A Vietnam Vet Against Bush and Perpetual War
by Robert Gaiek
March 15, 2003
This is in response to the Buzzflash Mailbag letter, 03/13/03, from "Barbara in NYC." She writes that she will not "buy into the guilt trip about not supporting the troops." The administration is banking on a robotic response from all Americans once they start the upcoming illegal, un-provoked war. They are confident that all dissent will be silenced as soon as the first missiles start raining down on Baghdad. My God, what has happened to the democracy we once had in this country? All who are willing to be silenced are cowards and not worthy of protection. This war is wrong and immoral even if the UN finally condones it. It is a war crime waiting to happen.
I join Barbara in her belief that the "anti-war protesters are the ones who are truly supporting our troops." She is on the right track. It is unfortunate that it took so long for the majority of Americans to admit that Vietnam was a mistake that neither Johnson nor Nixon had the political will to disengage from. Nixon finally did it with great dishonor to our country. The small percentage of Vietnamese who truly supported us were abandoned like the useless helicopters that were destroyed and left behind. The loyalists were left to be imprisoned in re-education camps. Many were simply executed without trial--a procedure our once proud nation now proudly embraces with the boasting words of a president who now governs like a madman out of control.
To this day, Vietnam is scarred by the legacy of the chemical warfare we waged on the land and the people. I have finally filed my own "Agent Orange" claim against our government and I am scheduled for my initial screening exam at the VA on Saturday, 3/15/03, while thousands of people, I hope, engage in demonstrations against the pending war. Where were they in 1969 while Kissinger was making a mockery of the "secret" Paris peace talks? Where were they when we were killing civilians simply because there was no way to be certain who was truly on our side? Where were they when the press dutifully reported what the generals said at the 5 o'clock follies in Saigon? Where were they when I was nailed by a booby trap placed by someone who was not interested in the gift of democracy my government was offering?
Soldiers Become Forgotten Veterans
Diabetes type II, after about 30 years, is now accepted by the VA as an illness related to Agent Orange. I was diagnosed by a private physician as being diabetic one year after returning from Vietnam. Since that time I have used diet to control the problem and minimize its impact. Nevertheless, I have suffered from a major heart attack, stroke, vision loss in one eye, an abdominal aortic aneurysm and various other arterial problems associated with diabetes. I never knew that Agent Orange may have been the cause. Without the Internet, I still would be unaware.
Health problems resulted in the loss of a successful corporate career and, finally, the failure of my own business and a financial situation that forced me to turn to the VA for quad by-pass surgery and major surgery for aortic repair I could no longer afford. In spite of months of recording way above average glucose levels, using a VA provided test kit, and VA lab tests that are "above normal," the official diagnosis is "sugar intolerant." That is outrageous.
I acknowledge that the diabetes could have resulted even if I had never been in Vietnam. Nonetheless, after 30 years, the official legislative response is that if one has diabetes and served in Vietnam, it is "presumed" that Agent Orange is the cause. It is clear to me that the strategy is simply to stall as long as possible: "everyone will be dead in the long run." I will still file a claim because it takes 2-3 years for the VA to make a ruling, which usually has to be appealed. It is about the only form of dissent I can still physically handle.
I came to Vietnam with a brand new version of high tech warfare still used today with no publicity. We installed electronic sensor systems throughout the Central Highlands, with monitoring outposts scattered all around. Some were implanted during foot patrols, others were dropped from helicopters at 300 feet--the pilots called it the "zap zone" because of small arms fire. I also went on several dozen missions with a Captain in the Chemical Warfare branch. The pilots called us "Bugs and Gas." I never asked what brand of chemical warfare the Captain was engaged in and I could not discuss with him what I did. My unit had no rules of engagement. We could call a "fire mission" on anything that moved. This was the advent of a new brand of warfare: "kill from great distances and risk no casualties." I take no pride in that dirty business. It makes war too safe and easy--it's a tempting trap to suck us in deeper and deeper into war with no price to pay. Someday we will have to pay the price.
I have no first hand facts about the chemical warfare we used, but maps available on the Internet today reveal that the areas we worked in were some of the most heavily saturated chem warfare areas in all of Vietnam. What the maps do not show is the carnage and suffering. No scorecard for that.
None of this makes me personally angry. The above perhaps provides too much detail, but it is written on behalf of thousands of other guys with much stronger cases who no longer have the will or ability to write or speak out. There are over 100,000 Gulf War vets who have claims with the VA. That is an astounding number for a 4 day war. How can we go into the breach one more time when the government claims they do not know the reason for these "mysterious" illnesses.
I received a hint by watching the House budget hearings on C-Span. They plan to cut many programs to accommodate the tax cut for millionaires. The VA will be cut by $15 billion over ten years. Promises mean nothing. Vets are just fodder from long ago wars that everyone has forgotten. Who is out protesting and demonstrating? Where is the ditto-head crowd with their pathetic pro war rallies? Will one of their number be at the VA tomorrow advocating for my case against the government?
Hell no! According to Rep. Jim Nussle, the chairman of that budget committee, he knows a lot of vets and they are "ready to do their part once again to sacrifice" for the good of the country. Can anyone believe the audacity of that statement? Only a supporter of the madman ruling our nation could buy into that line of CRAP!
Support our troops any way you feel comfortable with, but do not condemn anyone expressing dissent. If you wish to express honest dissent, do not cave in to the pressure of the mindless idiots dominating the press and the airwaves. They make a mockery of my service in the military, along with millions of other men and women.
It is important to remember that we fought in Vietnam with a citizen army. If people claim we lost the war it was not because of anything Jane Fonda did. Even John McCain holds no ill will toward her, dismissing her actions in North Vietnam as poor judgment by a "disturbed" young actress. Our actions as citizen soldiers were governed by our desire to stay alive, and to do so, you had to "kill as many of them as possible." It has nothing to do with morale. Morale is what you think about in the safety of a base camp not under fire while drinking a beer.
We have a professional, volunteer military today. They have the great advantage of training as a unit and being shipped into combat as a unit. They will do just fine in their killing mission, which has nothing to do with morale. I read something recently that has received no publicity. The soldiers in Kuwait have named the coming war Operation "Just Us." And so it is.
George Bush, a failure in all his previous endeavors in life, has failed totally and miserably in his idiotic "coalition of the willing." We now have the whole world solidly against us. It is his fault. Remember that when you express dissent.
Bob Gaiek is an Army veteran living in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org