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I Support the Troops
By Michael Hureaux
Long Binh, Vietnam. My bookcase holds a cigar box, painted red and yellow acrylic and decorated with blue swirls by my wife Kathleen. Inside the box is a handful of letters sent my mother from my pops when he was stationed in Long Binh, Vietnam. The letters comment on the beauty of the Vietnamese people and countryside; they run the gamut of things like counsel on personal finances, then as always a nightmare for my parents. There are a few lovingly strained hellos to my two sisters aged seven and five and myself, then ten years of age; and some bewildered commentary on a Vietnamese defense called the Tet Offensive.
I rarely take them down and look at them. The box of letters is a personal shrine to a man I knew for a very brief time. Pops retired from the army when he was fifty-one, having served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, in Korea, and in Vietnam. He died four years after retirement.
I remember a fiercely complicated individual, a shy, soft-spoken brother. I remember a man, who, before Vietnam, would take great delight in knowing how to make home-fried donuts; a man who painstakingly changed the diapers of his daughters. I think back on a man who delighted in things like the ten-cent paper kites found in the post exchange and the opportunity to teach his fairly timid son how to run and fall while learning to fly such a treasure. I remember after Vietnam a man whose whole life was wrapped around work and television, a disinterested man, a man given to sudden, violent outbursts of temper. I remember a man of deep depression who succumbed to overweight and hypertension, a man wedged between the toilet and the bathtub the morning of his massive stroke. I recall a man in deep shock, then deep coma. I remember trying to be a man to replace a man I hadn't known for years. What I know of this man is now bound in a handful of ribbon, placed in a box that sits atop the highest object in the apartment with Koranic reverence.
Now, I told you all this to convey what an essentially meaningless slogan the phrase "Support the Troops" is to people like me. I lived on the streets as a young man in the late 1970s, I know how many Vietnam veterans were living out there before organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars chose to recognize Vietnam vets as worthy. I know there have been thousands of veterans of Vietnam who didn't even know they were victims of defoliants like Agent Orange and White when they were overseas. My father was one of them. My cousin was another. There were people killed in Vietnam who didn't even know they were killed in Vietnam, men who killed and suffered knowing they had killed. People who died of depression and other complications, illnesses from toxins they were exposed to by the Dow Corporation and the United States military establishment. And I know there are thousands who were exposed to depleted uranium in the Persian Gulf twelve years ago, who are to this very day denied any sort of compensation from the federal government. And I know that the same con arrangement continues with the current war, because the powers that be have never been held accountable for the hidden games they pursued during the last one.
I tell you this, because as a layman psychologist, I know that underneath all of my rhetoric there resides the rage of a ten-year-old child, mystified by the death in life of a father he missed horribly. How foolish, how arrogant are the people who own this country, that they believe they can contain such a rage. I, who have lived on the very periphery of every mass bloodletting they've conducted in the last thirty years, hate them enough to seek their downfall. How much more must it be so for a child in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Turkey, in Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Yemen, Serbia, where there have been so many fewer opportunities to temper wrath, to see with cooler eyes the doings of this so-called war for democracy?
My dance teacher Edna Wise had her own way of dealing with the mass pathology that has come to dominate politics in the United States of America. She used to say, "Michael, people in this country don't know. And what's worse, they don't know that they don't know." How pointedly accurate her words are to me these days.
Michael Hureaux is a member of VVAW living in Seattle, WA.
New York City, February 15, 2003