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We Are All Sisters and Brothers: A Protester's War and Moral Injury, and Service
By Edward Tick
Like millions, I felt angry and betrayed by our country over the pursuit of the Vietnam War. So, like millions, I protested the war, went to college, had a deferment for my freshman year, and afterward drew a high lottery number. So, like most of the generation, I did not serve.
Though safe, I continued to protest the war. I had known it was immoral and illegal, even genocidal, since my early teens. I never turned against the troops. My first teenage encounters with returning vets protesting or homeless on New York City streets opened my eyes and heart.
But military service to one's tribe or nation has been the rite of passage into adult manhood for millennia. Those of our generation who did not serve or find some form of alternative passage live with holes in their souls.
I felt a hole for not having served. And I felt a hole because the war in our names was so wrong. And I felt it because our generation had splintered, and too often, we turned against each other. I wanted to know what warriors had experienced and earn my place in the brotherhood without going to war. Was this possible? These forces combined in my soul to become my moral injury. I had to address mine. But I am a healer of invisible wounds. We can make amends. We can atone. We can give alternative life-affirming service. I had to serve. I could not serve in our military or an immoral cause. Had I gone to Vietnam, I could only have served as a corpsman. My uncle and godfather was a corpsman at the Battle of the Bulge. He returned unscratched but severely traumatized. I grew up with both the legacy and the wound. Through "chance and circumstance" and much searching and seeking, my life evolved so that beginning in the mid-1970s, years before the PTSD diagnosis, I became a psychotherapist for vets suffering the invisible wound. My life's calling became to serve as the best "home front soul doc" I could possibly be.
I have served in that role ever since. I have worked with thousands of veterans, researched and worked with worldwide warrior traditions, applied them to our healing, written books, led 19 healing and reconciliation journeys to Vietnam, built schools, helped Agent Orange victims, and adopted family there. I've run a non-profit for veteran healing, conducted training and retreats all over the country and overseas, served the military chaplain corps as a subject matter expert on PTSD and Moral Injury for a decade, and now work with both Ukraine and Russia as well as our deployed chaplains on helping heal their invisible wounds. I could never have imagined this career, and I am not crowing. Instead, I feel humbled and awestruck that a young, confused war protester could evolve to offer such service and be in lifelong solidarity with both veterans and the Vietnamese. I am grateful and at peace with it. Yet the war wounded us all. I share the depths of collective war wounding that we all suffer. We can never do enough and yet never must rest in our efforts.
This work of almost half a century began with my youthful protests of the war and first encounters and concerns for homecoming vets. It grew as I addressed my version of the deep, invisible wounds we all carry as American men and women who came of age during this tumultuous and conflictual time. Through my alternative service, I became initiated into the Vietnam veteran world. It filled my holes and matured and changed me forever. This service became my life's work, and the Vietnam War was my shaping life influence. I cannot be a veteran, but I am not a civilian. I am a home front doc, a bridge, a soul guide. I am in the brotherhood and cherish it. All this has been my great honor and has gifted me the dearest friendships of my life.
"Homefront doc" Ed Tick, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, international guide, and author of War and the Soul, Warrior's Return, and others, specializing in healing war's invisible wounds.