Living in a swill of regret
This is a bad time of year for me. It was 46 years ago (almost to the day) that things turned sour for me.
I was a kid soldier in Vietnam like so many other American boys at the time. Unlike the Vietnamese boys, the war was an adventure for us, like something on TV or in the comic books. It was almost a game for the GIs. As a matter of fact, I had practically enjoyed my time in the war for the first 18 months and I had no reason to believe my last six months would be any different.
We all had “short-timer” calendars that would hang on the wall of our hooches. Every day we would color in another day so we knew pretty much the exact day we would get to go home. With only six months left on my calendar when, like I said, things went sour, and when things go sour, you get a bad taste in your mouth and things become not so much fun anymore. Your adventure turns into something else.
I won’t go into the details of how things went sour. It’s not about that. I don’t want to write about that anymore, but I do want to say something about the tremendous amount of guilt and self-loathing I felt for myself when it finally dawned on me what was really going on. It’s a real shock to the system when you feel you are doing God’s patriotic work one day and the Devil’s the next. I suffered a total failure of my belief system. I went from a good American soldier to a worthless piece of crap in the short span of 24 hours. That’s just one day colored in on my short-timer’s calendar.
After things went sour, I became a worthless S.O.B. I think soldiers like me were called “Sad Sack” in the WWII era. I guess you could say, “I lost my gung-ho!” I wallowed in misery and mental anguish, and I just couldn’t seem to get it together, much like Humpty Dumpty. Thoughts of suicide entered my mind for the first time in many years. I closed up like a crab under the sea. I lost all communication skills. I knew I could never go home, not like this.
We all had “hooch maids” that would clean up and wash our laundry. They were good girls and they demanded respect, and when they didn’t get it they would all get together and raise hell like a gaggle of geese. I treated my hooch maid like she was my mother so we got along just fine. We became close friends, so I overlooked it when I caught her stealing ammo for a rifle. I simply took the ammo and she gave me an invitation to her wedding in return. Of course, the commanding oOfficer wouldn’t let me go for my own safety.
Her invitation started me thinking along a different line. It never dawned on me that I might socialize with the Vietnamese or that they would want to socialize with me. After all, we American soldiers pretty much had a free discrimination card to do anything we wanted because they were not human, they were the enemy. So a little Vietnamese woman named Kim Truck showed me the evil in my ways. After that, I began to see discrimination and racism everywhere.
It seems like every so often our military picks a country and sends our soldiers over to show them how superior we Americans are. I thought about what in the world would give us the right to go into their countryside, into their homes to push them around, insult them, and then shoot them or spray them with Agent Orange so that 46 years later, the genetic structure of their children is still screwed up. What gave us the right to go in there and kill millions and millions of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters?
So, all these years later, I’m an old man that used to treat others with disrespect and ill manners. What would make me think I could do that and get away with it? After some thought I figured it all out. Treating others like that is not natural behavior. Behavior like that has to be pounded into your head by something the military calls “dehumanization.”
In basic training, a soldier is broken all the way down to nothing and then they are rebuilt the way they want you to be. Soldiers are programmed over and over until they don’t even know why they do what they do. All they want to do is get into that combat zone and kill some gooks!
Sooner or later our soldiers realize what they have done and find that they need some help with their mental health but the authorities don’t care about this and ignore the problem. As a result, veterans live in a swill of depression and regret. They find themselves unable to cope with civilian life when they have to interact with others. For many, the guilt is too much to bear. Maybe this explains why up to 25 veterans kill themselves every day. Maybe this explains why I have all this shame coming out when I think about my military service.
In my case, everything certainly came around full circle. My actions in the Vietnam War had a devastating effect on the way I lived my life. Karma is a funny thing until it grabs you by the ass and shakes the crap out of you. It is relentless in its efforts to establish justice and equality. I have found that the amount of discrimination I give is equal to the amount of self loathing I enjoy for the rest of my life.
It does not make me happy to know that the youth of today will enjoy the same Karma that I enjoy.