Over the past decade or so, it has become quite the fashion, when people learn that I once served in the Marines, to say to me, "Thank you for your service." I am sure they mean well, but I wish they would take just a moment to reflect on what they are saying.
US military personnel drape an American flag over the remains of one of three American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War during a repatriation ceremony at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi in July 2010. Photo: Bloomberg.
I went halfway around the world to a place called Vietnam, where I killed, maimed, brutalized and made miserable a people who had never done me or my country any harm, nor ever would or could.
I served proud, arrogant, and ultimately ignorant politicians and statesmen who thought they could mold the world into whatever shape they believed it should have. But it was hardly service in the interest of my country or the majority of Americans, let alone in the interest of the majority of the Vietnamese, who wanted little else than for me to stop killing them and go back where I came from.
Do those well-meaning folks who thank me for my service really want to thank me for that? I surely hope not. It is not service I am proud of.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the stock genuflection to Vietnam War veterans was "Welcome Home." But what makes anyone think I have ever come home? Because I got out of Vietnam with all ten fingers and all ten toes? Because I vote and pay my taxes? Because I keep my shoe laces tied and do not drool? It is hard to feel at home in a country that learned so little from such a destructive and ruinous debacle.
Many expatriates have written to us concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to email@example.com.
And now I see that the Pentagon has launched a decade-long Vietnam War Commemoration to "thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War." There is even a website that says: "A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You."
Hey, I could use some decent affordable healthcare, or even just a free tank of gas for my car. But what am I supposed to do with that website? Eat it? Take it to the bank? Meanwhile, consider the "service" I performed while in uniform. My nation is grateful for that?
And now "the other one percent" who fill the ranks of our so-called "volunteer" military today is carrying the entire blood burden of our latest wars, getting sent to Iraq and Afghanistan over and over again, while the rest of us go about our lives as if nothing at all out of the ordinary is going on.
What the military seems to have learned from the Vietnam War is: get rid of the draft and you get rid of domestic opposition to foreign interventions. So far, it is working.
I would like to express my appreciation to the warm-hearted, forgiving and generous people of Vietnam who have accepted Americans like myself and my fellow expatriates as residents among them and in numerous cases, as part of their families and society in view of the devastating impact our native country had here over 37 years ago and which our government has still not made any significant effort to remedy. I have never felt any animosity of any kind from any Vietnamese!
The recent loudly trumpeted announcement of the pathetically small effort in the Da Nang area simply provides another opportunity to compare the hypocritical behavior of every US administration in terms of the money handed out to US in-country veterans, regardless of any symptoms, with the failure to accept a similar responsibility to the Vietnamese who were the real victims of this illegal "warfare".
Thank you for letting me live among you and I am ashamed that "thanks" and "I am sorry" are all I can offer you.
By Richard Mckenzie, an American expat who lives in Nha Trang.
But the cost is steadily mounting. Suicides among active duty military and recent veterans have reached epidemic proportions. The Veterans Administration (VA) has a backlog of over 800,000 claims for medical disability. And substantial allegations have been made that the VA and the Department of Defense are falsely diagnosing veterans and soldiers with pre-existing "personality disorders" prior to their military service so that these veterans can be denied benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, though the military was happy enough to sign them up when they first enlisted. Thank you for your service, indeed.
Frankly, I suspect that this whole Vietnam War Commemoration is less about a grateful nation thanking and honoring us Vietnam War veterans than it is about a frightened and nervous government trying to gloss over the follies and consequences of military adventurism so that the next generation of young Americans remains willing to place their trust in the hands of people who clearly believe that those they send to fight our wars are expendable (rhetoric notwithstanding; actions speak louder than words).
Instead of thanking our servicemen and women for their service, perhaps we ought to be asking less service from them and more service from ourselves.
* The writer is an American scholar, teacher, poet and Vietnam War veteran who has written and taught extensively about the war. He is an honorably discharged former Marine sergeant with a Purple Heart Medal, a Navy Combat Action Ribbon, and two Presidential Unit Citations.