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Warrior to Warrior: Welcome Home

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Now that you have returned home from Iraq and the killing and dying has ended, I would like to tell you that your hell is over and your life will be as it was before. I would like to tell you that time heals all wounds, even those of the mind and the spirit, and that the nightmares and the memories of the horror will eventually fade. I would like to encourage and give you hope, but to do so, I believe, would be to continue the lie. You see, as a Marine Corps Officer in Vietnam, I have seen the futility, the waste, and the immorality of war and have accepted, albeit hesitantly and uneasily, culpability for my actions. After much soul searching and years of self-chastisement, I have managed to forgive myself, somewhat. Or at least to live with what I had done and what I became. So while others may offer you the fa├žade of honor and glory, or "comfort" you (and themselves) with illusions of war's grandeur, I will offer you nothing but the truth, what many others and I see as the reality of war and of life in its aftermath. A reality attested to by tens of thousands of psychological, emotional, and moral casualties and by a long and disgraceful history of American neglect and maltreatment of our returning warriors.[1]

The reality is that no one who has truly experienced war escapes its ravages unscathed. No one is ever made whole again. Like it or not, that is the reality, yours and mine. Family and friends will not understand why you have changed but will try desperately to help you "get over it," to put the war behind you, and go on with your life (as though being affected by war is a conscious choice). But when it becomes apparent that the effect and impact of war is deep seated and complex and beyond their capabilities to remedy, they will grow frustrated by the lack of assistance forthcoming from the Government bound by contract "to care for him who shall have borne the battle . . ." and dismayed by the indifference and lack of concern from a nation that mouths meaningless rhetoric of gratitude, concern, and support. Helpless, they are left only to mourn the loss of innocence of the child they sent to war. Truly, war's devastation is far reaching. But how does one "get over" such horror? Wars come and go and become the stuff for historians to record and politicians to reinterpret. America, however, will quickly forget, if they noticed at all, the death and destruction prosecuted in their name, and go on with their consumer driven lives as though the horror and atrocities never occurred. For you, however, the war will never end and though years may pass, you will remember it as though it were yesterday, the feelings, the sights, the sounds, and the smells.

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You will forever hear the screams of the wounded reverberate through your mind and relive endlessly the final tragic minutes of a young life cut short by war as you lovingly held and comforted a dying comrade in your arms. You will remember the frustration and futility, the ambiguity and conflict of principles. You will remember that in unnecessary and immoral wars of aggression and occupation, there was no coherent strategy, no method to the madness only killing and being killed. You will remember the confusion and that in the struggle to survive the next improvised explosive device or suicide bomber, everyday living became a netherworld of horror and insanity in which life lost all meaning. As an inevitable consequence of war's dehumanization and desensitization to death and destruction, judgments of right and wrong morality oftentimes became irrelevant and brutality and atrocity a primal response to an overwhelming threat of annihilation. You will remember how life amid the violence, death, horror, trauma, anxiety, and fatigue of war eroded our moral being, undid character, and reduced decent men and women to savages capable of incredible cruelty that would never have been possible before being sacrificed to war. And for this we must suffer.

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I would like to tell you that America, the nation you loved and chose to serve, appreciates your sacrifices and honors your service. But in reality, America's gratitude and appreciation is all pretense, a charade choreographed by war criminals to further mislead an uniformed and apathetic citizenry of sheep in order to encourage continued support for their agenda of killing and destruction. For most, members of the military are cannon fonder, an expendable commodity to be exploited when political leaders and corporate magnates believe it profitable and in their interest. In addition, when you are no longer useful and have served their purpose, they will abandon you to face the demons of war alone, no longer a "hero" but a nuisance, a burden on the economy, and a reminder of a war America would rather forget.

As they "welcome" you home and "thank you" for your service, an "appreciative" America will begrudge you your "benefits" and deny you the health care you so desperately require to treat the physical, psychological, emotional, and moral injuries you sustained fighting their immoral and illegal war. As you attempt to achieve some normalcy in your life, you will realize that though you have returned home, the struggle for survival continues in earnest. And sometimes, when things seem most bleak, you may look back upon your time in Iraq and see death as benevolent and those who died in battle as more fortunate than we who are condemned to live as penance for the sacrilege of war. And, as evidenced by the fact that the number of Iraq veterans committing suicide may soon exceed the combat death toll, sometimes, when no help is available, and living with the consequences of war become unbearable, and seemingly nothing can make it go away, death looms as the only option.

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It is at this critical moment, this tragic instant in time when life seems so tenuous, that you must realize that you have survived Iraq for a purpose. We who know war for what it truly is have a profound responsibility to again come forward, shoulder to shoulder, and bear witness to the truth about war. If our sacrifices and those of our brothers and sisters whose lives were devastated and/or cut short by war, are to have any meaning at all, we must raise our voices in unison. You are the next generation of warriors, of war's survivors and victims, destined to continue the struggle, not against some contrived evil of the war criminals' devise, but in opposition to war itself and in behalf of peace. And though it may be difficult, you must come to terms with your experiences, find a place for it in your being, and use what you have learned to continue the struggle against those who would use war easily, and sacrifice untold millions of human beings to forward their agenda of power, wealth, and empire. You must warn those war criminals who have hijacked our nation and have ignored our Constitution that we reject their mythology and their rhetoric of false patriotism and will not unquestioningly and blindly support unjust, unnecessary, and immoral wars. My generation's time is near gone and we bequeathed to you the onerous responsibility of becoming the gadfly that awakens America from its lethargic and apathetic slumber. I challenge you, therefore, to turn your pain to righteous indignation and outrage, to take up the gauntlet, and become a warrior for peace.

[1] Richard Severo and Lewis Milford, The Wages of War, When America's Soldiers Came Home From Valley Forge to Vietnam, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1989.


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Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a long-time activist for peace and justice, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. His books include "Beyond PTSD: The Moral (more...)

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