I didn’t want everyone to endure what I had just so they could understand me. I didn’t want them to understand me anymore. Well, maybe I did a little but I did not need them to. It’s a leap of faith and love to take someone’s word for what is troubling them. It is a huge healer when someone says, “I don’t understand, but I’ll take your word for it”.

I can remember when I almost demanded that the people close to me know what I was feeling without me telling them. I acted like I should be the focus of their lives because I really needed them for my survival. Yep, there is that feeling that it’s a matter of survival. In combat that was true on a moment-to-moment basis, not merely a daily basis. I even tuned in on the animals. I, of course, paid close attention to the villagers. Hell, I would have talked to the grass at the edge of a clearing if I thought it could tell me about any booby traps in the brush.

So yeah, I watched everyone and everything for clues of lurking danger. One thing I never liked about myself is, after a few months in combat I didn’t allow for neutral civilians. Not even friendly civilians. They were expendable also. I didn’t want to risk my life or the lives of any of my men to ensure the safety of civilians. The idea itself was absurd. In World War II, the bombing of civilian targets was a given, and civilian deaths were accepted. Not so easy to dismiss when you have to count the bodies. “War of attrition” was the official line. The body-count was the reality.

My country sent me to Vietnam to kill enemy soldiers and VC who were, by definition, and in fact, civilian freedom fighters engaged in a civil war. I’m getting tired of writing about this. I’ve been over this so many times in my head it has become an intrusive memory. I keep hoping I’ll get some insight, some relief from the grief.

Some believe that war won’t be so common in the future. I’m hoping that if we are, as a nation, more aware of the cost of war this country won’t be so quick to engage, to send troops. My biggest fear and source of anger is that deep down in the heart of this nation is a black heart of immorality that knows the horrors of war and still sends its young men and women to kill in its name. Sends them to take, by force of arms, the resources we need, the territory we want, in order to feel secure.

Sometimes, I wonder if this nation is so fearful of its existence that it strikes out just as a warning, just to stay in killing shape. Just to say “Make no mistake. We will kill you if you don’t do what we want”. Have we stooped so low? Stooped to extortion? Did I go to war because a shouting match got out of hand? Has America sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to keep the Arab nations from controlling their own oil resources?

I suppose this is a diversion from the investigation of my own experience of PTSD. Not a complete diversion though. My point in all this is it was my choice to serve. The hardship and terror of battle are difficult to bear in an obviously just war but to have lost friends for no reason, to have killed another human in a war or of questionable morality, unsound strategy, with no clear goal, with no hope of victory, is nearly unthinkable.

I was lied to, Plain and simple. I was sent to Vietnam because America feared communism. Enough, enough. What the hell am I talking about? Politics? The way leaders move a nation to keep themselves in power using the concept of a common enemy. Do I have to get past the reality or diversion of being duped into going to war? It was a sucker’s war. That’s what I’m really pissed at. That’s what gets me. I was promised a hero’s welcome. I was promised the loving gratitude of my country. The trouble is that the people making the promises didn’t represent America. They just needed cannon fodder. I am noticing that’s all external.

I’m remembering what the counselor told us at the Veterans Administration. All those feelings are important and valid, but the way back from a life dominated by PTSD is not out there. The way back home is in me. I am the solution. It came as a great relief and source of hope to hear that. I don’t need to rely on the VA or anyone else to do anything for me. The Veterans Administration will provide me with the tools and training I need to rebuild my life.

© Tom Puetz August, 2012

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