Sunday, January 24, 2010

Resentment and Alienation

You've heard the saying, "If you can remember the '60's, you weren't really there." The saying is referring to the the counter culture movement which didn't really start happening until '66 and was over by the early 70's. The peak years were '67, '68 and '69, the years I was in the Army. I can truly say I remember the '60's and I wasn't there. Recently I've read some autobiographies by David Crosby, Joan Baez and Peter Coyote. They all lived through and were central figures then. From my perspective now, the youth of that time were mostly self-indulgent. There probably is some jealousy on my part. While they were taking drugs, saving the world and screwing their brains out, with the exception of Ms. Baez who was only partaking in the latter two, I was either in training, on an Army Base in Texas or in Vietnam. All three of the above individuals were fiercely against the war, but in their books show very little interest, understanding or empathy for those of us who were forced to go off and participate in it. I didn't want to go into the Army. I would have loved to join the counter culture party, but since I was having trouble staying in Junior College, Uncle Sam had other plans for me. I didn't think I had a choice in the matter. Only from a later perspective do I feel the need to clarify that I could have fled the country, gone to jail or filed as a conscientious objector, which I wasn't. To me at the time, there were only two choices, the Army or the Marines. The other branches of Service had long waiting lists and my local draftboard had me on their list. In 1966 President Johnson decided to go all out and I was swept up in the biggest escalation of the war. At 19 I didn't have a very broad perspective on domestic and world affairs. If you were to ask me at the time if I thought we should be in Vietnam, I would have said yes, we were helping the the south Vietnamese people remain independent and democratic by preventing a communist takeover. There were tens of thousands just like me and once we went off to satisfy our military obligation, the party at home didn't include us anymore. After all these years I'm still resentful about that. Not only did the anti-war and Hippie movement not include us, we were looked at as part of the problem. Many veterans in my therapy groups tell stories of coming home to crowds of protesters shouting at them. Most thought they were being welcomed home by these crowds, only to find themselves on the receiving end of rotten fruit and being assaulted by screams of "Baby Killer" or "War Monger". I was lucky, I came home on a rainy winter night. The protest movement usually happened in nice weather and during school breaks, I don't know what I expect of the above celebrities, but they come off as being self-righteous about their anti-war activities. I desperately wanted to be part of the "movement" when I got home but I didn't fit in. My views about life had changed and my fellow college students seemed naive, self-indulgent and crazed. I couldn't talk to them about what I had been doing for the last few years. Nobody really wanted to know and their reactions would have been shock, disdain, pity or some combination. I just kept quiet about it like other vets and harbored a deep sense of resentment and alienation. I am still hesitant and embarrassed to stand up as a veteran for fear I will be looked at as a pro-war hawkish type of person which I am not. This sense of alienation is a common feeling of war veterans. I don't think it will ever go away and I feel that the Vietnam Veteran will never be truly understood or accepted by the rest of society. I probably should just listen to their music or watch their movies and not read about these celebrities wild, crazy and "noble" exploits during the '60's.

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