THE FRUITS OF WAR
© PJ HAYWARD
NEW YORK, 2014
Recently I was watching a documentary about the Roosevelt family. In amongst tales of the exploits of Bully Teddy Roosevelt, the “Dragon Lady” mother of Franklin Roosevelt and the general regaling of the Holy Roosevelt Dynasty, a small newsreel piece was tucked into a corner of one of the segments about Eleanor Roosevelt.
Conquering her fears, Eleanor Roosevelt went to a mental asylum to visit soldiers traumatized by World War I. What she saw there not only horrified her but also helped cement the foundation of her life-long quest to ensure human equality in every segment of society, starting with those injured and broken young men she saw that day.
First, these young men were being housed in the most squalid of living conditions. Eleanor immediately committed herself to improving the living conditions for the patients in that hospital. But there was more. It’s the “more” that prompted me to write this piece today.
Documentary newsreel footage showed a number of young soldiers. None of them looked to be any older than their late teens or very early twenties. All of them had obviously suffered mental breakdowns – what today we would call “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. Back then it was called “Shell Shock”. They were shaking uncontrollably or else their entire body was just a series of uncontrollable continual tics and twitches – their payment for giving their all – body, soul and mind – in service to their country. They were still wearing their dog tags. They and all the young people like them I will call the Fruits of War.
They are a very bitter Fruit.
Watching this newsreel not once, but twice because the documentary was re-aired last night, I was thrown back into the late sixties and early seventies when I was young and the Viet Nam War was destroying our young men (women could enlist but were only allowed to hold support positions – secretaries, nurses etc.)
Back in those days the United States had a mandatory system in effect known as The Draft. Its purpose was to ensure that America would have plenty of bodies to fill the uniforms of its armed services whether War Time or Peace Time. Every young man had to register with his local Draft Board as soon as he turned 18. Unless you were a Conscientious Objector, a Defector or had some physical or mental limitation, everyone had to go into “The Service”.
Registering for The Draft back in the days of the Viet Nam War, pretty much meant a death sentence, because you stood a pretty good chance of being sent to Viet Nam where if you didn’t die physically – you were most likely going to be destroyed psychologically.
Everyone of my age group (baby boomers) had friends who got sent to Viet Nam. I can only guess about other peoples’ experiences but I can speak fact about my own experiences. My own experience was that, of the boys I knew that went to Viet Nam, only some of them returned. Then, virtually 100% of those that returned brought something dark back with them: either a drug habit or a trauma-induced psychological disability or both. Many of them refused to even talk about their experiences, but not all. The stories I did hear from those who would share them, were so horrendous that had I not heard similar stories from one or two other returning soldiers, I wouldn’t have even believed them. One boyfriend I had at that time, would wake up screaming sometimes at night, shaking and sweating. But he would never reveal the dream that caused that effect. He also had a terrific drug habit and some head issues (psychological issues.) Years later I heard that his family eventually had had him committed to the County Mental Hospital. As far as I know he is still there.
My reason for writing this today is that, being reminded of all those horrors, one has to look at those memories in the light of what is happening in the world today. America as I write this, is embroiled in yet another quandary of how deeply to get involved with the most recent terrorist threat, ISIS. When I first saw on the news that we had begun air strikes against them, my heart just sank and I could only sit in my chair and shake my head. Not because I agreed or disagreed…but because I could only think…”Oh no…not again….”
Because I am old now, I have seen this over and over and over again in my lifetime. I remember when George Bush started his “Shock and Awe” campaign. I will reprint now what I have previously published about that on this site:
“Late one evening I watch a breaking news bulletin on TV. Cameras pan a scene of lush palm trees swaying silently in the dark night, with a twinkling city in the background. Suddenly the cracking thunder of fireworks burst through the silence. A reporter announces not fireworks, but the beginning of President George Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign.
In disbelief and resignation I call my sister. Though many miles apart we cry together softly, knowing what this means; the annihilation of thousands more innocent “expendable” people in order to steal Iraqi oil.”
Is there never an end to all this? Can’t we EVER learn from our past history? All those countries we have fought against in the past – we are all great buddies now! We party and dance together now. Our respective countries’ leaders all go out and play golf together now and slap each other on the backs now and sneak off to drink and play with expensive call girls together now like every day is just a big holiday.
Would any of them allow their loved ones to enlist in our Armed Services? I think they would go to great lengths to prevent that from ever happening.
What about the young people – including young women now – who DO enter into the Armed Services today? They go in with their young hopes of success and dreams of getting an education – but so many of them will come home on a stretcher or worse – in a pine box. Are they only modern day versions of the twitching, shuddering young men that horrified Eleanor Roosevelt but yet were the spark that fired her resolve to spend her life working for Change?
If that is the case, does that only prove that nothing at all has changed throughout all these years but the names and faces of the Fruits of War?
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