The Tracks Of War

Viet Nam vets, who have already faced post-traumatic stress,
are helping Soviet Afghan vets deal with their own

One of the articles in Is Militarism Fading? (IC#20)
Originally published in Winter 1989 on page 30
Copyright (c)1989, 1997 by Context Institute


A very significant sign of militarism’s (potential) demise is the growing awareness of the toll that war takes on both individuals and cultures. To illustrate: In October 1988, an extraordinary delegation of U.S. citizen diplomats visited the Soviet Union under the auspices of the Earthstewards Network (P.O. Box 10697, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110). Organized by Diana Glasgow and composed primarily of Viet Nam veterans with expertise in the problems of returning combatants, the group met with Soviet counterparts who had fought in the Afghan war. This meeting was nothing short of a stunning breakthrough in U.S.-Soviet relations, as Charles Figley describes in this two-part (before and after) interview.

Figley himself is a veteran, a psychologist , and a leading expert on post-traumatic stress syndrome, which he explains here. A Professor of Family Therapy and Psychology, he counselled veterans for many years and also founded the Family Research Institute at Purdue University, Indiana. For more information, contact the Institute at 525 Russell Street, W. Lafayette, IN 47906. To learn more about the activities of the Earthstewards Network, see the interview with Danaan Parry in this issue.

BEFORE THE VISIT

Robert: How did you get involved in your work with Viet Nam vets?

Charles: One reason is I am one. I joined the Marine Corps right out of high school in ’63 and got out in ’67. During that time the Viet Nam war emerged, and I spent a year there between ’65 and ’66. I didn’t have all that many harrowing experiences in my judgment. Some may see it differently, but I was really too young and too gung-ho to be traumatized.

After I got out of the Marine Corps, when I was still in graduate school, there was this Viet Nam Veterans Against the War demonstration in Washington. It was called Dewey Canyon III. Viet Nam veterans, for the first time, were demonstrating against the war and it was going to end in a symbolic act of returning your medals. This was the first and last peace demonstration I was involved in.

But it was a very moving experience for me politically and professionally, because I spent three days camped out on the mall talking to lots of my fellow Viet Nam vets. It was really the first time I’d had exposure to Viet Nam vets, because when I was in the military we weren’t veterans – we were on active duty. Before this gathering, my identity certainly wasn’t associated with the Viet Nam war, or with being a veteran.

What really did it was lining up with everybody else to throw our medals back. I had this surge of emotion that partly was the accumulation of my time over there, and partly the frustration of being opposed to something that I’d looked forward to being proud of. And I found myself with tears in my eyes as I got closer to throwing these medals back. There was no ambivalence about throwing them back, but there was growing ambivalence about the emotion welling up inside me.

That three days of talking with so many souls who had been torn apart by this war, and who were being torn apart at that moment, really consolidated my commitment to making sure the war ended as soon as possible. I didn’t join any more demonstrations or knock on any more congressional doors because I became frustrated with politics in general. But I became very committed to doing something – trying to help those who were the excess baggage, if you will, of the war. Those who were the human toll, beyond those who died. Although I ended up counseling lots of people during the next several years, most of my energy was focused on documenting , or at least testing, my evolving hypotheses about the emotional tracks of war.

Robert: What was it you were documenting?

Charles: In 1974 I put together the largest bibliography that I had ever seen of everything that was written about war veterans, or combat-related stress reactions in particular, and it was published in the Congressional Record. As a result I got sixty or seventy letters from people who tend to read the Congressional Record, which I certainly don’t, and they shared with me either their own work and activities or referred me to others, and sometimes both. Then I attended a conference in Chicago on the psychological impact of the war, where military sociologists and psychologists presented their research, and it was basically bullshit. They were presenting papers about something they knew from afar – they certainly weren’t combatants like I was. But with that list of attendees, plus the people who wrote me, I formed the Consortium on Veterans’ Studies, which is a network of colleagues interested in veterans’ studies in general, but Viet Nam vets in particular. For the next several years we collaborated on a variety of research projects, presenting them at the meetings of major research organizations. From those papers emerged the core of a publication called Stress Disorders Among Viet Nam Veterans,which most people agree has become the classic documentation of the immediate and long-term psycho-social effects of war and combat, particularly on Viet Nam vets.

Robert: Could you describe some of the psychological price that gets paid by the soldier?

Charles: Well, you are exposed to highly stressful events that overwhelm you. They leave you wondering about what has happened, and why you acted the way you did, and the implications of it. If you try to kill somebody, for example, and particularly if you discover that this person never intended to kill you – a civilian or a child say – then you have to live with those memories. The psychological price you pay is the stress of attempting to manage those memories. That’s the essence of it. Forgetting about it, or reframing it, or trying to explain it away takes a tremendous amount of energy. It compromises your self-esteem, it obviously affects your concentration, and it particularly affects your self-confidence, both in terms of being a person and in terms of being a sensitive person.

I and many of my colleagues were interested in the tracks of trauma: how does it play itself out in people’s lives? For the first time we were asking questions that our military psychology colleagues never asked, such as, Were they in combat or not? Were they under stress at the time, did they fire their weapon? Did they kill anyone? If they did, was it clearly the enemy? Were they fired at? The prevailing view was that when the war was over physically, it was over psychologically, and those who took a much longer time to readjust were probably psychologically impaired when they entered the service. But through our research, we clearly refuted that thesis.

Robert: How much of this applies to the Viet Nam war, and how much have you been able to find out about the impact of previous wars on soldiers?

Charles: Most of it applies to other wars too. Indeed most of it applies to other highly traumatized situations, particularly if they involve responsible persons – people wearing a uniform, including police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. As we’ve investigated the scientific literature, we’ve found a flurry of research and clinical descriptions following a war and then it isn’t published anymore. In World War I it was called "shell-shock," and in World War II it was called "battle fatigue." In Korea it was called "combat neurosis," and for Viet Nam they called it "post-Viet Nam syndrome." All of those are post-traumatic stress disorders, so we tend to relearn these lessons. I think part of it is that when a nation ends a particular war, it’s sick of war, and it’s not ashamed of identifying the toll of the war. This is total speculation from my worm’s eye-level view, but I think as we choose to gear up for another war, the hawks take over, and they tend to downplay the psycho-social fallout and negative consequences of war. That’s why we don’t find it very much in the literature. It falls out of favor.

Robert: Are soldiers the only ones to experience the stress of war?

Charles: That’s interesting – we were trying to show how people in combat have higher stress levels and take longer to recover. But we really had not anticipated the amount of stress associated with support troops, particularly those who in some way were exposed to the carnage – for example, those who typed the letters that were sent to inform families about a death, those who worked in M*A*S*H-type units, those who worked in body-bag identification and shipping. Those folks frequently end up as clients and research participants. The amount of stress they felt both then and now is enormous and much greater than we thought.

Robert: Has there been any change in terms of awareness of this stress – for combatants and noncombatants alike – among professionals and the military?

Charles: Yes, there has. Actually, my first doctoral student is in the military now doing some of the first research on combat-related stress reaction, and that’s an indication of how far the military has come. Because in some ways they don’t want to know.

When you study combat-related stress reactions within the military, you put the respondents at risk. If you find significantly high levels of stress, then it makes you worry about readiness – and an individual may be fearful of jeopardizing his or her career. So I give the military credit for recognizing that they really need to be collecting this information, taking a hard look at it, and not giving up, even though some of us would like that to happen, at least in some domains.

But they’re beginning to recognize that it’s a natural hazard. It goes with the job. In order to be more combat-ready, if you will, and more effective in defense, they need to not deny it, but to be able to detect it much more effectively and to control it. One example of how we’ve learned quite a bit from Viet Nam is that there will never be another rotation system. And if there is a rotation system, it’ll be by units rather than individuals.

Robert: Can you describe how the rotation system worked, and why that change is significant?

Charles: The rotation system began when I was in Viet Nam. Prior to that time, troops were in a war throughout its duration, although in Korea there was a point system – after you accumulated a certain number of points, you could go back. For the Marine Corps in Viet Nam, it was a 13-month stay. A unit would go in, then those people whose time was up would leave and be replaced individually by those shipped in from the United States. So the new ones were, in effect, replacing people who had either rotated back to the States, or died, or were wounded. That’s kind of an eerie feeling, to be replacing someone whose time was up one way or the other.

Secondly, those people who rotate home are the most qualified and combat-ready, and those I’ve interviewed report that this was both the most joyous and the most troubling part of their tour of duty. They were happy to get out alive, but at the same time there was this sense of responsibility and guilt for leaving their buddies behind, many of whom were not as capable of surviving.

The third element is that they were rotated back so quickly that it did not provide a period of relief and rest between the combat – or the Viet Nam war theater – and being at home. Obviously, the military was doing what the combatants and veterans wanted: getting them home as soon as possible. They literally had the dirt of Viet Nam in their fingernails as they washed up for supper. But we now know that it takes a certain amount of time to readjust from being a combatant, whose mission is to destroy human beings and property. We do an effective job of taking the civilian out and putting the military in, but unfortunately we do no job of taking the military out and putting the civilian back.

There were similar problems with the R&R programs. These vacations away from the war had the opposite of their intended effect. Because the soldiers went individually, it took them a couple of days to leave Viet Nam behind and begin to enjoy their rest. Then it took them a few days to leave their vacation behind when they got back to Viet Nam. The highest incidence of killed and wounded-in-action happened either going in as an FNG, "a fuckin’ new guy," or coming back from R&R and trying to get reoriented, getting your ears reeducated to distinguish between various clicks and sounds and whistles, that sort of thing.

Now, if they must go to a rotation system for political reasons, it probably will be a unit rotation, and if they go on R&R they’ll go entirely as a unit. That way they’ll have a built-in support system going in, everyone will be at about the same level, and they’ll stay until their mission is "completed." The Soviets used that in Afghanistan, so that part we’ve learned.

The military is developing their instruments for being able to screen those who may be more susceptible to traumatic stress. They’re also using the Israeli model for treating it, which is to recognize that it’s natural, bring them out for a brief amount of time, have them process the experience, educate them about how traumatic stress works, and then put them back into combat. It’s like falling off a horse.

Robert: Could you describe a bit about your upcoming trip to the Soviet Union?

Charles: This really got started through the exchange between Diana Glasgow of the Earthstewards Network and a number of people in the Soviet Union, particularly those connected with the Foundation for Social Invention, and their sharing with her their concern about returning Afghan veterans. There was uncertainty about what precisely to do, and an awareness that the situation of Afghan vets in the Soviet Union and Viet Nam vets in the United States was very similar.

So they want a delegation of American experts in three areas: prosthesis construction, mobility of the disabled, and psychological or psychosocial readjustment. Modern medicine is able to save these men’s lives, but the challenge is to help them get on with salvaging the rest of their lives. So I’ll be one of fifteen going over there to assist them.

To make this trip successful, they had to receive sanctioning from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the highest levels of government, and they were able to do that. I might say parenthetically that this is amazing! I’m still stunned that this trip is going forward. It really is a testimonial to the creativity and the spirit and the courage of Diana Glasgow and her colleagues at Earthstewards Network, and of the people in the Foundation of Social Invention, and others I’m sure.

Our mission is to be as helpful as possible to them, as open, friendly, encouraging and cooperative as possible, in hopes that we will develop trust and good relations so that we or colleagues like us will be invited back. And so that they will feel encouraged to visit our country.

There are many reports about the difficulties these "Afghantsi", as they call them, have faced. Tass, for example, said that over the summer nearly 8,000 former paratroopers and Afghantsi had a reunion in Moscow and engaged in drunken street brawls and stripped off their medals and tried to march on Red Square. Now, to me, this sounds an awful lot like Viet Nam veterans’ behavior in the late ’60s and particularly the early ’70s.

Robert: What other similarities and differences are there between Viet Nam vets and Afghantsi?

Charles: There are at least nine similarities and five differences. First of all, both wars were fought without the full support, knowledge and involvement of their citizens, in contrast to both World Wars. Geopolitically, I think we’ve learned that unless the entire nation is committed in a big way, war is going to be a losing proposition for everybody, and I think that’s playing itself out in Central America.

Second, both wars were fought outside their borders against enemies that did not directly threaten the security of the respective countries, even though both countries claimed they did. The Soviet Union had the better case, but still it was questionable – and so those who fought returned wondering, "Was it all worth it?"

Third, both were part-time wars that used a portion of the military to fight while troops were rotated in and out of the war theater. There were no Afghantsi or Viet Nam vets who stayed for the whole war. As a result, both groups feel this sense that they did not contribute all they could, but yet they contributed more than people who did not serve.

Fourth, both wars were fought with very young men. The average age for Viet Nam was 19 and I understand it’s about the same for Afghanistan, though I don’t know that for a fact.

Fifth, both wars involved fighting an extremely innovative and ingenious guerrilla force who, though out-manned by personnel and materiel, were extremely effective and vicious fighters.

Sixth is that the medical technology and resourcefulness employed in both wars enabled many lives to be saved, yet they left hundreds of extremely disabled veterans in need of modern prosthetic devices.

Seventh, there was very little preparation for the psycho-social readjustments of war veterans of both wars. With the rotation system, many of them were getting out of the service and going back into civilian jobs while the war was still being fought. And there was no preparation for the emotional toll that takes, not only on the individual Afghantsi or Viet Nam vet, but also on the families.

Eighth is that both sets of war veterans have been dissatisfied with the public respect and appreciation for their service to country, irrespective of the popularity of the war itself.

And ninth, both sets of war veterans are experiencing extraordinary readjustment problems months and years following military service – post-traumatic stress disorder. And a whole list of symptoms goes with it: drug and alcohol dependency, violence against self and others, depression, confusion about what took place and their role in it, lack of motivation and apathy, a lack of direction and energy, and a general sense of discontent and dissatisfaction with life.

Robert: And the differences?

Charles: The differences are profound and significant ones that we need to study much more carefully. The Afghan war was fought much closer to home. They didn’t go across the sea – they were fighting in a country that bordered their own, and indeed the ethnicity of soldiers were much more similar. There are 100 different ethnic groups in the Soviet Union and 75 different languages, and a significant number of those ethnic groups are represented in Afghanistan. If you identify with your enemy, it can cause confusion, ambivalence and long term readjustment difficulties.

The second difference is that the troop rotations in Afghanistan were by military units instead of individually, as I mentioned earlier.

The third is that the Soviet government policies specifically called for communities to provide welcome home ceremonies for military units returning from the Afghan war. This is in contrast to no similar policy in the U.S. for returning Nam vets who often came home alone and more quickly – often 24 to 48 hours between what I call the fox-hole and the front porch. And those points of reentry into the U.S. were points at which those who were very much opposed to the war gathered. Many veterans got maybe a 5 or 6 piece band that welcomed them back on the base, but when they left it they were met with a tremendous amount of hatred and anger and accusations of being war-mongers and baby-burners. So that was very, very different.

The fourth difference is that American troops represented only half a dozen ethnic groups and most spoke English as their primary language. Russian, in contrast, was a second language to 75 primary languages among the Soviet troops.

Robert: Right. Frequently only a marginally spoken second language.

Charles: So obviously that is a difficulty in terms of estrangement between and among troops. Some troops literally had more in common with the people they were trying to kill than the people they were killing with.

The fifth major difference, not necessarily in this order, is that American veterans are welcomed home by several large national veterans organizations and urged to join them. Now, this is in contrast with the Afghan veterans whose needs and concerns were the responsibility of Komsomol, the youth arm of the Communist Party, which has discouraged separate groups of Afghan vets and who apparently has not been all that supportive of – and sensitive to – the individual needs of veterans.

Robert: It’s occurred to me that there are two very different directions of consequence in getting this better understanding of how to deal with the stress problems related to being involved in war. On the one hand, if you raise the general level of awareness, it dispels some of the glamour around soldiering and makes the whole prospect of warfare less appealing.

On the other hand, if you get the systems together really well so that you can integrate the soldier smoothly back into civilian life, then people can shrug and say, "Well, that’s a problem that we know how to take care of now, so there’s not so much overall cost to be borne if we do get involved in some kind of military action."

Charles: Let me critique both positions. First of all, those who are knowledgeable and set up a reentry program and then feel that they’ve taken care of the problem are naive, because the human toll of war goes on and on and on. You are left not only with the physical evidence – prostheses and wheelchairs and that sort of thing – but the psychological as well. So it certainly will not make it easier to justify another war unless they just simply lie and say, "Well, we have this program and they’re taken care of." As a matter of fact, that’s basically what the government did during the Viet Nam war and following it. They said, "We don’t have anyone who has psychological problems and no one has any evidence to show otherwise." Then we found the evidence and showed them, and they couldn’t deny it any longer.

As far as making war less palatable is concerned, yes, that’s true. But at the same time, let’s pretend you’re a general saying "Look Dr. Figley, we’re both Americans and we care about our country. I’m afraid that if we go along with what you say then we’ll always have the ‘No More Viet Nams’ syndrome."

But I would tell you that a fairly small percentage of those exposed to combat have long-term problems. The difficulty is that those who have minor problems become major problems because we don’t address them. In other words, if we have an effective intervention program, we’ll be able to deal with people who really have major problems, and eliminate what someone called the "minor irritations" of war. As a result we’ll be much more prepared to fight a more appropriate kind of war. The nation may not swallow another Viet Nam, not because all these vets are having problems, but because it was just a dumb thing to do.

I’m not a historian, but it’s my perception from what I’ve read that World War II and Nazi Germany evolved because of the foul treatment of World War I veterans. They were not accorded respect and appreciation, indeed they were blamed for the problems that took place, and it was through their collaboration that Nazi Germany was brought about. In other words, you are breeding the ticking time bomb of a belligerent and a dangerous nation by not addressing the scars and wounds of war, particularly the psychological wounds.

Robert: Given all this background, what are your own feelings about this trip?

Charles:Yeah, well, let me just say that this is scary as hell! I’ve talked to lots and lots of people in preparation for this trip, and I’ve read as much as I can find, and I’m madly trying to learn Russian. At the very least, I don’t want to mess it up for other people. But I do have an agenda, and if it’s appropriate and the timing is correct, I’ll try to implement it.


Sun-Tzu

An enlightened government…
does not mobilize when there is no advantage,
does not act when there is nothing to gain,
does not fight when there is no danger.


AFTER THE VISIT

Robert: So how was the trip?

Charles: Well it was – a peak experience. I’m confident that I made as much progress as I could in 2 weeks and surpassed it. I never would have predicted the satisfaction at a personal level.

Many of my colleagues expected me to go over there and treat lots of vets, but I said there was no way that could happen, that it would take a long time to establish rapport, that the cultural differences and the differences of the wars and ages and all that would make it impossible. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

There were guys literally lined up to talk to us and to unload their emotional baggage about the war, which of course they couldn’t do. But I think that they gained sufficient insight to recognize that their difficulties are absolutely normal. More than that, the feelings they have indicate that they’re caring and sensitive human beings. And with proper attention and time they’ll be fine. So it was just a wonderful experience.

Robert: What were some of the things that surprised you?

Charles: The candor, the eagerness to talk about and be treated for their combat stress. Also their candidness in terms of their criticism against their government, in particular the bureaucracy, and the admission that the war was probably a mistake. They were quick to compare the error of the Viet Nam war with that of the Afghanistan war. Everyone was very open, and it seemed like we had unprecedented access. We were the first American professionals in lots of different places, including several military hospital and the Military Academy of Science.

Robert: What’s your sense now of the prospects of Viet Nam vets and Afghantsi being able to cooperate with each other?

Charles: Oh, I think it’s excellent. There is an eagerness on both sides to talk to others who have had a similar experience. Many of the Afghantsi talk about being children when they left and old men when they returned. And the opportunity to talk to someone else who has experienced hell and returned is very worthwhile and very important. So I think there’s going to be a stampede to make contact when the next delegation goes on November 27.

Robert: What other plans got hatched in the process of being there?

Charles: Well, there are a number of them. Our subdelegation, the psychological readjustment group, came to an agreement with the USSR’s National Center for Psycho-neural Endocrinology to study the bio-physiological aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And we have a verbal agreement to hold joint conferences in the U.S., USSR and a neutral country to focus on at least two areas – one is the bio-physiological assessment of PTSD, and the second is a computer enhanced or assisted treatment of PTSD. And then a third agreement is the study of the immediate and long-term effects of the Afghanistan war on those who fought it, and to set up demonstration projects for the treatment of the unwanted psychological consequences of that war.

The other groups have lots of other arrangements. There’s an organization which apparently is planning on building wheelchairs, and there are several cooperatives that are interested in co-sponsoring an "ability center," rather than a rehabilitation center. And at least three or four additional joint ventures were agreed upon before we left.

Robert: What was the encounter like between the Afghan vets and the Viet Nam vets?

Charles: Well, when we arrived at the Moscow airport and were escorted into the baggage claim area, we were met by Gennadi Alferenko, the founder of the Foundation for Social Invention. We were surprised to meet him in the baggage claim area because typically they’re forced to stay outside. And then more and more people showed up – other Foundation people, interpreters, and most surprising of all, the actual Afghantsi were there at the baggage claim area greeting us and shaking our hands and looking pleased to see us.

But the most memorable initial encounter between Afghantsis and Viet Namskis, as they call it, was when I saw my colleague Jack Smith introduce himself to an Afghantsi named Nikolai through an interpreter. Jack looked him in the eyes, smiled and said "You know, my first introduction to the Soviet Union was one of your rockets whose fragments hit my flak jacket." And another Afghantsi who was next to them, leaning on a cane, said "Well, my first introduction to the U.S. was when a land mine shattered my leg." He didn’t smile as quickly, but I then said "Look, maybe this trip we can start over again as friends." At that point we all hugged each other. This Afghantsi was later evaluated, and he’s going to have a new operation to try to give him more mobility.

Another encounter was our first "rap group," and to make a long story short, we led a discussion comparing the wars and learned lots of things that we weren’t aware of. For example, the citizens of the Soviet Union were not aware of it when the army went into Afghanistan in December of 1979. As the war went on, the official story was that they were providing conservation services, planting trees and bushes, helping in irrigation – which made it real tough when mothers and fathers received letters that said their son had died apparently planting trees and bushes.

So for those who returned early it was very frustrating, because they had risked their lives and everyone was apathetic because they didn’t even know they had gone. And when they said they were in Afghanistan, people said "Well, who cares? You were just there helping out, not fighting." And they weren’t allowed to say anything.

Robert: Were these encounters private or public?

Charles: Well, at first we were exchanging information in a more public forum – ABC News was there. But as we got to know them we spent more time one on one, at least the counselors (who were all Viet Nam vets) and the Afghantsi. That’s when the stories came out. Everyone had a tremendous amount of ambivalence about the war and about killing, irrespective of the appropriateness of the war.

There were a number of guys that talked about what they perceived as atrocities, or at least unfortunate situations of children getting killed in the cross-fire or getting killed while serving as soldiers, and the grief and the regret involved. Many of them were wanting and hoping that we had some quick solution, some immediate antidote for getting rid of these bad memories and the combat-related stress reactions, which we didn’t.

One guy talked about his experience in being forced to shoot a child of about 9 or 10 – but the child had killed two of his buddies as they were riding down the road in a tank and his own life was in danger, so after he reloaded he killed the kid. And he’s had some real major problems, he’s chosen not to get married and plans never to have a child, partly because of that experience.

On a long bus trip at night he asked me to sit down next to him, and it was clear that he was having what the general public would call an "anxiety attack." He was shaking, and after the lights went out I – without being able to speak Russian – led him in deep breathing exercises to reduce his stress and I ended up just holding him for the rest of the trip. He lay on my shoulder and, in a somewhat teasing way, in a face-saving way, he looked up and patted me on the head and said "Mama."

But those kinds of experiences, I think, led most of us on the delegation to be rather depressed when we left. We had this sense of humanity in that we had touched the lives of these men – kids, really – and knew their pain, anticipated their struggle. I’ve worked with so many over the years, and I left that in 1980 to turn my attention to other things because it was so moving and it pressed on my mind so much.

And as we left, I really remembered stories of people who talked about leaving Viet Nam. The trip back home was the longest and loneliest and the most sobering trip because, ironically, those people who were leaving were the most prepared to fight the war. They had been there the longest, and they knew better than anyone else what those whom they were leaving behind would face.

Robert: So you felt that same sort of thing leaving the Afghantsi behind.

Charles: Yeah. It’s funny, my reputation on the trip was "the shrink," and I’ve gotten nine calls so far from delegation members wanting to talk about and process this feeling. And it’s not only the psychologists, it was people who were actually very distant and very professional and said "look, my specialty is wheelchairs" or whatever. Many of them were non-vets, and several were very much opposed to the war. And yet these Afghantsi, by their candidness, by their naiveté and by their kindness, really touched a lot of members. And that’ll never go away, I’m sure.

Robert: Was there some degree of healing for the Viet Nam vets in the process of all this?

Charles: Yes, there certainly was. There were several who really had not processed their war experience before, and it was a good opportunity for them. Interestingly, they were telling these guys what they knew they needed to hear themselves.

Robert: Was there any discussion around the question of Viet Namski and Afghantsi working together to see that there wouldn’t be war experiences like this in the future?

Charles: Yes. And I’m sad to say that it was mostly on their part rather than ours. I’m not quite sure why that is. I am totally confident that it wasn’t a scheme by their government or even a peace organization, sanctioned or unsanctioned, to spread the word about peace and let it affect our foreign policy or whatever. They genuinely believe that war sucks – all wars, not just the Afghan or Viet Nam war. They were saying that people need to tell the governments "No more wars." It’s one way of purging these bad experiences, and I think it’s a good one. We have learned from the lessons of Hell that war is not an easy or an appropriate solution and therefore we should not promote it.

Actually I pushed them a bit when they first said "all wars are bad," and that was the first sign that they were uptight about talking politics. I drew on a napkin and I said, "This is the Soviet Union and off the napkin is your borders. What if someone came into your country? Would there be no more wars then? Would that be an acceptable war?" And I really didn’t get an answer, and I was sort of struck by that. It’s almost like they have the phrase, and then if the phrase doesn’t pan out they’re not sure what to do.

I know for myself, I went through a period in which I was opposed to all wars, but it just didn’t last that long. I mean, I can see the sense of war in some contexts. I just haven’t seen any so far.

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