I know I said I’d blog from California, but the trip proved unexpectedly tiring: physical challenges to my vertigo presented by hills and wobbly public transit, the usual business-trip logistics, and intermittent Internet access in the various homestays. But most of all, my brain was full to bursting with stories -- from experts like Judy Ehrlich (link to TGW) and the directors of the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers’ Guild, but more important, from veterans of America’s three most recent wars.
I talked to Vietnam veterans like Paul Cox, who “turned off the war,” he says, when his unit slaughtered mamas and babies in their huts; Mike Wong, who left after advanced training rather than go to Vietnam; and Steve Morse, a born Quaker who went back in after his court martial for insubordination, and followed the invasion of Cambodia. I talked to Gulf War veteran Daniel Fahey, who went on to become a leading voice for those exposed to depleted uranium. I talked to Stephen Funk, the first public conscientious objector of the Iraq war, whose unusual and lefty background and sweet, fey presence make him an unusual military voice – but who still says “it’s easier to talk to people who’ve been through the training.”
Both now articulate a careful, strong anti-war position. I also asked about post-traumatic stress disorder, of course, and both said the same thing: what’s important right now is what the Iraqis are going through, While I agreed, I asked each how they take care of themselves, and still hope they do more of it.
As I expected, these guys were a little bit of a salve to my
secondary-trauma heart – each of them seeming to truly have come out
the other side, and not as stuck as the vets I’ve been hanging around
with or reading about in the papers (like here, here, and here).
Since speaking out, sharing, and taking action is actually part of
recovery from severe PTSD (see the books I've put on the Bookshelf
sidebar if you don't believe me), I tried to trust that they meant it
when they said, “It’s been very therapeutic.” (However, it was a a
little less so for me, since so many of their experiences were still
new to me.)
And ever since then, as I tried to start actually writing this magazine piece on readjustment/PTSD, more veterans of every stripe started reaching out to me -- at a support group for new vets that included the two vets mentioned here, as well as a screening of this film sponsorec by this group (formerly known, to the alert, as Operation Truth). And tomorrow, a local representative of IVAW is coming to my neighborhood, just when I'm coming back from my otherwise-final interview.
I'll write about the screening and yesterday's events after I have a
draft - likely toward the end of the week. Right now, un-usefully, I
feel not like a reasoned journalist fitting all these stories into a
cognitive framework, but like the GI counselor I used to be. A far more
noble occupation, in its way, and one I'll try to retain the spirit of
even as I pull back a little to tell their bigger story.