Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Dramatic Disparities between the Tragic Casualties of Virginia Tech and War
Dr. Raymond Scurfield
Dr. Raymond Scurfield, recognized internationally for his expertise in war-related trauma, has written a trilogy of books about war’s impact. The most recent is War Trauma: Lessons Unlearned From Vietnam to Iraq. He also has several writings about the impact of Hurricane Katrina. He is an associate professor and director of the Katrina Research Center at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast and can be contacted at raymond.scurfield@usm.edu.

Gulfport, Miss. -- The 32 people murdered at Virginia Tech on April 16 have received an amazing and heartfelt plethora of national media coverage and public attention for several days, and rightfully so.

This coverage included front page stories, color photographs and columns about each victim; all national magazines and television stations carried major in-depth coverage. Virginia Tech is rallying, shouting out, "as terrible as the deaths are, we shall survive and not be defined by this, and we will not forget those who were killed." What a wonderful community and national outpouring of grief, caring, reflection, recognition and determination.

Conversely, as a Vietnam veteran, I am acutely aware of the contrast and the deafening sounds of silence about almost all of the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan of American servicemen and women. These deaths were recorded in small boxes at the bottom of a page in newspapers. An example of such a recording states, “A Marine died Friday during combat in Anbar province;” some notices add name, rank and hometown. No photographs or columns of testimony about each war casualty, about their lives and dreams that had been snuffed out in the war zone; no coverage of what family, friends, former schoolmates and teachers had to say about them. No nation glued to the television, no other national media coverage and no sharing in a national communal grieving and homage.

In fact, the over 3,300 killed-in-action (KIA) in Iraq and Afghanistan have all arrived back in the United States in caskets – in the middle of the night. This is a purposeful political decision to keep our war casualties shrouded in secrecy – diametrically opposite to the national spotlight shining on Virginia Tech. Similar treatment occurs for those classified as wounded-in-action (WIA) and arriving on medical evacuation flights. There are no television cameras to greet them or interviews about how they survived. In contrast to the wounded survivors at Virginia Tech, there are no interviews about their thoughts regarding their comrades-in-arms who were killed. I was in tears as one wounded Virginia Tech survivor described his fortune to be alive and his grief over those killed. Yes, this is how the coverage and homage should be.

Wait a minute. Why not the same extent of coverage and homage for each serviceman and woman KIA and WIA as that accorded to the Virginia Tech casualties? Are American servicemen and women war casualties so inconsequential as to not deserve such prominent, in-depth homage as a group, let alone as individuals? Or perhaps there are just so many KIA and WIA that the grief would be overwhelming if the media and the public attempted to pay the same depth of coverage and homage

Is it that too many in our country, from political figures and other leaders down to John and Jane Doe citizen, want to avert the painful reality of the mounting toll of losses and how horrific the actual daily carnage of this war is for American servicemen and women? Lest we forget, there is the exponentially greater carnage to the Iraqi people.

Until we are willing to have a Virginia Tech-level of national outpouring of sympathy, caring, grief and homage for each and every casualty of the current war that we are fighting, we will continue to keep our heads buried deeply in the sand. We will continue to deny, minimize, sanitize and avoid, truly avoid, full recognition of the tragedy and grief of the death and mayhem that we are sanctioning hundreds of thousands of Americans to face and experience day after day in a distant foreign land.

I say enough is enough. It’s time to stop such collusion of sanitization and silence about the full human carnage that is the immediate cost of this war, the extraordinary longer-term cost of those WIA and the costs for the even greater numbers of psychiatric casualties. Give each and every such casualty the same coverage, caring and homage accorded, rightfully so, to the dead, wounded and other survivors of Virginia Tech. Otherwise, stop the disparity, indeed, the hypocrisy. Treat the dead and survivors of Virginia Tech and their memories just like we treat each KIA and WIA in our nation's war.

Let's uncover who the real hypocrites and sanitizers of the full cost of war are, versus those who are willing, with eyes wide open, to continue to sanction a war about which we truly acknowledge the full human cost. Or we can continue to devote a mere few lines of national media print to each American life snuffed out, no in-depth national media coverage, no national mourning and homage. There will continue to be even less coverage of those WIA and even less of impacted families and friends. We can forget about any mourning and homage for the tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis.

This is one of the many lessons unlearned about our American way during and following every war that we have fought. We engage in war with our eyes wide shut about the full human cost, now and later. The remarkable disparities between how the casualties of Virginia Tech have been appropriately recognized, mourned and honored, in vivid contrast to the pittance accorded to almost any of the 3,300+ KIA in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a tragic testimony to that indisputable fact.

America can treat our nation’s finest – who put their lives and health in harm’s way in service to our country – a whole lot better.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Deja vus...again...
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...

"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.

Dear Anna,

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