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Vietnam Veterans Unbroken
By rg cantalupo (reviewer)
Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency
by Jacqueline Murray Loring
This is a difficult book for a VVAW member to review. It isn't so much the content—although I have issues with the way the content is presented (seemingly unedited interviews with Vietnam Veterans), but the underlying politics which are antithetical to what most VVAW members represent.
First there is the cover: a large photograph of a grey bearded veteran in full Army dress greens and green beret being celebrated for receiving a purple heart in some "purple heart" ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts in 2017.
Now I've received three purple hearts, but I can't imagine being honored at a ceremony honoring those awards from a war I feel and have felt since 1970 was criminal and wrong. In fact, I threw those same medals over a fence in 1972, (along with my Bronze Star), at a VVAW anti-war protest at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. So I can't imagine putting on dress greens and honoring those medals, or the American War in Vietnam now. Wrong message, wrong time.
Then there is the book description on the back cover that really struck me as an attempt at revisionist history. Though the book portends to be about the "trauma and resiliency" of Vietnam Veterans, the book description states that these veterans "wonder what their lives would be like if they had come home to praise or parades."
Now maybe there are some Vietnam Veterans who believe that. But I doubt if you're going to find many among VVAW members. What we wanted and needed wasn't parades or praise, (I still feel uncomfortable when someone says to me "Thank you for your service"), but rather a Veterans Administration that acknowledged my PTSD, or the harmful effects of Agent Orange, or a 1970s culture that didn't blame me for what the US government ordered me to do.
If you get past that, you'll find 17 veterans with engaging and compelling stories of combat, service, and their subsequent struggles with PTSD. Their stories are interesting, even if you've heard it all before, simply because they are real and often tragic. As a reader, you feel compassion and pain, and are sometimes relieved that the PTSD didn't do more harm to their lives.
These interviews are divided into four sections: Section 1—It Mattered To Me: Growing Up In America and Arriving In Vietnam; Section 2—Losses and Crosses: Coping With Coming Home; Section 3—Language of a Single Tear: Post-Traumatic Stress and Self-Imposed Silence; and Section 4—Still Twisted: Resiliency and Outreach.
I'm not sure how the editor came up with these section titles or what she was trying to accomplish with them. They seemed a bit arbitrary and inappropriate to the stories themselves. For instance, what does "Crosses", or "Still Twisted", or "Language of a Single Tear" have to do with trauma and resiliency. The subject matter and the stories are too serious and somber to endure such sarcastic or mirthful titles. I realize war trauma is not an easy subject to understand for someone who has never experienced war or combat, but I just wish the editor would've stuck with simple, more cogent titles than to stick on some catch phrases that diminished the content inside.
War trauma and resiliency are difficult and complex subjects on their own, so I'm surprised a well-known publisher like MacFarland would've published it with an editor whose only credentials seems to be a poetry chapbook. Certainly, an editor with professional credentials in psychology or psychiatry would've wanted the book and the interviews to express a strong understanding of trauma and resiliency. Of the seventeen veterans interviewed, I don't remember any telling of crisis interventions, suicide attempts, drug addictions, or all the other problems and challenges war trauma sufferers often experience. Remember, only a few years ago, it was commonplace knowledge that war veterans were committing suicide at a rate of twenty veterans per day. And PTSD is not cured by the six sessions and a Zoloft that the VA often recommends—as presented in the book. It is an arduous road to recovery even with some of the newer treatments like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), PE (prolonged exposure therapy), or Cognitive Processing Therapy, and often is persistent decades after the traumatic experience.
If you can get beyond the unfortunate messaging of the cover, and the idiosyncratic section titles, I would recommend the book for anyone who wants to know the experiences of veterans who suffered war trauma and were able to overcome it.
If however, like me, you expected more, you probably will feel the same frustration and disappointment I felt.
rg cantalupo (aka Ross Canton) is a poet, playwright, filmmaker, novelist, and director. His work has been published widely in literary journals in the United States, England, and Australia. His books can be purchased through New World Publishers or through the author at email@example.com.