It is my great honor to have been asked to speak at this tribute to the great peace activist Allen Nelson on the tenth anniversary of his passing. And it is a great honor to be here at the Kousenbou Temple, Kaga City, Ishikawa, where Allen felt so much at home and where some of his earthly remains are located. We are honored that four members of Allen's family, including Linda, his wife of 25 years, and his sister Marchelle were able to come to Japan for this ceremony.
I am sad that I never met Allen in person but I feel like I knew him because of all the comments that people throughout Japan made about him as I traveled through the country on speaking tours after he became ill and had ended his trips to Japan. Over almost two decades, Allen spoke to over 800 high schools and civic groups about the horrors of war and the effects of the victims of war -- those who were wounded and the families of those killed both of those against whom the wars are waged and those who wage them.
At each stop we made as I spoke about my journey from U.S. military and U.S. diplomat to peace activist, persons from the audience would come up to me and ask, "Do you know the wonderful Marine who has told us about his experience in Vietnam 40 years ago and how it deeply affected his life and how that now he speaks to schools and groups in Japan and the United States about stopping wars and having a peaceful life?"
I was in the U.S. military for 29 years, 13 on active duty and 16 in the U.S. Army Reserves. While I joined the U.S. military during the war on Vietnam, I was never assigned to Vietnam, for which I am eternally grateful. I was in Grenada, Panama, the Netherlands and many bases in the U.S. I was never in heavy combat like Allen, again for which I am eternally grateful.
I was also a U.S. diplomat and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. I witnessed violence in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
I resigned from the U.S. government 16 years ago in March 2003, in opposition to another one of the U.S. wars of choice, the U.S. war on Iraq.
Since my resignation, I have been speaking all over the world about U.S. imperialism, in a similar vein as Allen did.
I admire Allen Nelson's acts of conscience which began a few years after his return from Vietnam. The first years were very difficult. He told audiences that his mother said that he did not come home as the same son that had gone to Vietnam. And Allen acknowledged that he was not the same. Finally, he got treatment for Post Traumatic stress and began speaking about the horrors of war.
I found very moving his description of helping a young Vietnamese girl deliver her baby, an experience that he described as "saving his soul." He finally began seeing the Vietnamese people not as "gooks" or "communists" as most other U.S. soldiers did but as humans, real people, with families just like his own back home.
Allen eventually sought help to adjust to life as a civilian living without war. Many of those who were in the U.S. military in Vietnam have PTSD. In the 1980s government studies initially found that for "Vietnam theater veterans" 15% of men had PTSD at the time of the study and 30% of men had PTSD at some point in their life.
The following statistics on PTSD, TBI and suicides of veterans come from the Veterans Administration:
A 2003 re-analysis found that "contrary to the initial analysis of the data, a large majority of Vietnam Veterans struggled with chronic PTSD symptoms, with four out of five, 80 percent reporting recent symptoms when interviewed 20-25 years after Vietnam."
We now have as many veterans who were in the Afghanistan-Iraq wars as were in Vietnam. As of September 2014, there were about 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, compared to 2.6 million American veterans who fought in Vietnam. There are 8.2 million "Vietnam Era Veterans," military personnel like myself who served in the United States, in Europe, or in other parts of Asia during the Vietnam War from 1965-1975. The PSTD, TBI and suicides from the 21st century veterans will probably surpass those from the Vietnam war 50 years past.
According to reports, at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or Depression, but military counselors that the percentage of veterans with PTSD is much higher and the number climbs higher when combined with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
A comprehensive analysis, published in 2014, found that for PTSD: "Among male and female soldiers aged 18 years or older returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, rates range from 9% shortly after returning from deployment to 31% a year after deployment. A review of 29 studies that evaluated rates of PTSD in those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan found prevalence rates of adult men and women previously deployed ranging from 5% to 20% for those who do not seek treatment, and around 50% for those who do seek treatment.