Russian Soldiers’ Calls for Home Echo Moral Wound Testimony of Vietnam Veterans

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Elise Lemire is a professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author, most recently, of a book on Vietnam veterans against the war titled Battle Green Vietnam: The 1971 march on Concord, Lexington and Boston.

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War testify during a drug addiction panel at Faneuil Hall, Boston, October 10, 1971.

Albertson, Jeff. Survey of Vietnam Veterans Winter Soldiers Against the War: Faneuil Hall Audience Behind Panel, October 10, 1971. Jeff Albertson Photograph Collection (PH 57). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

On this sixty-eighth Veterans Day, American citizens will thank their veterans for risking their lives to protect the United States and its freedoms.

Countless veterans also deserve the nation’s thanks for serving entirely voluntary periods of service since returning to civilian life.

Many veterans have provided and continue to provide other veterans with life-saving mental health assistance. Others became, and still are, anti-war activists. Over the past half-century, many have done both, as evidenced by the actions and activism of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) organization. In 1970, and with the help of psychologists like Dr. Jonathan Shay, members of the VVAW came to understand that stopping future carnage is the only way to alleviate overwhelming feelings of guilt. Risking their relationships, their reputations and even their job prospects, these Vietnam veterans bravely stepped out of the warrior image that permeates our popular culture and exposed their broken hearts.

What members of the VVAW said during the inquiry into the organization’s Winter Soldiers from January 31 to February 2 and before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971 is all the more striking today. when you consider how closely their public disclosures match what Russian soldiers have been doing recently. said in private phone calls to relatives about President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv (these phone calls were intercepted by Ukrainian officials and, on September 28, 2022, printed in translation by The New York Times).

Once again, soldiers learn that the victims of war are not only the fighting forces who are injured or killed. Soldiers who survive physically suffer what Dr. Shay calls a moral wound, which, although imperceptible on the outside, can be life-threatening.

Here are some of the moral wounds enumerated by Vietnam veterans and recently suffered by Russian soldiers.

Warning: soldiers often use graphic language to describe their experiences.

Soldiers are invited or forced to kill civilians.

Michael Kenny, US Marines: “Circumstances would arise where there would be a patrol walking, a single person or a small group of people would be sighted at a distance of anywhere, like, one to maybe five hundred yards. Standard procedure was to shout “Dong Lai!” which is “Stop”. Often civilians or Vietnamese could not hear at this distance and if they did not respond immediately, the procedure was to have the squad open or the platoon on these people. Approaching the bodies, you would usually find that these people had no weapons at all, that the only reason they hadn’t stopped was that they hadn’t heard or that they were afraid.

Sergey, a Russian soldier in Ukraine: “They told us that where we are going there are a lot of civilians walking around. And they ordered us to kill everyone we see…. I’ve never seen so many corpses in my fucking life. It’s just completely fucked up. You can’t see where they end up…. I have already become a murderer. That’s why I don’t want to kill people anymore, especially those I have to look in the eye.

Ineffective military leadership makes soldiers vulnerable.

John Kerry, US Navy: “Where is the leadership? We are here to ask where are [former Defense Secretary (1961-1968) Robert] McNamara, [former National Security Adviser (1966-1969) Walt Rostow, [former National Security Adviser (1961-1966) McGeorge] Bundy, [former Deputy Defense Secretary (1961-1964) Roswell] Gilpatric and so many others…. They are commanders who have deserted their troops, and there is no graver crime in the law of war.

Aleksandr, a Russian doctor sent to Ukraine with the 237e Airborne Regiment: “Putin is a fool. He wants to take Kyiv. But we have no way to do it.

Roman, a Russian soldier in Ukraine: “The fucking superiors can’t do anything. Turns out they really don’t know anything. They can only talk big in their uniforms.

Military leaders consider soldiers indispensable.

Christopher Soares, US Marines: “We lost, I will be very conservative, at least 50% of those 2,000 men in this operation [Operation Dewey Canyon, an American military invasion of the neutral country of Laos]…. I remember an incident in which… two squads were ambushed one after another and ended up with three men killed and fourteen wounded and not one enemy soldier killed. And that’s how we fought in Laos. I mean, like, everyone was killed, left and right, and they called this operation a success.

Unnamed Russian soldier in Ukraine: “Dear, I really want to go home. I’m so tired of being afraid of everything. They took us to a fucking shithole. What the fuck are we waiting for? To be fucking killed?

Sergey: “There were 400 paratroopers. And only 38 of them survived… Because our commanders sent soldiers to the slaughterhouse.

Soldiers are expected to treat the people they have been sent to conquer as less than human.

Scott Camil, US Marines: “When you shot someone, you didn’t think you were shooting a human. They were one OK or a Commie and it was ok. And anything you did to them was okay because they told you they would do it to you if they had the chance.

Nikita, a Russian soldier sent to Ukraine with the 656e National Guard Regiment: “Everything was fucking looted.”

There is no justifiable reason for violence.

Sean Newton, US Marines: “The Communist threat has been mentioned over and over again [during Basic Training]like, you had to go out there and do this thing so they wouldn’t come and invade the United States, do a beach landing, or something or the like.

Sergey: “Mom, we haven’t seen a single fascist here… This war is based on a false pretense. Nobody needed it. We arrived here and people lived a normal life…”.

These moral attacks destroy the confidence of the military in their country and its institutions.

Don Duncan, US Special Forces: “The [American] men keep getting killed. And every day the rage rises, and the hate gets a little tougher. And this rage must be expressed. And who do we blame for this rage? The captain who gave the order to attack? The people who sent them there so the captain could give them that order? Or the people shooting at you? The Vietnamese are shooting at you, and shit, you’re going to kill Vietnamese people, that’s why you’re in Vietnam. Then this terrible hatred spreads. And all this destroys not only the Vietnamese. It destroys the people who destroy the Vietnamese.

Vlad, a Russian soldier in Ukraine: “Fuck the army.”

President Nixon was unable to achieve his goals in Southeast Asia because dozens of American soldiers in the field evaded or refused orders and thousands more who returned home chosen to reveal the truth about the illegal and immoral nature of the goals of the United States and its objectives. military strategy. Intercepted telephone calls published in The New York Times are reasons to hope for a similar reaction in Russia.

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