This post originally appeared at www.rebeccaruetten.com
On July 21, 1954, Vietnam was divided into two sections, the communist North and the capitalist South. The United States responded by sending more and more of its sons to Vietnam, into a war, in which success was measured by the fallen, the body count of the North Vietnamese Army. The youth followed with the illusion to save South Vietnam of becoming enslaved by the communist North. After years of killing, the patriotism of the early years dwindled, giving way to anti-war protests, when the uprising of new media and technology made the images and stories of human rights violations accessible to the public. On April 30, 1975, the communist North conquered Saigon, the capital of the capitalist South. When Saigon fell, the United States declared the war officially over. The once celebrated American soldiers, having come of age in a war zone, returned home and carried the nightmares of the battlefield with them. Upon their return, those who served in Vietnam were portrayed as baby killers, psychos, drug addicts and warmongers for many years after.
Forty years later, these young adults are old men. With advancing age, they increasingly forget the details of their lives, but never those of their time in Vietnam. Guilt and powerlessness are some of the feelings which are still vivid as if not a day had passed. The downward spiral of self-destruction has become a silent killer: According to a study by the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the number of US veterans who fought in the Vietnam War and committed suicide is higher than the number of fallen American soldiers during the Vietnam war itself.
The mental illness that afflicts many veterans is labeled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It manifests itself as a form of sleep disturbance, irritability, difficulty of concentration and increased alertness. Sometimes they can no longer remember important aspects of the traumatic experience. In the daytime, PTSD triggers flashbacks and anxiety attacks, in the nighttime, the trauma comes back in dreams.
For some Veterans, the solution for dealing with the past became returning or moving permanently to Vietnam. Only by being exposed daily to the place where all the suffering had started, could they deal with their trauma and attempt to overcome it. Today, these veterans call Vietnam their home – not the United States