America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is currently broadcasting a 10 part series on the Vietnam war, something that is likely to be both validating and triggering for Veterans. ISSTD Members Mike Dadson, PhD and Lynette Danylchuk, PhD, who have both worked with Vietnam Veterans, share with us their thoughts on the impact of this major television event.
The Vietnam War
This 10-part, 18-hour documentary series tells a war story set in a time of American division and skull-duggery. Ten years in the making, the series explores the human dimensions of a war that was fought from Nov 1, 1955 – Apr 30, 1975, that included twenty countries and was driven by US foreign policy to contain the spread of Communism. The series claims this war was one of the most consequential and controversial events in American history.
As a Canadian who has regular contact with Veterans in a group clinical setting, I have come to understand that war is never just about the trauma our soldiers bring home. War brings trauma to the nation. When Nixon, during his election, ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” peace talks between the US and North Vietnam, he deliberately undermined peace in order to help him win the presidential election.
This national betrayal helped send, by threat of jail, young American soldiers into this conflict for seven more years. He surely traumatized a nation. Now let’s hope that this new series helps America uncover and heal some of the wounds that still fester social division and mistrust in the political system and its Presidents. Like the compulsion to repeat in individual trauma, presidential betrayal for the purposes of attaining and maintaining power all too often leads to the death and injury of some of the countries finest young men and women.
Perhaps, as the story is told, the country, and some brave soldiers can find healing: healing from the injuries of the past and release from the energy that fuels the compulsion to repeat. Too many soldiers have relived their suffering again and again, repeat, repeat, for too long, and surely the world doesn’t need another repeat.
Dr. Michael Dadson
National Executive Clinical Director
The Veterans Transition Network
A Story Ready to be Told
The country is finally ready to take a deep look at the war in Vietnam, and have the conversations it should have had 50 years ago. On the program, all the people are being treated with respect – something tragically missing at the time.
The soldiers look so young. I’m automatically scanning them for anyone who looks familiar, even though those were few, and the ones I hoped to see didn’t make it home.
I met many of those who did make it home years later, at the Vietnam Veteran’s Outreach Center in San Jose. They came in order to be able to talk, with staff and other veterans. It was an informal setting, with Kathy at the desk by the front door, checking for firearms and putting them in a metal box.
They had got involved in the war in different ways. Some had joined believing they would uphold freedom in a way similar to the way the previous generation fought in WWII. Others were drafted, taken from their normal lives, trained, and shipped overseas.
Soldiers also went to Vietnam alone. In previous wars, men shipped out in groups. Sometimes groups included men from the same area in America, consolidating bonds, and they stayed together. In Vietnam, new soldiers were constantly arriving as long-term ones left. Relationships were too often temporary.
When they returned, they returned alone, with no welcoming parades, community and national support. The men often spoke of the reception they got when they returned. There were demonstrations, and they were called horrific names and spat upon. And so, they hid. Some of them hid literally, camping out in the nearby mountains. Others hid their story inside, not letting anyone know they had been to Vietnam. In that absence of a welcome home, they were severely betrayed.
To tell their story now is to share in a very public and powerful way the experiences of these Americans – the fear, confusion, suspicion, tragedy, and survival. It’s about time. For some veterans, this may open up old wounds. Hopefully, the awareness and de-stigmatization of PTSD will make it possible for them to speak about what happened. They deserve that time and attention, from all of us.
Lynette S. Danylchuk, PhD
Past President, ISSTD