September 17, 2007
“The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.” John Kerry, April 22, 1971
While not the beginning, the words spoken above by now Senator and failed presidential candidate, John ‘F’in Kerry (D. Ma), part of a much larger pack of lies given in “testimony” before the U.S. Senate, went a long way in perpetuating the commonly accepted myth of the “deranged Viet Nam Veteran.”
Television dramas of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s often featured as the villain, a Veteran so demonized by his experiences in Viet Nam that he was a danger to himself and to society. Movies portrayed us no better as they rolled out with scenes of drug use, rapes, wanton killing of women and children and love of killing, as was shown by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.
A few years later we were treated to Sylvester Stallone’s beginning of his successful “Rambo” series with the movie First Blood, where a troubled Viet Nam Veteran is arrested and abused in a small Washington State town for merely passing through and trying to get a meal. This of course triggers his “training” as he goes on a rampage against the Police and succeeds in pretty much destroying the town, single-handed, until Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) intercedes and tells him it is over.
Rambo explains now of all the horrors he saw and the training he was given can’t be turned off with the mini speech, "Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don't turn it off! It wasn't my war. You asked me, I didn't ask you!"
From the fairly wide acceptance of these two movies, we changed from being “drug addicted, baby killing, walking time bomb, deranged Viet Nam Veterans” to “VICTIMIZED” “drug addicted, baby killing, walking time bomb, deranged Viet Nam Veterans.”
Further reinforcing the “myth” was movies like 1985’s Cease Fire starring Don Johnson, of Miami Vice fame. While actually a mediocre ‘B’ film, Johnson’s notoriety on the highly successful Miami Vice series brought many viewers to see this movie that they otherwise would have passed on.
This film shows Johnson as a regular sort of guy, nice home, nice wife, 2 great kids, but unable to hold a job. He gets the runaround at the unemployment office, but meets another Vet, Luke. Together they clown it up until Johnson goes ballistic on a potential employer who compares Viet Nam to earlier wars negatively. Tim (Don Johnson) and Luke end up getting drunk and falling over each other in a football field where Luke speaks of serving in Viet Nam and how the “rules were changed in mid play.”
Luke, no longer able to deal with his own “Viet Nam Demons,” commits suicide while talking to Tim on the Phone, triggering an episode with Tim and his wife where Tim “flashbacks” to Viet Nam, taking his wife with him. This encourages Tim to finally open up with his “Veterans Readjustment” group and he finally releases his own “Demon” and receives the obligatory “Welcome Home” from a fellow Viet Nam Veteran while visiting the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
The list of Books, TV Shows and Movies that have perpetuated the myth of the “deranged Viet Nam Veteran” is nearly endless, most having passed on into obscurity by now, but their effects remain. George Carlin, a very intelligent and prolific comedian unwittingly furthered the myth in his 1990 routine Euphemisms. In it, he begins by discussing the term “shell shock” and how it progressed to the softer sounding “post traumatic stress disorder,” ending with the statement of, “I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time.”
With all due respect to Mr. Carlin, who I immensely enjoy listening to and watching, what would really have helped would have been to be given a little respect or at least a small thank you instead of the cat calls of “baby killer,” “Murderer,” or “monsters,” as stated by Senator Kerry.
What would have been even better would for the public to actually understand we are no different than earlier Veterans who have been held up as heroes and warriors our entire lives. Even the earlier Veterans shamefully looked down upon many of us, telling us we were losers for not “winning the war.” They fail to recognize that we never lost a battle, even with the lack of public support. This led to many of us labeling them as “the class of ’45,” WW2 Vets who looked down upon Viet Nam Vets.
Viet Nam was lost, but not by the Military. It was lost by politicians in Washington D.C. and by the anti-war left who were being led around by the nose by agents of the KGB from the former Soviet Union. Many of the protesters really didn’t care about the war, it was just that they were worried they may be drafted and sent to it.
Black Americans were told that they were sure to be sent to the front in a war that had no front lines. They were told that their numbers were being systematically eliminated in the war because they were Black. Of course, since this was happening as Civil Rights for them was at the forefront of our nations news, it was easy to believe, knowing that many Whites didn’t look upon them as equals.
Many myths abound about veterans and even the well looked upon World War Two Veterans had their readjustment problems, as depicted in 1946’s “The Best Years of Our Lives” movie, about three returning men and their lives immediately after that war. However, they were held up as heroes and any troubles many of them may have had have been long buried, while erroneous claims of Viet Nam Veterans have stuck, despite studies and Veterans claims to the contrary.
Some like Jerry Lembcke, author of the book The Spitting Image, tries to discredit true stories of the mistreatment of returning Viet Nam Veterans with substandard research, declaring our memories as false and planted by movies such as “First Blood,” listed above. Lembcke seems unable to say just how screenwriters dreamed up the claim of us being spat upon, though, and somehow it becomes we returning Veterans that spit upon war protesters, who now claim they supported us back then. While he says there is no evidence of it ever happening or being claimed prior to 1980, a dozen jpg copies of articles mentioning the treatment have been archived at For The Record, Spitting On Vets a Myth?
After Viet Nam, hearing many of these myths, the DOD (Department of Defense) surveyed records and compiled statistics discrediting many of the myths, Vietnam War Facts: Facts, Statistics and Myths Dispelled.
Some facts uncovered were, 97% of Vietnam Veterans were honorably discharged, dispelling the myth of us being so maladjusted we were drummed out of the Military.
Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than the same non-vet age groups.
Vietnam veterans' personal income exceeds that of non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent.
Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison - only one-half of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes, with there being no statistical difference in drug usage between Viet Nam Veterans and non-Veterans of similar age.
2/3 of those who served in Viet Nam and 70% of the casualties were enlistees.
Suicides are even less likely in Viet Nam Veterans today than in those who didn’t serve.
12.5% of the casualties in Viet Nam were to Blacks, a number proportional to their number in society and slightly lower in proportion to their numbers actually in the Military at the end of the war, dispelling the myth that Blacks were being systematically eliminated in that war.
Of the total number of men serving in the Military during the Viet Nam years, only about 30% actually served in Viet Nam with even less actually experiencing significant combat.
More debunking can be seen at Vietnam War Myths.
None of this is to say no one had troubles returning, some did, of course, as in all other wars. Some just tried to blend back into society hiding that they served for many years and not receiving the validation they needed and deserved for sacrifices made for an ungrateful country.
It has been said we didn’t have any parades, which is true. As I see it, parades wouldn’t have been a good idea due to public outrage and mistreatment of returning veterans and because we didn’t return as units, but individually and many were quickly released from the Military. Still, much good might have been realized by simple thank you’s being given to returning Veterans instead of all the vitriol leveled against us.
Sadly, today’s Viet Nam Veterans are still viewed as “victims” of an “illegal war” and claims for PTSD related illness abounds with claims that 1 in 3 of us are affected by it. Several claimants were discovered to have not even served in Viet Nam and, as in all war past and present, were phonies. Efforts to discover these phonies making false claims and drawing undeserved money from the Veterans Administration have been blocked by Democrats like Senator Patty Murray, falsely believing that any claim of Veterans makes them deserving victims entitled to repayment for life and earning her a vote or two from grateful recipients.
What Murray and others fail to realize is that the monies given out to possible phony Veterans or those without real PTSD prevents needed monies elsewhere that truly deserving Veterans could be receiving care they need.
I can’t and won’t accept that of the 72,000 claims and growing doesn’t contain false claims, as discovered by Viet Nam Veteran B.G. Burkett and published in his book, Stolen Valor, some are made up by wannabe’s drawing on easy tax dollars that would be better spent on real Combat Veterans with real wounds.
In my time since returning home from Viet Nam I have met a few wannabe’s also. War Stories they tried to convince me of were laughable to me, but to a gullible public, who can’t see adaptations of a screenwriters work before them, easily accept the “stories” and end up feeling sorry for us, when we don’t need pity. We are not victims but for the most part, are people who had a sense of duty and honor to country and willingly placed ourselves between America’s enemies and the civilian populace that scorned us.
Today’s Military is All Volunteer and they too are not victims, but heroes, warriors, just as those who went before them. They are not deserving of the scorn we received and if we that did actually serve in Viet Nam have anything to say about it, they won’t receive the widespread scorn we did.
Like us, today’s Veterans do not expect to be worshipped, just a simple thank you and acknowledgment of the sacrifice they made in their youth to protect your freedom. That is the least America can do for those that fight to protect her from enemies, foreign and domestic.