This piece was originally posted on VetSpeak in June of 2005, by Diane Ford Wood, authoress of the audio-book, Camoflouge & Lace: My journey with a windbender, http://cdbaby.com/cd/camo . She is also the On-line Editor and co-founder of VetSpeak.org. Juxtapose what you read here to the Iran and Afghanistan Veterans, given the recent news that shouldn't be too much of a stretch. Sadly, as we have been saying it should for equally as long; not much has changed, lo these thirty some odd years. There are lessons to be learned from all of this...so, here we go, one more time...
BEAUTIFUL AWARENESS, ARTIFICIAL PEACE
"It was through relationships and families that America first absorbed the veterans of Vietnam. And it is through their voices that America might finally embrace the heroes of that war." Russ Scheidler, Vietnam-era vet, St. Paul, MN
What follows is a letter to Anna Acker, a young Calif. woman writing a master's thesis on VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against The War), Orange County, Ca, and their activities during the early 1970s. Anna was deeply moved by her interviews with Vietnam Vets while gathering and researching her material. We are moved by Anna's serious commitment to learn the true history of VVAW -- despite current efforts to rewrite it.
I speak for no veteran. I speak for myself as a woman who once marched beside vets protesting the very war they had just returned from fighting. To answer your question: Yes; it is hard not to be moved by Vietnam veterans, especially VVAW vets.
Back in "The Day," the entire country desperately needed to justify the losses of their sons and daughters overseas. VVAW and other organizations risked everything to point out society's mistakes and limitations. The price they paid you can still see in their eyes.
This collusion by society to discredit knowing voices is one of the most insidious demons we all face, vets and non-vets alike. Our eyes have seen, we know what we know, yet we are not only urged to be silent, we are commanded to be silent, faced with every type of loss if we don't maintain the status quo. The vets you are interviewing have spoken out at a great personal price. Some still speak out. Even today, the status quo demands to be maintained. Vietnam vets carry those knowing eyes into every life situation.
How can they not be disillusioned! How can we not be moved!
I believe that many Vietnam vets do not know peace because they will not adjust to lies or knowingly coexist with lies. And once you see one lie, you see them everywhere, not only in the government, but at home, at work, and even in ourselves. Learning to live in a world that expects us to get with a program like that − wow − what a painful challenge to our sanity most of us can't and will not meet. Some of us drown our beautiful awareness in medicines and other types of artificial peace to get by, others go blank, others never make it that far, some never made it back from Vietnam in the first place.
"How can I convey what I saw and felt: The feelings, emotions, flaming on-fire eyes of those young veterans around me, the frustration, pain, hopelessness and rage they experienced as they tried to readjust to a society that generally did not accept them; a society that often wrote off their ravings as whining, where parents rejected grown children and grown children rejected back?" excerpt from Camouflage & Lace liner notes
But lies are nothing new. Disillusionment, stereotyping, terrible loss, flashes of happiness forever mixed with guilt and sadness, are also not new. We all know the costs of speaking truth to power, and disillusionment is one of the biggest. Understood for what it is, disillusionment is an extremely valuable, conscience-inspired state of being. It is not the end of the road or a place to live. It is a place to visit, understand and move on from. In fact, I also believe that just at that moment when we break under the burden/gift of vision into full-blown disillusionment, is the exact time when true personal and social change can happen.
If we can understand our own disillusionment as the prophet it is, happiness and peace are actually possible − even in a terribly imperfect world. Yet most of us have no clue how to do this without relying on yet another form of enslavement like religion, paramilitary groups, cults, etc. Even more difficult to survive are those friends and family committed to a circular lifestyle of endless anger and hopelessness. Afraid of change, sticking close to the pain they know so well, they resist our attempts for a better life, and try to pull us back. Risking banishment, we move ahead anyway. The shift that causes in our lives, by nature, will also cause shifts in their lives. And that is one way to change the world − friend by friend.
To move forward, we must believe in our own sanity, even if the world does not agree. We must believe that where there's smoke, there is not always fire, that the crowd is often wrong and often desperately limited in perspective. VVAW is one group that has worked to educate the masses about actions the American people condone − but really have no clue about. Most Vietnam veterans know the truth. What a beautiful, selfless, essential mission. No matter what political agenda floats our boats, even if our lives are in great working order, or hopelessly tangled up in blue − that dedication and commitment should be honored, lauded and respected. But that is, of course, not often the case.
There is peace and strength in separating our own sanity from that of society's, but we can't stop there. The tooth fairy is dead − there is no beauty or hope waiting under my pillow. Our long-deserved moments of happiness or peace will not come unless we get the f--- out of bed, and do what we need to do to take care of ourselves. Our happiness (or even a good night's sleep) does not diminish anyone else's. It makes us stronger, and therefore the world is stronger. Disillusionment is a human, not American state. Every day the light bulb goes off and some of us find ways to live thoughtful, productive lives, no matter how grave our mistakes, no matter how much pain and anger we've inflicted or confronted to get where we are going.
So, Anna, even at your young age, your heart already knows all of this. You seek meaning and explanations for the unfathomable and unthinkable. It may take a lifetime to grasp the overview; maybe the older vets you are meeting will help move you along faster. Maybe the younger vets will, too. Maybe someday you'll write the book, or be a journalist who exposes lies with insight and compassion. Or maybe, like some of us, you'll end up boring strangers in some dark, Joni Mitchell café. But promise me you won't linger there too long, okay?
You are the future, dear Anna. I see great hope and beauty in that.
Diane Ford Wood
Camouflage & Lace