Skip to comments.Part II - Welcome Home, Babykiller
Posted on 10/26/2002 4:24:21 PM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl
|Part II - Welcome Home, Babykiller|
|B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley|
To order Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heros and its History please Click Here
In the mid-Eighties, while raising money to build the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I tried to interest reporters in writing about the memorial only to be asked about homelessness or the supposedly widespread affliction of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Vietnam vets. Often, I visited the office of a corporate leader or philanthropist and asked for a donation to the memorial only to be told: "Those losers? Why the hell should I give money for those bums?"
Though I pointed out that many successful Dallas men, such as former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach, had served in Vietnam, to them, men like Staubach were the exceptions to the rule, the rare individuals who were not ruined by their war experiences. "Everybody" knew most soldiers who fought in Vietnam were reluctant draftees, poor minorities, or dumb cannon fodder not smart enough to avoid military service. When I told them that I - a financial adviser with undergraduate and graduate degrees from major universities - had voluntarily served in Vietnam, they looked at me in disbelief.
"You?" one said. "That surprises me. You seem so normal." Another corporate executive looked right past me - a man with short hair wearing a conservative suit - in his waiting room and asked his secretary, "Where's that Vietnam veteran who's here to see me?"
Exasperated after several of these experiences, I told the president of one large company, "You mean I'm not a drunk or a drugged-out homeless guy in fatigues with a criminal record?" Chagrined, the man looked embarrassed but defended his opinion. "Well, aren't most Vietnam vets messed up?"
In the years after returning home from my military service in Vietnam in 1969, I watched the negative images of Vietnam veterans in movies like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Platoon. I saw the stereotypes on bookshelves, in newspaper stories, on the TV news. By the Eighties, more than two decades after the fighting ended, there were reputedly hundreds of thousands of homeless Vietnam vets, most suffering from PTSD. On top of that, they suffered physical disabilities brought on by poisoning from the defoliant Agent Orange. The common refrain: More men had died by their own hand -- victims of suicide -- than had been killed during the decade of the War.
Still, the popular perception of Vietnam veterans as victims tortured by memories - drug-abusers, criminals, homeless bums or psychotic losers about to go berserk in a post office with an AK-47 - did not fit me or anybody I knew who had served in Vietnam, even those who had been horribly wounded or captured and tortured by the enemy. Certainly their lives were not always perfect, but their problems could not be attributed to their experiences in Vietnam. I brushed off the negative caricatures thinking, "That's not reality."
Only a few weeks into the fund-raising effort in 1986, the truth slapped me in the face: America accepted this pervasive stereotype, and it was constantly reinforced in a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For agreeing to serve their country in Vietnam, an entire generation of veterans had been tainted with the labels of victim, loser, and moral degenerate. The men who had served in the military only 20 years earlier during World War II had received honor and respect for their efforts. Why had Vietnam been so different?
Over the next decade, answering that question became my passion, a quest that would lead me back to the Vietnam War in a way I could never have imagined. In 10 years of research in the National Archives, in filing hundreds of requests for military documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act, I discovered a massive distortion of history, a poisonous myth created by . . . an entertainment industry so enamored of sensationalism that it had no qualms about presenting a false stereotype to generate profits . . . by a Department of Veterans Affairs as concerned with its own power base as America's war-wounded . . . by a legal system manipulated by unscrupulous attorneys motivated not by justice but a need to win at all costs. . . by social welfare advocates and mental health professionals willing to support a lie to further their own agendas. . .and by print and television journalists unwilling to examine their own politics and preconceptions.
Americans think they know the truth about Vietnam veterans because, over and over, they see the traumatized men who fought the War portrayed in all their pathetic anguish in the nation's most prestigious media -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, the nightly network news. It never occurs to most of us to ask: Were these men really there?
In Stolen Valor, you'll read about phony Vietnam veterans who have fooled the nation's most prestigious investigative reporters. The murderer who deceived the Boston Globe and Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" fame, and wangled early release from prison because his heroin addiction was supposedly "caused" by war trauma suffered in Vietnam. The bogus SEAL who pulled the wool over Dan Rather's eyes and became the centerpiece of a award-winning CBS documentary on the Vietnam War. The phony Green Beret who testified before a federal judge against members of a Mafia family and duped two savvy New York organized crime writers.
Liars and wannabes have absorbed the myth and now perpetuate it, aided and abetted by the VA, veterans advocates, and the mental health care industry.
The price of this myth has been enormous -- certainly for American taxpayers, who have been bilked out of billions of dollars based on a myth -- but especially for Vietnam veterans. In the final analysis, the true tragedy is the denigration of a generation of warriors who were among the finest America ever produced.
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