A Time for Healing

January 1, 1999

[originally published in Peacework, Feb. 1995;
slightly revised by author in 1999]

As with many others, my experiences during the Vietnam War raised questions I had never before conceived. An awakening began as I confronted apparent lies and distortions about my understandings of the war, of U.S. society, and of myself.

A search for the origins and quality of the soul of my country, and ultimately, and more painfully, of my own soul, had begun. How could a powerful, "Christian" nation like the U.S. become so pathologically obsessed with what President Johnson termed "this damned little piss-ass country?" How could a good, smart "Christian" man like myself have followed orders to travel 12,000 miles west of my home town in rural New York to protect our "democracy" from the Vietnamese "Communists" about whom I knew virtually nothing?

The power of these unanswered questions helps explain the depth and tenacity of the U.S. peace and anti-war movement, as well as my own evolving political activities. Vietnam is a watershed event. The immoral and illogical nature of the U.S. invasion and prolonged intervention provoked the largest popular movement against U.S. government policy in our history. Political and military leaders were forced to cease the intervention even though the articulated goals were never achieved. And never before had so many military veterans, both those still participating in and those recently returned from the war, so passionately opposed a war while it was still in progress.

The impact of Vietnam is far from complete 25 years after the war’s end. Vietnam is a forever war because it became a movement of permanent, large-scale, cognitive dissonance–an awareness realized by millions of a gross disparity between what has been taught and internalized about America, and what our personal experiences and conscientious observations reveal to us. Vietnam reveals a darkness of the American soul. The defeat humiliated our protected, collective psyche, and brought closer to the surface the shame of our criminal heritage.

Not surprisingly, the official national response to defeat represents typical imperial behavior. The U.S. has continued to bash the Vietnam "enemy" by creating and cruelly abusing the POW/MIA issue while refusing efforts at reconciliation. Simultaneously, the U.S. launched the most extensive military build-up in history to assure (at least in our delusions) that we could endlessly claim global hegemony. This build-up included the use of Contra terrorists in "low-intensity conflict" as well as various policies dependent upon ever-increasing quantities of technologically sophisticated conventional and nuclear weapons.

Shadows unaddressed, whether present in collective or in personal psyches, operate powerfully in various insidious ways, generally requiring distortions, lies, and myths to assure that the "safety and protection" of denial can prevail. The foundations and sustaining values of our society, so rooted in arrogance, racism, theft, genocide, and systemic violence, continue for the moment to remain unaddressed. Although honesty in confronting fear while seeking truth is painful, it is indispensable for the achievement of social, economic, political, cultural, and personal healing and health.

The post-Vietnam build-up forced the Soviet Union to increase its military spending to the point of economic bankruptcy and political collapse. Meanwhile, the U.S. has cleverly continued to deny its own internal malaise and deterioration. Though the United States as a nation-state is morally bankrupt, has a broken industrial infrastructure, creates grave ecological problems, and has a severely declining middle class with dramatically increasing disparities between the rich and the poor–it nonetheless declares itself victorious over the socialist model. In the unipolar, post-Cold War period, the U.S. is the leader of a global supermarket capitalist economy. With the lawless unprecedented invasion of Panama in 1989, the unprecedented 43-day U.N.-sanctioned bombing of Iraq in 1991, the subsequent regular bombings of Iraq to the present, bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, and the U.S.-led bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, the U.S. continues to fulfill its self-assigned global manifest destiny.

Vietnam led me to a fresh study of the ‘discovery’ of the Americas and the ‘founding’ of the United States of America. When I read General Sullivan’s diary of his being dispatched by General George Washington in the summer of 1779 to central New York to "eliminate" the Seneca Nation of indigenous, I was sickened. The elaborate details proudly reported by Sullivan of destruction of food stocks and housing, and the murder and scalping of men, women, and children fleeing the soldiers’ brutality, made me realize that our exploits in Vietnam and the mentality behind them were not new. I located the then-destroyed headquarters of the Seneca Nation as present-day Geneva, New York, the Finger Lakes town of my birth where in my youth I had joyfully collected hundreds of arrowheads.

Scrutinizing the hidden history of all the U.S. wars, including the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and Korea, as well as Vietnam and the several hundred other military interventions around the globe, discloses a sad pattern of political and diplomatic deceit and military barbarism that makes it clear that Vietnam was no aberration.

Comparable study of the founding of the U.S. civilization, its continental expansion and repression, and hemispheric and global imperialism, reveals a trail of tears, lies, deceit, terror, brute force, and violence that casts new light on the nature of the origins and subsequent history of America. This pattern of violence and deceit has protected the interests of those with privilege and power in lieu of caring for and preserving justice for the common people. The U.S. political and economic structures and the values that underlie them have been consistently proven to be unjust and selfish. Their accumulated entrenchment and destructive themes for more than 200 hundred years clearly beg the need for a radical (to the root) and nonviolent revolutionary (turning around of consciousness from anthropocentric to biocentric) approach for change. No more politics as usuall.

This post-Vietnam journey has of necessity led me to a mindful search for internal healing, a process of holistically integrating spiritual and psychological awareness with new cultural, historical and ecological understandings. I have been in and out of grieving over the loss of the idyllic American dream. The willingness to be freed from comfortable denial patterns takes courage because such freedom seems so terrifying. The process of letting go of the personal protections that have shielded me from experiencing feelings of hurt, sadness, loss, fear, shame, anger, without blame, and loneliness–is excruciatingly painful.

In the past I have received much comfort from resorting to cerebral analysis almost exclusively, at the expnese of other forms of awareness. I have been able to focus on external conditions, persons, and institutions as the exclusive problem, at the expense of understanding and taking responsibility for my own feelings and behavior. Fear of letting go of familiar patterns while risking an unknown present and future based on more holistic awareness and faith has required therapy, men’s groups, support from friends, and meditation. Recently, as I have consciously and safely lowered many of my protections (defenses), the latter of which at one point enabled me to successfully survive various emotional wounds and traumas of the past, I have experienced long bout of crying and catharsis.

Realizing that unaddressed wounds lead to powerful compensating (defensive) behaviors that are destructive and nonsensical is an important basis upon which to initiate healing, whether collective or personal.

H
ealing and recovery from our collective and personal hurts guide the process through which we can begin to imagine a just, hopeful future. Recognizing our cultural origins in selfish, anthropocentric arrogance and greed, and the systemic injustice and destruction that ensues from this mindset is critical. Being able to honestly confront our denial, maintained through various rationalizations justifying privilege, takes courage. The growing psychology of malaise, the economics of resource bankruptcy, the breakdown of essential cultural relationships, and the politics of plutocracy are becoming increasingly self-evident.

There is no peace and security without justice and fairness for all life, including for the entire ecosystem. There is no universal justice without the emergence of an ecoconsciousness of the sacred interconnectedness of everything and everybody. This might be described as the consciousness of biocentrism, where spirituality, science, psychology, economics, politics, religion, and culture can begin to understand sacred, unifying principles through the vitality of diversity.

The voice of our inner wounded self, the voices of the multitudes of wounded others, and the voice of the wounded earth, all become cues for articulating our healing journey toward liberation and transformation. The search for inner justice with social and ecological justice, and their intrinsic interplay, can pave the way for holistic health, a new people’s decentralist politics, and heightened consciousness. Without Vietnam, it is hard for me to conceive of being on this journey of liberation. As we address the systemic structural injustices, as well as reckoning honestly with our internal wounds, and seek to align the two, we increase the likelihood for development of a powerful, radical movement integrating social and economic with political changes revolutionary in nature.


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