Friday, February 23, 2007

Who supports our troops?

By now you've read more than you want to read about the sickening way in which the military and VA are treating the veterans of Oil War II. You've read about the horrible conditions. About how they deliberately give soldiers low disability ratings to deprive them of benefits, forcing them to appeal and appeal to get what they're owed by the nation that threw them into an unnecessary war and now refuses to care for them. About how veterans with severe problems related to the war, such as suicidal depression at all they did and all that happened to them and their fellow soldiers, are turned away from the VA hospitals.

I don't think there is any more I can add to that. "Support our troops" has to mean more than yellow ribbon magnets, but, sadly, I doubt it does. So I will instead post a poem:


He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why ...
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.

That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?

-- Wilfred Owen, December 1917

-- Badtux the Poetry Penguin


  1. Dude, you are my soulmate. Wilfred Owen is one of my fave poets of all time. I've quoted him a couple of times on both my blogs.

  2. One thing few people consider- regardless of how folks feel about the war, we support the soldiers (or at least claim we do). This is very different than how we treated Vietnam. Then, the soldier was treated like a pariah, and even with the draft in place, like he volunteered to go. The current attitudes and the news about Iraq is setting of a fair amount of Vietnam veterans with flashbacks and nightmares and anxiety.

  3. I was delighted those many years ago when I discovered Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon (and their fellows). It is a pleasure to find others who keep them alive.

  4. Georg, I don't know where you were during the Vietnam war. I was a kid. I can tell you that we damned well near *SALUTED* when those veterans came home and walked through our streets with their uniforms on. If anybody had dared give veterans crap,the police commissioner, a very conservative Irish guy, probably would have personally pistol-whipped their sorry ass (indeed, that's what eventually got him put out to pasture, he wasn't going to have no damned hippies having pot parties in *his* parks, but some of those "hippies" turned out to be the children of the powerful, and the powerful did NOT appreciate their kids coming home with split lips and black eyes and broken noses). I didn't see any of that "pariah" crap being done, except by the VA (as we all know) when the veterans tried to get treatment for Agent Orange and PTSD-related illnesses.

    Maybe it's geography. I grew up in a mid-sized city in the South with a major military base across the river from us. It wasn't a military town -- the base only had around 10,000 personnel, and our metropolitan area had around 350,000 people -- but I suppose we might have had a slightly different response than people in San Francisco might have had. Still, there was enough personnel at the base that we saw men in uniform all the time walking our streets, and towns like the one I grew up in were where the majority of combat troops came from. The military preferred volunteers for combat jobs because they tended to be more motivated than the draftees (doh!), and until the last couple of years of the war, volunteers outnumbered draftees in combat jobs in Vietnam. And I can tell you, we damned well did *NOT* treat soldiers and Vietnam vets as pariahs, and anybody who attempted to do so would have ended up with the snot beat out of them and not necessarily by the police commissioner either.

    - Badtux the Southern Penguin

  5. Georg - I'm sure that not only Viet Nam vets are having flashbacks, but so are the vets of WWII, Korea, and any other conflict that we've been in.

    Vets have always had crap services from the VA, or just enough to get them out of the door alive. By the 'civilian' population shining a light on their treatment after the initial emergency, just maybe, maybe they will get the care that they need. Look how long it took to get Agent Orange to be recognized as a cause of problems for vets. There are still some military circles that deny the effects of it.

    I see harping on the living conditions of vets that still need treatment, but not sick enough to remain in the hospital itself, as 'our' way of supporting the troops and not the war. Showing that we care how they're doing. I think many have learned a lesson from the Viet Nam war and are trying to correct the mistakes made then for the vets now.

  6. When my dad wore his uniform to the church he attended most of his life before going to college and returning with his bride and babe in arms, his uniform being the best thing he had, he was informed by someone in authority there that he should not wear his uniform to that church, because they did not support the war. He never went to church again. This was in Utica, NY, in 1966 or 67. There was a large base 20 miles away. My dad volunteered.

    In the North and in California, soldiers were often harrassed in uniform. It happened. I still live in upstate NY and the attitude towards soldiers right now is definitely positive and supportive.

    And yes, the WW and Korea vets have flashbacks and nightmares too- but I see more Vietnam vets come across my desk. MANY more.


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