After Izzy has enough of rude Gary and leaves him in the street, he apologizes. They talk a bit. He says he hasn’t seen Quinny’s parents. She says “maybe that’s what you need to do.”

Anna serving tea to Gary and QuinnsHe phones them, but doesn’t tell his parents he has. Quinny’s parents come to the Windass house. Anna comes home unexpectedly, makes tea all around, offers to leave if that would make it easier for them all. No, Quinny’s dad says. No, Gary says, I want you to hear it too.

An IED exploded

Gary describing the explosionThen he tells about the IED that exploded under their vehicle. He ended up under Quinny, who was still alive. Some of the guys got out and ran to safety. Gary told Quinny to run but he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t leave Gary.

In the vehicle, they came under enemy fire. Sounded like rain on a caravan roof, Gary said, like he remembered from childhood. Quinny got him out, carried him, running for shelter. Almost Anna watches as Gary relives horror of shootingmade it, then Quinny fell. Someone pulled Gary to safety. Quinny was dead.

Gary has been carrying around the guilt of this, survivor guilt and the guilt that Quinny would still be alive if he had run when he first had the chance.

Anna holding Gary as he weeps and says I'm sorryIt was absolutely beautifully acted – real and heartfelt. You could see it as Gary talked. You could also see the agony he felt, at the time and now, safe in his living room. A soldier still, but a broken one, telling of the death of his friend.

I cried throughout it: for Gary and Quinny’s parents, for Anna who had to be thinking this could be the story of her son’s last minutes of life. And for all the Quinns crying as they listenreal-life soldiers who have lost their lives or been scarred by living through attacks just like this in Afghanistan and Iraq. The casualties, both living and dead, of these protracted wars.

Mikey North researched this storyline by talking with veterans of Afghanistan. They taught him well.

Gary telling CO I am a good soldier sirUnfortunately, this final picture is Gary pleading as much as a soldier can in front of his Commanding Officer. He was discharged from the Army. PTSD wasn’t sufficient reason to overlook a charge of assaulting a police officer. Too bad. And too bad having David Platt as a friend isn’t enough of an excuse.

Betty Driver in front of Rovers Return* Also unfortunately real life matched it.  Betty Driver, who has played Betty Turpin Williams, Rovers’ barmaid and hotpot cook since 1969, died Saturday Oct. 15th at the age of 91. What will we do without her?