The saying “War is Hell” does not truly describe what the horrors of war can be. For the last nine years our government has sent our young men and women into harm’s way in the name of democracy.
Much like the Vietnam War, the enemy in this cause is able to disappear among his/her own and safely hide from our soldiers and allies. In Vietnam it was not uncommon for the Vietnamese barber to cut your hair during the day and be one of the enemies mortaring your position at night. Every Vietnamese man, woman and child was the enemy. Each could end your life in a blink of an eye. Each of us had to keep a constant vigilance about us 24/7.
Many of our Vietnam brothers chose to take their own lives rather than endure the horrors they had seen or committed.
During the Vietnam era the involuntary drafting of young men to serve in the military was in full swing. If you were chosen by lottery, you entered whichever service needed new recruits. You also knew that the chance of you being sent to fight in Vietnam was good. Some of us volunteered to serve, like I did, so I could choose which branch of the service I was a member of. I chose the Army so that I could become a military policeman, which later in life aided me in becoming a sheriff’s deputy. Even so, I was sent to Vietnam to serve my country and I did so for one year. If I was to serve in Vietnam for another tour, I had to volunteer to do so.
Such is not the case now with our young men and women. There is no draft now. Our armed forces are all volunteers. The problem our country and these new soldiers, sailors and airmen have is that our armed forces are spread so thin that assignments to war zones are not voluntary. Our armed forces soldiers don’t have a choice and are returned to the battlefield once or twice after returning home for a short period of time.
Our poor economy is helping our armed forces to stay up to strength. With little or no employment available outside the military, many are deciding to remain in service and take their chances of more deployments to combat zones.
What we Americans are seeing is that our young people are not prepared to handle the mental challenges presented by continual exposure to combat with an enemy that you cannot see. Hundreds are choosing to end their lives rather than endure the horrors of war over and over again.
All the branches of the military are doing all they can to provide mental health help and training to these troops. For some of them, the help is enabling them to cope but for an alarming many, the choice is suicide. It is a sad thing to realize that our soldiers have not been prepared mentally for multiple deployments to war zones. But then again, how can you prepare them?
After the Vietnam War ended, many studies were done on why some Vietnam vets killed themselves and why others did not. The finding in one study found that for those soldiers who had a sound belief in God, dealing with the horrors of war was much easier than those who had little faith.
In the past 40 years, the decaying of our family values and religious beliefs have led our nations’ youth to profess the separation of church and state. The success in these efforts has lessened our youth’s ability to believe in the future and have faith in a supreme being who allows you to deal with anything that happens to you. Our youth have been robbed of this ability and when they are sent to fight a war against other human beings they go without the mental arsenal they will need to deal with the horrors of war.
Now before you all start getting on my case about religion, I wish to state that I do not owe allegiance to any structured religion. I firmly believe in God and the teachings that every manmade religion professes, that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must love and treat people the way you wish to be treated. It is because of my strong belief in God that I survived Vietnam, being a peace officer without being killed and chose not to kill myself during a period of my life where I felt despair.
War is hell, but living without the ability to know you are loved and cared for is worse! When you decide to take your own life it is a lonely and final act that only leaves pain and suffering to those who must remain with the living.
For those veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, please don’t do to yourselves what we Vietnam veterans did. You need to talk about your experiences. If you do not seek help through the Veterans Administration then come to the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in your city or town. There you will find veterans who can relate to you, someone who has been there and done that, yet found the inner strength to overcome and succeed in life. You are not alone. It is when you feel alone that you lose what is most precious — yourself.
Julian Garcia is a veteran of the Vietnam War and resident of Watsonville. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.
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