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By Jim Wohlgemuth
Here I am Joining most Muricans.
This is my fiftieth anniversary of leaving the Navy and ending my Vietnam experience. I don’t know about any of you but I suppressed that three years, nine months, and eleven days quickly. The only things that lingered to remind me were bad teeth, which a VA doctor fixed up great, a cough, and a nagging rash of white flaky splotches on my back. Both the rash and cough eventually just disappeared. Oh, I also was very reactive at loud noises, much to the amusement of young friends and a new girlfriend and I guess to me.
However, 50 years on and things have caught up to me. I have finally reached out to the VA for an antidepressant. Why now?
The combination of this 50th anniversary, along with the continuing militarism, (Who among us thought that we would continue intervening where we were not wanted after our Vietnam debacle?). That horrorshow has blended and mixed with militarism on the streets here. Then there is "Thank you for your service" as I watch American flags on poles used to break windows in the capital. Add to that living in a red state that annually hosts white supremacist groups at our state park, a state that under-funds the education of my grandchildren, avoids vaccines, while eliminating women’s rights, LGBT rights, voting rights and denying or avoiding climate change. Here in a state where I see so many of my fellow Vietnam Veterans falling under the MAGA spell as if that is patriotic.
Here I am a veteran, a Vietnam Veteran, who realized that he was complicit in the death of millions back then and now must witness and be complicit in the starvation of children in Yemen, Somalia, and Ethiopia, the occupation and murder of Palestinian people under a fascist regime in Israel, the blockade of Cuba, the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the funds that could help alleviate the starvation in Afghanistan are withheld, and then our continued arming of Ukraine so that we can not end the war but only continue it. This along with saber-rattling against China and any other country that does not go along with US hegemony. Did I forget the nuclear apocalypse, climate catastrophe, not to mention our domestic infrastructure, health care, and social and humanitarian collapse? The "greatest" generation created our American war on Vietnam and either drafted or backed many of us into going. That led to the anti-war protests and all the efforts of so many here to finally bring us home and give Vietnam back to the Vietnamese (damaged as it is). So how in the hell did we let the public forget that or were we just co-opted by the war machine, by the military-industrial, congressional, media complex? After all we experienced, knew, and later learned, how could we let this planetary destruction continue and get worse? How could we let our sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters go off to foreign wars? How do I find myself in a state where the lack of awareness, the lack of caring for anything but number one, the voluntary ignorance (of at least 60 percent of voters) is palpable?
With that let me say that I am encouraged and somewhat hopeful by the young people I see in the anti-war movement trying to address and combat all of these issues. I hope we boomers and Vietnam Vets can either help or just get out of their way.
So with that, as I deal with, as we deal with the moral injury and PTSD of my military service, I now see myself dealing with the moral injury of the everyday. Are we becoming unhinged, going off the rails, losing touch or can we help?
But for now, I just need to get a handle on my anger, depression, worry, and situation. So as the Rolling Stones might say, "oh doctor please, some more of these" as I join Muricans running to the shelter of "grandpas" little helper. Take care, I am off to my 19th nervous breakdown.
Jim Wohlgemuth was on the USS Westchester County LST 1167 from 1969 to 1971. He was on the USS Point Defiance LSD 31 from 1971 to 1972. He is a retired Federal employee and Middle School Social Studies Teacher. He is co-host of the Veterans for Peace Radio hour on Radio Free Nashville, Spotify, SoundCloud and Pacifica radio.