Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sounds of Silence, Part II

Hello, darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again..." (Simon and Garfunkel, from the Sixties)

Heard anything about soldier suicide lately? Divorce?

If the journalism of today is the answer, what is the question?

I maintain that we get exactly what we pay for in terms of the dollars or hours we spend. While the nation has gone nuts over the failed Judgment Day prediction for May 21, and its current replacement date in October, lives and families are being shed by the stress of war and repeated deployments. How many of us have actually asked "the media", any form of it, for different content? Better yet, how many of us have contacted advertisers and asked them to pull their dollars?

We are the most empowered people the world has known but exercise little of it. I'm 64 years old, and I have yet to meet one of my peers or any member of my extended family who ever bothered to write a single letter, either pro or con, re the Vietnam War. Postage was only 6 cents back then, and you'd think that over the span of 15 years most would have written multiple times, given the cost and the omnipresence of that war. So much for government "of the people and by the people".

Here are some now old stats from Chuck Dean's 1988-90 book "Nam Vet" in which he describes his journey to healing for self and help for other vets:

*Of vets married before going to Vietnam, 38% were divorced within 6 months of returning.

*Divorce rate for all Vietnam veterans is in the 90th percentile.

*40-60% of all Vietnam veterans have persistent emotional adjustment problems.

*Accidental death and suicide rate for Vietnam vets was (then) 33% above national average.

*While 58K+ actually died in the war, over 150,000 had (as of 20 years ago) committed suicide.

*500K had been arrested or incarcerated; between 100 and 200K were in prison or on parole.

*D&A abuse problems ranged between 50 and 75%.

*40% were unemployed and 25% earned less than $7K per year.

From the current wars, we are now beginning to see them on the streets: young men self-medicating on more than marijuana and alcohol of yore. Their decline on meth is stunningly rapid.

Recently, author Karl Marlantes was on public radio here to talk about his Vietnam novel "Matterhorn" now out in paperback. One statement was sobering. At a book signing recently a young couple came up. As he signed the book, the young wife started to cry. Her husband was shipping out again soon. Marlantes asked the young soldier, "Your second deployment?" "No, sir," the soldier replied, "my seventh."

While somewhere around 80% of the names on the Wall in DC were men not old enough to vote, I once took slight comfort in the ages of the KIA's reported regularly in the paper: usually in the mid- to upper-20's. Very small comfort, really. Maybe with only one tour under their belts, these later 20-somethings would do a little better upon return than the 19- or early-20's vets of the Vietnam War. But with multiple tours for nearly all of them, I see nothing at all to be encouraged about.

It's mostly too late now, but I will suggest this in writing to the local newspaper editor (after I get my daughter's car fixed today): in addition to name, age, rank and branch, hometown, unit and casualty info, I'd like to know this number for EVERY reported casualty: NUMBER OF DEPLOYMENTS.

Pray for our invisible soldiers and their young families. Nobody you talk to this week will honestly know the current rate or total of solider/family suicides.

And the numbers reported above for Vietnam vet suicides are two decades old and way low. WAY low.

No way? I could only wish.

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