Forgotten before the peace

There was a time when I didn't mention to many people that I was a Vietnam-era veteran. Americans, especially those raised on the mecha-nistic, instant-titillation, then instant-forgetting of electronic media, usually claim not to remember how Vietnam vets were treated circa 1970, when I returned home to Ohio (from Texas, not Saigon - I saw the same amount of combat as Commander-in-Chief Pinhead did).

The word for the treatment of vets 35 years ago was shameless.

Veterans, outside the friendly confines of the American Legion Hall, were suspect. Most popular television dramas of the era, developing their new corporate sensibilities, reduced the number of black criminals and substituted Vietnam vets. Seems like a combat veteran was always climbing a bell tower to endanger the citizens resting under the watchful, protective eyes of Karl Malden and then-boyish Mikey Douglas.

This crazed ex-soldier was usually portrayed as longhaired and bearded, wild-eyed and animalistic, a baby-killing, business-hating bad boy with no respect for women, new cars, gilded picket fences or annuities.

Suddenly, sometime during the era of Ronald Reagan - that first shameless corporate toady for the ultrawealthy, who paved the way for the Pinhead, and made even desperate cynics such as me pine for the cinematic glory of Ronnie, or for that matter, the tainted glory of anybody but this vacuously prevaricating, lifetime failure currently at the helm - we vets began once again taking on the luster of patriotism.

Now this is only right. Even those vets lucky enough to avoid combat, like me, were drafted, like me, or enlisted because they had few other choices in the burgeoning Great Society of the day.

Veterans cannot be blamed for the missteps of their government.

Now it is commonly accepted wisdom that we probably should not have been in Vietnam. JFK and LBJ catch most of the flak directed at that long-ago war, and the veterans of my day are usually either admired or pitied, or both.

Anyone who reads past the headlines in our morning papers knows that the current war in Iraq is based on fallacious arguments. And cannot be won the way we are going about it.

Many Vietnam vets believe that the war in 'Nam could have been won if we had totally committed to its pursuit as we did in World War II. They believe we half-stepped.

Generals in charge of the military in 2000, before Donald Rummy de-cided to start and run the war in Iraq, told him we needed half a million troops on the ground to win - not 140,000 poor dudes and dudettes rotated into danger over and over. Shock and awe, Rummy called it, and shocked if not awed we all are now, almost four blood-soaked years later.

Rummy and his civilian bad boys ignored the generals, and we now have a bloodletting quagmire that is going nowhere faster than Vietnam did.

It is not patriotism to paste a $2 ribbon on the back of your SUV and forget about all the people coming home from the desert maimed, externally and internally.

Even an independent such as me knows partisan politics have ruined the pursuit of this war and will probably hamper the treatment of veterans afterward.

I voted once for the senior Bush and still believe the deeply flawed Richard Nixon was (Watergate aside) not the best, but the most successful, chief executive of my lifetime; he opened up China, and no matter how cynically he went about it, he did end the mess in Vietnam. Unlike the current administration, Nixon's treated veterans well.

Nixon's juicing of the G.I. Bill made it possible for me to attend college for four-and-a-half years, and pick up two degrees along the way.

Many things have changed in an America now governed by people who have to be forced to even take care of Americans displaced by Mother Nature, and only do that after realiz-ing they are failing in the public-opinion polls they study more than the Bible they shillingly betray with their characteristically punitive poli-cies against the poor and the meek.

According to Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen, the Veterans Administration has publicly estimated that as many as 200,000 veterans of a variety of American wars are homeless and sleeping rough on American streets some nights this summer.

The Army's surgeon general reported that 30 to 40 percent of soldiers returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are troubled by everything from depression to posttraumatic stress.

As the American public, according to the polls we live by, turn (however slowly) against the war in Iraq, I can only hope the veterans of that war - the youth who served, willingly, or at least didn't run away like Pinhead, or hide behind legalities repeatedly to avoid service, like Dick Cheney, who decided he was a tuff man only after the six deferments he received to avoid service in Vietnam were no longer needed - are not made to suffer for the foibles and foolishness of their leaders.

Currently, the citizens of New Orleans are occupying the public heart. But I hope we do not forget the more than one million folks who went to Iraq and placed themselves in harm's way.

The fact that a war is not conducted in a militarily correct way, or is con-ducted for profit instead of victory, is not the fault of the men and women who serve.

The blame should be placed at the feet of the leadership who have failed the country. What the soldiers de-serve is admiration. Or pity. Or both.

And then they deserve to be taken care of as least as well as the victims of natural disasters.

How are veterans from Iraq being treated by the government?

In June, the secretary of the Veter-ans Administration appeared before a Congressional committee and claimed his department was $1 billion short of the funding needed to treat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The paper pushers had underestimated what would be needed, just as the leadership of the war itself underestimated a few things.

Maybe a letter to your Congressman, asking why 200,000 veterans are homeless on a rainy Wednesday night, is more effective than that little kneejerk ribbon, which is only displayed to make you feel good anyway.

Maybe a call to the office of the president, asking if the VA got its money, would be more patriotic than a flag decal in your SUV window.

Veterans who don't instantly readjust to civilian life have not done well in the 30-year period during which I have disguised myself as an adult in America. I'm hoping we can do a little better with this latest group to return home from far away, people who often feel quite a bit differently than when they left last year, or the year before, or the year before that. We owe it to them to see that those in power do what they should do and not just what the polls tell them to do.

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