Tim Buts, Sgt., 12th Tac Recon Squadron, United States Air Force (November 1966 to June 1968)
Dr. Robert J. Lifton, Professor of Psychiatry, Yale University Ron McSheffrey, 6/31, 9th Infantry Division (1969 to 1970)
Dr. Ron McSheffrey, 6/31 9th Infantry Division (1969-1970)
Dr. David Galicia, Major, Psychiatrist, 3rd Field Hospital, Saigon (July 1969 to June 1970)
John Geymann, 23, Cpl. (E-4), "M" Co., 3/3 Marines, 3rd Marine Division (1969)
Dr. Jon Bjornson, 37, Major, Psychiatrist, Flight Surgeon, Deputy Surgeon, USASC, 8th Field Hospital, Nha Trang (May 1964 to April 1965)
Ken Cloke, Lawyer
Dr. Sid Peck, Professor of Sociology, Case Western University; Visiting Professor at MIT
Arthur Egendorf, 525 Military Intelligence Group, Saigon
Charles Stephens, 24, Pfc., 1/327, 101st Airborne Division (December 1965 to February 1967)
MODERATOR. Tonight, we have on our panel, "What We Are Doing to Ourselves," from Yale University, Dr. Robert J. Lifton; a Vietnamese veteran, Ron McSheffrey; and former Army psychiatrist with the 3rd Field Hospital, now practicing in Detroit, Dr. David Galicia; former Marine veteran, John Geymann; formerly with the Army 8th Field hospital in Vietnam, psychiatrist Dr. John Bjornson; a lawyer who has dealt with the problems relating to the GIs, Ken Cloke from Los Angeles; and on the end nearest me, Dr. Sid Peck, professor of sociology at Case Western University, now visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tonight we are going to deal with the problem of the effects of the war in Vietnam upon the United States, dealing rather heavily with the problems of the veteran and how they relate in a total picture to the problems facing the United States. Dr. Lifton has spent quite a bit of time studying what is known as the post-Vietnamese syndrome and Dr. Lifton, I'd like you to begin by explaining what happens to these men after they return from Vietnam.
LIFTON. I think that I'd like to do in the few minutes I have is outline in a very broad and general way some of the things that those of us who have been working with Vietnam veterans have discovered. Personally, I've been talking to Vietnam veterans for the last 18 months or so, individually and in groups, and some of us have formed informal rap sessions, in New York, at which we've discussed in some detail and thoroughness, the emotions, feelings, difficulties, and possibilities that Vietnam veterans feel. Some of this I've discussed also before a senatorial subcommittee on veterans last year. I think the first point I'd like to make, and make very strongly, is the psychological difference of this war, for a veteran, as compared to other wars.
One way that the American public, or some of the American public, tries to slough off the depth of harm this war is doing to all of our society, is to say, well, war is _____, it happens in war, people become dehumanized, this is just the way it is with war. But I think one has to look at certain features of the experience in this war that are very special to Vietnam. I can name one or two of them and they are decisive, it seems to me.
There is no structure of fighting in this war that gives it any meaning or psychological satisfaction for the participants. In other words, in most wars, one suffers, one loses buddies, one becomes what we think of as a survivor. But then one has some means of finding the survivor's significance, which is the task of a survivor, getting over the guilt one feels about staying alive while one's buddy dies, by getting back at the enemy in some structure of warfare. Battle lines, a way of being brave, and so on. Here, as all of you know, much better than I do, there is no clear enemy; he's everywhere and nowhere. One can't find him and there are no battle lines, certainly.
There is no psychological satisfaction in any self-respecting form with which to cope with the enormous confusion and guilt that one experiences. One is under great danger in Vietnam, as an American GI, and one does undergo this guilt with the loss of buddies. Moreover, when one comes back to the society, it is quite clear that one does not return a hero, either in other's eyes or one's own eyes. It's more than just not being a hero. There's an overall sense, shared by the larger society, whatever its position about the war, and the vets themselves, that this is a dirty war.
It has no justification, no inner necessity. So the returning veteran, who has a psychological need, as he returns from any war, to make his difficult transition into civilian life by in some way giving significance to what he did in his war, has no such opportunity, because he can't, in any way, inwardly approve of what he has done in this war. Nor can the rest of society find sources of pride for him or acceptance or necessity about this war. Both the veteran and the larger society see him the taint of this filthy, unnecessary, immoral war. That aspect of the war itself has a lot to do with the way in which veterans experience their psychological difficulties just as the experiences in Vietnam leading to atrocities are directly related to the illusions of the political conduct and military conduct of the war.
Now, let me explain what I mean by that. If we think of the burdens that the Vietnam veteran brings back with him into society, inner burdens he carries, I think the most immediate and the one that everyone is aware of most, is a burden of convoluted guilt. It's been, in a sense, imposed upon the GI, the veterans who fought the war, because he cannot, in any sense, justify or give any rational or formulation for having fought the war. He comes back with a taint, that I mentioned. But beyond this burden of convoluted guilt, is the burden of atrocity. It's the sort of thing you've been hearing about all day and you'll hear about for the next couple of days.
There's a quality of atrocity in this war that goes beyond that of other wars in that the war itself is fought as a series of atrocities. There is no distinction between an enemy whom one can justifiably fire at and people whom one murders in less than military situations. It's all thrown together so that every day the distinction between every day activities and atrocities is almost nil. Now if one carries this sense of atrocity with one, one carries the sense of descent into evil. This is very strong in Vietnam vets. It's also strong in the rest of society, and this is what we mean by the primitive or brutalized behavior that there has been so much talk about. I think that this brutalization and the patterns that occur in the war again have to do with the nature of the war we are fighting and the people we've chosen to make our enemies.
This has to do with the atrocities characterizing the war, as often happens in a counterinsurgency of war, we intervene in a civil war or in a revolution in a far-away alien place that you don't understand historically or psychologically, but also with the technological disparity. It's of great psychological significance that Americans go around with such enormous fire power in a technologically under-developed country and develop a kind of uneasy sense of power around their technological fire power, which they then use very loosely, and often with the spirit of a hunter, as we've again heard much about. In all this way, I would stress very strongly, the GI in Vietnam becomes both victim and executioner.
In addition to the burden of atrocity, or in keeping with it, the veteran becomes enormously sensitive to the way in which he's probed or questioned by others in the society at large. And when we talked about this in rap sessions, a lot of vets said, "Well, I just can't stand it when people ask me what I did over there, whether I killed anybody." It turned out that the reason why vets can't stand being asked this question is because they see themselves being accused of having been a monster in some way over there, of having been something less than human. The problem is so great because they inwardly tend to accuse themselves of having been this, and it's one reason why it's so important for vets in making their recovery and undergoing their process of renewal (and I see this kind of meeting as being in the service of that kind of process), that they understand how they were forced by the situation to act in a way that could have led virtually anyone to act in the same way. It has to do with military training that others will talk about; it also has to do with the extreme situation of Vietnam which itself creates the aberrant behavior, rather than with some particular trait that particular vets have in order to then lend them to do these things. They carried with them also a tremendous burden of violence, and every session we have with vets has, at its center, the issue of violence.
Many vets feel that they are ready to murder the first person who crosses them when they come back into society. This has partly to do with the course of the reflex of violence. It's a very simple and direct way to solve all problems. It renders them simple, and it's the way one is taught to solve them in Vietnam. But it also has to do with residual rage over having been victimized in the way I've described by the society in being asked to fight this immoral, tainted, and unnecessary war; therefore the sense of being betrayed. Perhaps the greatest violence, or some of the most violent impulses that vets feel, are towards those who don't respond, who won't believe what happened over there, who, as the vets say, just don't give a damn. Because those people who resist the information or the truths of American atrocities and the details of the war, who resist knowing what the war is all about, are preventing the veteran himself from reaffirming or confirming the truth that he has learned and sharing it with a larger society. In other words, they are impairing his renewal, his return, as the vets themselves put it, to becoming a human being. They carry also a burden of numbing, desensitization, sometimes called dehumanization. When we talk about the issue of numbing or desensitization, some vets resent, and quite understandably, the term "dehumanization." What they really want to convey is the idea that what they went through in Vietnam was a temporary, desensitized state, where they could then commit or witness or not stop these atrocities, and that the desensitization is reversible; that there are ways to become human again.
Of course, they're right. But the problem of numbing, or withdrawal, of not feeling, can stay with them and linger with them for a very long time and is one they must cope with in this process of recovery and renewal. Now what about this general struggle for rehumanization? I want to say a word about that and then stop. Becoming human again means, of course, forming new relationships in society here and new views of society, independent, and independent of and alternative to, those more narrow and brutal ones they knew and lived in in Vietnam. This means that they simultaneously--and I think this has to do with the whole process of the peace-minded vet--the kind that are gathered here and that I see in these rap sessions--they must simultaneously change their life style, their sense of themselves as men, on the one hand, and their sense of society or their world view on the other.
Briefly, the life style change is a very significant shift, I think, from the old-fashioned American ethos on the warrior-hero, the belligerent, intrusive, domineering John Wayne type of hero, to a person who can be equally or more courageous but in ethical and moral terms, who can be softer, gentler, can reject the idea of killing and of violence. In this change in life style and sense of what, indeed, can be termed manly behavior, I think vets are helped very much by their identification with many respects of youth culture which have been making the same important psychological shift for the last five or ten years in this country. Similarly, they've got to change their view of society because once you've
questioned the war in a fundamental way, you've questioned that American society has done in creating the war, what has led to that war in deficiencies of a fundamental kind in American institutions.
You've questioned very basic issues of war and peace in a very general way and of one's own relationship to a society that imposes war-making on one. This is a very basic kind of change and not an easy one, but my point is that the change in the self and the change in the world view, including political and ethical world view, have to be simultaneous for this renewal and rehumanizing process. Well, all this has helped, I think.
Interestingly enough by positive memories, many vets call forth of having lived on a double level in Vietnam because some humanizing emotions were retained through all this dehumanizing process that I've been describing. Especially at times, for some, in relationship to Vietnamese--Vietnamese children, Vietnamese families, and it's interesting how much veterans in these rap sessions want to focus on these positive relationships, with Vietnamese people as a way of reinforcing a human aspect of themselves that, so to speak, never did die. I think that's terribly important in this process. I think finally, I want to say in closing, two things. One is that the process is difficult. The process of recovery that I'm talking about is very problematic because of resistance in society, because of psychological difficulties that one has to face in all of this, along the lines I've described. It's a very moving process to see and to help along. There are all kinds of backsliding, all kinds of impulses toward violence, understandably.
I think one has to understand them in this context that I've set forth. But the last thing I want to say is that the problem is not simply that of the vets. I mean clearly, on the one hand, there are hundreds of thousands of vets--it's going to be millions--coming back into American society so in numbers alone it's a problem for American society, and especially a problem where the vet chooses the more chauvinistic and belligerent, violence-prone posture than the one that I'm describing as a way of defending himself against these psychological problems. But it also is a problem for American society at large which is now struggling with the overall and excruciating issue of learning and recognizing, very gradually and very grudgingly that we have been, as a society, immersed in evil, that we are responsible for one long, criminal act of behavior in our project in Vietnam; so, in this sense the veteran's problem and quest for rehumanization is simply a crucible, an intensification of the problem of the whole society, and I think it should be understood as such.
MODERATOR. Dr. Bjornson, you worked with GIs in Vietnam at the 8th Field Hospital. There have been many questions raised here today on the subject of war crimes and people, especially from the press, have asked, "Why did you do it? Why didn't you refuse to do it?" In your conversations and sessions with men on active duty and with veterans, what have you found to be their justification?
BJORNSON. Well, in the first place, I was in Vietnam in 1964 to '65. This has been a rapidly changing five years in terms of my very close acquaintance with the war in Vietnam. I think that our attitudes have changed from advising to frustration to violence to atrocities, and now it's as if we are attempting to develop a conscience. I don't think we have developed enough of a conscience, I think that My Lais can still take place in Vietnam, but I think because of the My Lai exposure, it's going to be less likely. In terms of why, the whys involve a lot of things. In the first place probably the main thing is Army training, and I'm going to have John talk about this in a minute, but Army training is dehumanizing. The Army knows how to train soldiers, and so do the Marines, and so do the Navy. Most of you experienced basic training, and one of the things that happens in basic training is you don't get much sleep. When you don't get much sleep, you become an automaton. When you become an automaton, you begin to follow orders--the idea of killing and sticking bayonets into the model soldiers, the whole business of the gooks, the Vietnamese are inferior, which is constantly drummed into your heads. It's a kind of programming. Also the Army knows that a squad of nine men is probably the most cohesive group of human beings you can get in terms of numbers. The likelihood is good that this group will support each other, will fight to save each other's lives, and that this is more important than what they're fighting for or why they're fighting or why they're there. They know this. And this is why you have a nine-man group. Most GIs in combat situations, and this goes back to the Revolutionary War, don't usually fight for a cause or for patriotism or for much else. They do acquiesce to a system and the system tells you what to do. Because of the consequences of not doing it, you go into the military and do what they say. A few other things I'm sure happened. It's a tremendous change going from an affluent country to an extremely poor country like any country in Southeast Asia. I think we have some sense of guilt. There's a tremendous kind of racist unconscious that I guess we all have, and again this is programmed; it's reinforced. The Vietnamese are inferior, and this has been mentioned many times. And it's also a kind of a strange attraction.
As I'm sure you know, many Occidentals become very attracted to the Orient and stay there. I'm sure many of the vets here have been involved with Vietnamese girls. So, it was one thing one day to call a Vietnamese soldier a gook, and that night to sleep with a Vietnamese girl. We did it. That causes a lot of ambiguity, a lot of confusion in one's mind. Furthermore, and applicable to any war, the whole concept, sort of licenses what we would call psychological regression. It licenses us to act out impulses. We all have a certain sense of sadism, and this licenses violence. You've got a programmed soldier in combat with a gun and then you've got a hierarchy in the military. When I was in Vietnam, the generals and the colonels would say, "If we can only get some American soldiers here, they would react. The Vietnamese, these ARVN, they just won't fight." Well, the Vietnamese are very patient. You can't hustle the East. We got our own troops there, because the generals wanted it. But the generals were wrong, as we all know. It's beginning to look like we don't want to fight any more than the ARVN. So, I would say, probably the main thing is the training. When you say to a man, as we said in the Nuremburg trials, that the defense of obeying an order isn't good enough, I would question this. The American GI has a great deal of difficulty disobeying an order after the kind of training he goes through. I'd like to ask John to tell us a little bit about what Marine training is like.
GEYMANN. Well, Marine training starts from the first day you get into Boot Camp and doesn't end till the day you're discharged. When you're told something to do, whether to go to the bathroom or have a cigarette, or whether you go to bed or you get some free time to write a letter, you preface it or you end it with V.C. or Gook or Slope, kill, kill, kill. That's all you're told to do. Everything is done on a threat basis; if you don't do things the way you're supposed to do, this is what's going to happen to you. If you go to Vietnam, and you don't kill the Gooks, this is what's going to happen to you. If you don't defend freedom in Vietnam, the Gooks are going to be here. They're going to be in California. They're going to be in Detroit. They're going to be in Windsor. They're going to be all over you. You've gotta go to Vietnam, you've gotta kill the Gooks. They're no good. In Com School I was in the hospital. Even in the hospitals, they're passing out pictures of mutilated bodies, showing this is what we do to the Gooks, this is what's fun to do with the Gooks.
When somebody asks, "Why do you do it to a Gook, why do you do this to people?" your answer is, "So what, they're just Gooks, they're not people. It doesn't make any difference what you do to them; they're not human." And this thing is built into you. It's thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in Boot Camp to the moment you wake up when you're a civilian. And it's a very hard thing to try and forget about it. It's about the only way I can put it, it's--they make you want to kill. Their whole thing is killing. You're not to question, you're not to ask why. If you're told to kill, you're to kill. You're not supposed to say why or who who says so? Or why should I kill this person? For what reason? How is it benefitting to me? How are they hurting me? It's just to be a machine. when you're wound up and when your button is pushed, you've gotta react. If you don't react the way they want you to, you're in trouble with them.
MODERATOR. Dr. Galicia, you were at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon and you recently returned. Could you kind of update some of the thing that Dr. Bjornson was describing to us, as to the condition of the men, and their justification and methods of escape?
GALICIA. I think that from the time that Dr. Bjornson was there until the present day, and I guess I can speak in terms of the present day because I've been back about six to eight months, there's been a tremendous swing in the way things are there. As best I know it, and as best I can remember it, I was a senior at medical school at that time, and the idea, as it came across to me, was that we were there helping people. That we were there to help them to remain free or whatever. I don't know what it was like to return home at that time. I think perhaps I could best tell you maybe from the standpoint of my own personal experiences. I don't have a huge grudge with the Army, maybe it's because I don't have a huge grudge with anybody. But I was in training in Walter Reed in Child Psychiatry and it and I just did not agree. So I went downtown Washington, DC and I asked to be allowed to drop this program. It was not in the sense the program was terrible.
I just said I don't think it's for me, I'd like to quit. And twenty-three days later, I was in Bien Hoa, waiting for an assignment somewhere in Vietnam. I got twenty-three days and this is something which I can prove. I think that when John came back maybe he didn't get back with the feelings that I had. I've come back with a lot of the paranoid type feeling that these kids have come back with. I found today I made a special trip to go home, to bring back my discharge, and to bring back the paper that says that I was in Vietnam from 13 July 1969 to 30 June 1970, so that I could be sure to prove it to somebody, in case they asked me. I remember my plane flight when I went over there. It was a plane filled with about 140 people, typically American, the kind of America I know and the kind of America I like. People talking, carrying on conversations. Of course, being thrown together in a circumstance in which they're going to a war zone and they don't know where they are going to go, you've got to give them that much leeway for nervousness. But it wasn't really a different plane flight than I thought I would have experienced any place else at any other time, with a lot of wisecracking to the stewardesses and that kind of thing. I remember, then, getting ready to come home after I had spent a year there. I would like to preface that with the fact that my office was in Saigon and I was the only psychiatrist in Saigon not only for the Army, but for the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, the civilians--everyone. The kicker to this is that I was also the psychiatrist for Delta, the entire Mekong Delta. I had in my mind decided that I would go to Vietnam whether I liked it or not, because I felt that my services wee probably needed there by the very people perhaps sitting to my left, and my right. And so I decided whether I like the war or whether I didn't, I would go. I could have stayed in Saigon. I had an air-conditioned office, and things were nice there. I will not try to tell you anything else but, I decided I would travel through the Delta because I felt if there was any way I could effectively help these people, it would be if I went to talk to their COs. I went to the base camps where they were. And so consequently, every month, for about a week out of the month, I would take a trip through the Delta. I saw a lot of field activity. I saw contact. I flew over battle areas and I was in places where wounded were brought in. So, I think I've got the feeling for the other side of it.
And as the year wore on, I began to get the feeling within myself, "What is this really all about? Why? What are we trying to accomplish?" And the culmination of it was for me, as I can best understand it or feel it in my own personal experiences, was that in getting ready for this plane to come home, I was standing there with a tech, who had traveled exclusively with me. It was against the principles of the Army that an enlisted man and an officer keep that close a relationship, but we said the _____ with it and we went together most of the time. There was a very close Vietnamese friend who came to see me off too, and I was trying to think again about what had I really done? And I finally decided that I'd really done nothing. And when I got on the plane, the thing that I noticed was that this was a group of a hundred and forty American people all thrown in together but you couldn't really cut through the atmosphere in that plane with a machete. Nobody had anything to say to anybody else. Myself, I'm the kind of traveler who does not sleep in vehicles, and I slept all the way, all eighteen hours of the flight except to get up and get off the plane during refueling. But in the waking minutes I had, I noticed that most of the people had very little to say to one another. It was my general feeling that for most of the people on that plane, if one of the stewardesses had come up and made an overt pass at this person, they would probably tell her to bug off, because we just really didn't care as a group. This is the feeling that came across. I think experiences that built this thing up within me were some of the circumstances under which I worked. The drugs in John's time were not a problem. As I best understand it, there were no drugs or very little in the way of drugs. We hear a lot of this business about marijuana and I'd like to comment only to the point to say that whatever percentages are put out by anybody, unless they range eighty percent or more, they're inaccurate. It's at least an eighty percent rate that have at least tried. It got to the place where a good deal of the commanding officers realized the futility and the absolute nonsense in pressing this subject, so the few people we got in who had smoked marijuana, we sat and rapped for about twenty minutes and then I would say to them, "Look, next time you decide to smoke it, why don't you smoke it some place where you won't get caught?" And that was the end of it. I might say that I'm not an advocate of marijuana, I'm not an advocate of anything. I'm just saying that these people felt they had the right to do this and if they wanted to do it, it's fine.
And my last sentence to them was, "Just don't get caught at it." But I think the bigger pressing problem was that we were then beginning to see, and in large amounts, the thing which bugs middle class America the most, or worries them the most, the hard drugs. The Army had given me leaflets at time to go give talks on the faults of marijuana and what evil things would come from using this particular drug. It was all nonsense. It simply was not the truth, and I quit going on these speaking tours because I felt I was betraying myself. I think the problem I had later is that we would get people in on harder drugs and I'd have a _____ of a time because I'd feel like I had two and a half strikes against me already to try to tell this individual medical facts which I knew, that barbiturates are addictive, heroin is addictive, and that these are the kind of drugs which taken in proper amounts, high enough, are very detrimental, and in the end can end up killing. We saw numerous people on barbiturates, which was called by the name Benoctil. This is a drug which all the vets are familiar with. I'm sorry to have to say that I saw four or five people, who, after six to eight months usage of this drug on a heavy basis, were sent home as pure vegetables. They were by this time organic. They had so much brain damage that they were really no longer able to function. I don't really believe that I would have been able to get across the information to them that this is really a lethal drug; this is not marijuana, this is not a game. We had the same problem within our hospital for amphetamine usage. We had people who took so much amphetamine that they really didn't even know who they were or where they were, became very paranoid and reached psychotic proportions for which we had to admit them to the hospital. You just cannot impart this kind of information to these people when they've already been told lies about something else. Insofar as getting people in the hospital for heroin addiction and opiate addiction, the best we could offer was to hospitalize them and sort of work them off their habit with thorazine, because at the time that I was there, methadone was not available to me. I asked for it and I never did get it. This is a much more effective means of taking someone off heroin or opiates than thorazine. Thorazine's a decent substitute, but it's not the answer. And one of the most very trying things for me was the fact that I felt I went there fully qualified. I had had three years of training. I was entitled to go into practice as a practicing psychiatrist. I was "board eligible" at that time.
I had all the prerequisites for being a psychiatrist; and I thought also, the prerequisites for being able to determine whether a person was seriously addicted, in the physical sense, to a drug, which in this country we treat as a diagnosable disorder which is hospitalizable. You've got to take the person away from the source. We could do that much but once I made a diagnosis in my own mind, from there on out my hands were tied because the regulations which I worked under would not permit me, even though I made the diagnosis of opiate addiction, to medically evacuate these people from the country. I considered this disease to be in the same realm as a surgical disorder, which people were sent out for all the time with no questions. And if I could prove that these people had a psychotic episode going on, then I had no problem. But I could not send a seriously ill alcoholic or a seriously addicted drug addict out of country. In essence I found myself in a real quagmire. I had no effective means of sending him on where he could get better treatment. So he ended up going back to his unit. I can distinctly remember one black boy within the hospital under my care six times. He was taking upwards and over thirty cc's of heroin a day--that's four cc's, seven times, eight times a day. He would come in. I would do the best I could with the thorazine. Bring him down off it, get him pretty well straightened around. The MPs would come and take him back. They wouldn't put him in LBJ for this offense, which is not a good way out either, and they would eventually give him back to his unit, and he would go back downtown and get another hit. Immediately, because he had been previously addicted, he would end up coming back over and over again because this is the way things happen in this country. And I was monitored in a sense. Each and every one of the papers I made out for air evacuations took two days to get through, one in preparation and the next day they went out to the flightline, or they went over to Tan Son Nhut air base for a day and then they went for flightline the next day, and finally, they went out. There was enough time for any one of my handwritten things to go up to Long Binh to the office of the Consultant for Psychiatry to the Surgeon General, to go through each and every one of these things and monitor what I had been doing. And on numerous occasions, I got called to have to defend why I was sending this man out of country. And, to say the least, it became very annoying and very disturbing to me, because personally I feel I am professionally competent in my field. I was not sending out a man who'd gone downtown and shot three cc's of opium in his arm and came up with one puncture wound in his elbow and then said to me, "Doc, I'm a heroin addict, get me out." These people were seriously ill. Some of these people had been addicts in this country before, and had had the cure and were coming over there. I had one incident with a boy from the 3rd Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division, who went AWOL out of my office many times. Each time he'd come up for his 212 discharge evaluation, he'd end up screwing it all up because he'd go off downtown and get another hit. He'd be gone for days at a time, and we'd have to go through the process all over again. I personally received letters from his family, as well as the chaplain in my hospital, concerning this lad and what an awful gummed-up mess we are making of this process. I wrote personally to these people to try and tell them what was happening. Finally there was a Congressional investigation came down on my office about this thing. I ended up writing the Congressman about this situation and about my inabilities to send these people out because of the regulations I was working under. I told this man in the letter that I stood ready at that time to get on a plane and come back to Washington, DC and explain it to him and the rest of Congress if that's what they wanted. That I would be most happy to serve those days on the end of my year so that I wasn't trying to get out of anything. I got a letter back from this man which was rather disturbing to me because it was simply a form letter which said to me, "Look, I'm not questioning your professional ability. It seems to me from what you said that you have great compassion for this boy and perhaps you ought to be able to show that for his family also." This was my answer. But it did not say anything that regulations stand this day the same way. So you'd best find another way of getting out of Vietnam because it isn't going to be on addiction, unless it's on a 212 discharge. The last thing I think I'd like to add to this is to tell you an experience that I had. I sat here all day, off and on, listening to these fellows tell on an individual basis how dehumanizing they consider this whole process is. They tell it from an individual standpoint. I can't document this because I don't know the dates. I know the places, but I don't know the dates and I don't know the names. But because of my traveling and because of my rank (I was a Major at that time) and maybe perhaps because of my personality, I got into multiple places where now, when I think about it, I had no business being. But I got invitations to just about every place. And one night I was down
ith the last element of the 9th Infantry Division that was left in country at that time, the 3rd Brigade, who had four battalions left. They each had their base camp areas.
The Brigade Headquarters was located at Tan An, which was about forty miles south of Saigon. I was asked if I would like to take a tour of the tactical operations center or the TOC. I said I thought that would be a real good idea. I tried to figure in my mind what I thought it would be like in there and I thought there's probably a bunch of relief maps,
situational maps, banks of radios, telephones, and a lot of people. When I got in there, I found that my assessment was pretty good; that's about what it was. Except for the fact that when I started looking around, I noticed that there were four charts on this wall, on opposite walls, and each one of these charts had recorded on it for an entire year the monthly kill, one battalion against another, like it was a game. It is off these kind of things, I'm certain, that rank is made. The most upsetting thing was the way it was condoned. While I was there, they were in contact out in the field with someone, and apparently pretty good contact. In the presence of this Major, who was running it, a bell rang three times. I asked him what that was all about and he said, "We just killed three of theirs." I looked at the man, turned around, and said, "Man, what the _____ do you do when they kill one of ours?" He had no answer for me and this was the end of our conversation.
That's just one but I had multiple ones like this and I think that's what led to feel as I did when I got on the plane. And when I returned home (I consider myself to be quite a stable individual. I've never really had a suicidal thought in my life.) I was staying in Detroit by myself. I was staying in a hotel on the ninth floor. And because I was alone, a lot of this stuff kept coming back to me. I was standing by the open window one day with this stuff running through my head and I had to leave that window; because I felt that, at any moment, I would jump. I've had the same feeling a number of occasions crossing freeway bridges when I am thinking about the subject again. And this has remained an upsetting thing to me until just the other day. I read an account in the Detroit Free Press which probably many of you have. It was a very long, long article last Sunday about veterans returning. Somewhere buried in the middle of that was a paragraph that said, roughly, about 7,000 people are coming into VA hospitals, and this doesn't include only psychiatric patients, this includes the whole spectrum, everybody. Out of these 7,000 people, 54% of these people have at least suicidal feelings. And that 27% of these people have actively tried suicide, one or more times. I suspect that perhaps this is a low estimate because up until today I don't think I would have been prone to express what's happened to me.
MODERATOR. Thank you, Doctor. You mentioned the drug problem and this is something that all of us veterans are aware of and that we all realize as being a very dynamite problem. I'd like to bring it around to Ron for a minute. Ron, first let us know where you were, what your job was, how you reacted, and what your contact with the drug situation was.
MCSHEFFREY. Well, I was in the 6/31st, 9th Infantry Division and like I ain't got a general discharge, but I got a 212. I had all kinds of jobs when I was over there, but they couldn't find one to suit me. Well, anyway, after all the different jobs of truck driving (and I ground tar for a couple of weeks) I just decided to go on bed strike. The only thing that could keep me on bed strike with all the demoralizing threats I got from the lifers and stuff was a little bit of smack, you know, once in awhile. So I was shooting up six times a day and stuff like that. I went to Saigon so I could withdraw properly without a bunch of headaches and stuff.
When I got there I showed them my trash and my scabies and everything from dirty works and he said that I wasn't physically addicted, but he gave me a bed anyways because I told him I just wasn't going to go back. So he gave me a bed. The withdrawal treatment is a shot of thorazine once in a while. You know, a light dose. You still got your headaches and everything. So the first night I was there I went out to get a fix because I was really getting some really bad headaches. I come back in and the dude told me I didn't want his medical treatment very bad so he sent me back to the base camp. I had a buddy that went there when I was there again a second time and he said like methadone was too expensive to give us and he gave us a big rap on that and what it boiled down to was that he didn't have any. So that night me and my buddy went out again. I just couldn't handle it. So we went out and my buddy shot up a little cocaine and he OD'd. I got us out going again and got him back to the hospital. When I checked the guy in they wanted to put a bust on me. Like they said I pushed him out of the hospital, I guess. I guess you just let your buddy die instead of helping him out because they really gave me some bad threats. Like I was going to jail and everything because I was smuggling dope into the hospital. And another thing I wanted to reach was, like when they don't give you nothing, when they send you back to the base camp with cold turkey. Well, the only thing I could find to do to keep the headaches away was like just about OD on BTs all the time. And, like a lot of guys, I mean I seen a couple guys really get bad on these BTs just from trying to get away from the cold turkey pains, I seen a guy OD and die on them and stuff. I haven't got the dates or anything.
MODERATOR. Would you tell the people what BTs are? I believe it was mentioned before.
MCSHEFFREY. BTs are Benoctils, downers like seconals. I'm just trying to point out that the only way you can get away from drugs over there is to go on to other drugs and like chance on Od'ing and killing yourself on them; the medical treatment is really bad there.
GALICIA. I'd like to state to you that at the time that this lad came into the hospital, I was not there. I was shifted to the 101st Airborne for a month and whoever took care of him was not myself.
BJORNSON. I wanted to know one thing. I wanted to ask Dave how many GIs started on hard drugs, heroin, speed, and so on in Vietnam who hadn't used it prior to going. Any estimate?
GALICIA. I don't have figures in that regard. All I know is that from the time I entered to the time I left, the problem was increasing. We were getting more and more people in because of drugs and more and more people because of hard drugs. There was a goodly number of these people, I would have to say at least 50% or more, probably more, probably way more. Maybe they smoked a little pot while they were in this country. But they had not used hard drugs; the hard drugs had begun there.
BJORNSON. Another question or kind of response. Having been kind of trained in military psychiatry, trained in an Army hospital, I paid them back there three years plus one, and I resigned my commission when I came back from Vietnam. I probably would have resigned anyway. I know the attitude of military psychiatry is to keep the men on the line and so on. And it sounds to me like they are kind of vaguely using this concept of keeping the men on the line in a crazy way that must reinforce a fantastic amount of drug use. Certainly drug use is epidemiological. That if you get one user you are going to get more and so on. Furthermore, it didn't do anything to stop the traffic--is that right?
GALICIA. In my original presentation, I really tried to leave things out that I just had no way of proving, but I had a correspondent from Look in my office two days running and we sort of shut down the clinic because I sat rapping with this guy all this time about all this. He took pictures of myself and the office and some of the patients we did see. I took him out. I knew the locations because, besides having a close relationship with my nearest tech, I knew probably 80 to 90 percent of all enlisted personnel in the hospital and was included in their grapevine of information. They felt not at all ill at ease about telling me things that just didn't go out to other parts of the hospital. I knew multiple places in the city of Saigon where you could get anything you wanted to. You name it. Anything you can conjure up--mescaline, LSD, speed, marijuana, heroin, it doesn't matter, it was available. And I took this fellow to places and I pointed them out to him. There is no attempt on control of these. For one reason I think it is almost impossible because they're run by profiteering Vietnamese and we, of course, have to understand that the Vietnamese are human beings like everybody else. They'll profiteer like we will and they will sell anything that they can get a profit for. I don't fault them for that. One of these places however was right outside of the entrance of Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and it was the biggest one that I knew of. And consequently, there was really very little in the way of doing anything about this trafficking. If there are avid readers in this room, and I'm sure there are, you know that there is an Air Force Major now sitting in LBJ who has smuggled in on an Air Force plane, pounds and pounds of heroin he brought in from Thailand. This was a guy who was flying VIPs like General Westmoreland around the country. I took it that his major occupation was flying heroin.
BJORNSON. I'd like to postulate a reason for drug use in Vietnam, as I see it now as a civilian. It seems to me that we have put practically a decade, a generation of males in this country into a tremendous bind. If you're against the war, you have no exit. If you are for it, I suppose you do. It seems that at least 50% of the people in this country, if not more, are openly or statedly against the Vietnam war. They think it should be ended immediately. If you're a draftee, what do you do? You can go to jail, you can attempt to fake a medical illness; you can attempt to fake a psychiatric illness; or get a cooperative resistant psychiatrist that Hershey talks about. Or you can try to become a conscientious objector. Whatever you do, you're going to be wrong, in a certain sense, and you're going to be guilty. It's going to damage your self image. Obviously, going to jail is not a pleasant experience; why should one go to jail for beliefs? If you're drafted, you're guilty, because you're going to Vietnam and you're going to be guilty for fighting in a war that shouldn't exist in the first place. So, if you fake a psychiatric illness, then you have to live with that for the rest of your life. If you passively resist or aggressively, and you go AWOL a lot, they give you a 212 then you have that to live with.
To become a conscientious objector, first you have to believe in it. Then if you believe in it, you have to be middle class; you have to have a lawyer; you probably have to be white and it helps if you have a lot of references. It's extremely difficult to fill out conscientious objector forms. Once you do and they're accepted, you are given a list of jobs--none of which pay more than $4,000 a year and you are supposed to do this for two years to protect the morale of the troops, supposedly. So it seems that a whole generation is in a box. One out is drugs. I'm sure that is out is the reason why Americans are on hard drugs in Vietnam--what percentage, I don't know. But I know that the percentage on grass is high. It's not just grass, it's being stoned twenty-four hours a day, every day for a year.
MODERATOR. Ken, did you have something you wanted to add?
CLOKE. First I wanted to say that it is also known that General Ky is directly implicated in the heroin smuggling that goes on in Vietnam. The CIA plans fly opium into Vietnam. The Meo tribesmen in Laos earn a great deal of their living from, not only CIA funds, but also from the opium trade. The remnants of the Chinese Nationalist Army that is still left in Burma also cultivate the opium trade extensively. I don't think that the question of drugs in Vietnam can been seen in isolation from these things. It is also, I think, a fact, that enormous amounts of graft exist openly in Vietnam and that the war is profitable to a large number of different people, not only at high levels, but at low levels as well. This forms part of the social psychology of drugs.
MODERATOR. Thanks for talking about the CIA, that is a point I feel needs clarification.
GALICIA. I heard this rumor of Ky. One thing I know for a fact is that in each and every base camp area we set up in Vietnam we pay rent to somebody for the right to use their land so that we can defend their freedom or whatever the _____ it means, I don't know. I've lost the concept. But I do know that we pay rent to absentee landlords, most of whom live in Cholon, at least in the area in which I was. But the rumor that I was going to make reference to was that somebody told me that all the property on which Long Binh is situated is owned by Mrs. Thieu.
MODERATOR. I have no information on that.
GALICIA. Well, the only thing is that people with any knowledge of Vietnam know that Long Binh is the biggest Army post in the world. It used to house something like 50,000 troops. I don't know what the number is now, but it is a huge space of land.
MODERATOR. Ron, I'd like to ask you a question on the drug situation again. What was the attitude in your unit on drugs? Were the senior NCOs and officers aware that you and other men might be using hard drugs and, if so, could you relate some incidents as to how they reacted?
MCSHEFFREY. Well, they knew all about it. Like one day my first sergeant walked in on our bunker and there were at least seven or eight of us shooting up. He walked in the doorway and he just stood there. He had a big nothing in his eyes. He turned around and walked away and never said anything again.
MODERATOR. He never said anything. He never asked you what you were doing? He just turned around and walked out?
MCSHEFFREY. Well, I think he seen what we were doing.
LIFTON. Let me make one point about a few things we've been saying the last few minutes that I think has to be said. There's a lot of effort on the part of various people, many of them in the government, to prove things statistically about Vietnam. They've been doing it ever since the war began. The statistics now, and of course they always turn out to be false, but one of the new statistics now, is that all this talk about disturbances or dehumanization of disturbance in Vietnam GIs doesn't apply because they have statistics that show that the psychiatric cases have diminished in percentage as compared with the Korean War or World War II. I want to expose that statistic for what it is. In other words, it doesn't really tell us anything. In fact, it's another one of those sort of technician's misleading efforts to really get away from the heart of the matter. Most of the harmful behavior that occurs in Vietnam is due to the malignant environment we create there, an environment of murder. The aberrant behavior. For instance, the men who killed others at My Lai, let's say, had no discernible or diagnosable psychiatric disease.
They were, I would say, in an advanced state of numbing and brutalization and under enormous pressures. The kind of thing that could happen to any one of us, were we put under similar training and that kind of situation. But they don't have any nameable psychiatric impairment; they'll never be diagnosed. The same is true for many who have various forms of drug addiction. As you know, many people with drug addiction don't come into medical facilities even in this country and don't fit into any statistics. So when one begins to examine the extraordinary impairment and destructiveness of the Vietnam War on all levels of American society, one shouldn't be led by these narrow statistics about psychiatric cases.
MODERATOR. Dr. Peck, I'd like to ask you a question. We've been hearing a lot about the veterans the use of drugs, the problems. Most of the men that came here have come from working class families. How are their fathers taking all this? We're kind of like the sons of the hard-hats, and what's the American public saying about all of this? At least from your point of view.
PECK. Well, one of the things I wanted to comment on was this whole question of dehumanization, and a certain kind of presentation of the dehumanization process, as one that begins with Army training then one that proceeds further in terms of the brutalization of warfare itself. I think that what we have to come to grips with is that, fundamentally speaking, the working class youth in our society, white, black, brown, red, yellow, and so forth, serve fundamentally as the father for this kind of neo-imperialist venture in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. And being the father for that kind of military intervention, their programming doesn't begin in the Marine training camp or in the Army base or at Great Lakes, but the programming to be a bullet and a bomb, begins in that working class household. That's where the dehumanization process initiates, because if you come out of a working class background family, and that's my situation also, you come into a situation where your father, as the provider for that family, is in fact a very powerless figure.
Your family itself is a very powerless kin unit. The neighborhood that you grow up in is a neighborhood that is without power in terms affecting the very fateful decisions of life in the society. And so the one dominant characterization of that kind this seems to me like profound truth of culture that you live in, in a working class area, is a characterization of profound powerlessness. Of not being able to really determine your own future in your own way. To that extent you're constantly involved in an effort to prove otherwise. To prove that you really are something. That you really do count.
That you really represent some sense of power. Often times this relates to one's own kin unit, a tremendous sense of what we might call kin chauvinism, ethnic chauvinism and fundamentally for the male working class youth, a pattern of intense male chauvinism. That male chauvinism is one that focuses primarily on penis power. That's where you become powerful, through your penis. By literally not only expressing your dehumanization in a profound way, but by brutalizing other persons, primarily women in your neighborhood. Just as your old man brutalized your mother. And so you grow up in a household, and in a neighborhood, that is oppressive, that is fundamentally oppressive. Yet you're trapped and the only way you can get out of it, in addition to this kind of penis power, is through a sort of entertainment route. You know, like you can join the Golden Gloves and get your face smashed in or smash somebody else's face so that you eventually get into a prizefighting ring. Or you become an all-star, all-city quarterback in football, which I was, and at each moment you have to prove and demonstrate your male prowess and your male power and your masculinity,
which involves brutalizing other persons. That's reinforced fundamentally in the basic socializing agency in the working class area, namely the working class school. See, that's your first Marine Training Camp. That's where you do what you're told. That's where you learn to be an automaton, and it doesn't necessarily come from loss of sleep. It comes out of a very rigid custodial jail, that is termed an elementary school, and that is termed a high school. You're trying to break out at all times. Where can you break out to? You can't be a man hero; you can't be a football hero; you can't be the leading outstanding boxer; you join the service.
You join the military. And what has happened fundamentally in Vietnam, that I think relates to a certain kind of awakening and a sense of liberation, a certain kind of struggle on the part of the GI, is that they were placed in the midst of fighting a people, fighting working people like themselves, fighting people who are struggling for a certain kind of dignity of person, fighting a people who were struggling against a similar kind of oppressiveness. I was in Vietnam recently, as recently as last November, but I was North, and I visited working class families. I visited women working in textile factories. I visited workers working in the factories in the caves. I visited working class and peasant homes. I saw men in Vietnam walking down the street hand in hand. I saw then embracing one another in public. I saw them hitting one another's heads. I saw them touching one another tenderly and they were soldiers. I think what I'm trying to say is that the oppression, the dehumanization is very, very deep, extremely deep. It is not a question of becoming somehow dehumanized as though you left the States as a humanized person and somehow you become dehumanized and now we have to put you back to where you were. The fundamental normal characterization of people of our society who suffer this oppression is a form of dehumanization. That may not necessarily make you psychotic in terms of some kind of category of syndromes, but the fact of the matter is, that all of us, each in our own way, have been brutalized and dehumanized and we're already bullets before we go into the military.
MODERATOR. One of the problems that this country faces is the fact there's been 2 1/2 million men that have served in Vietnam and that's an awful lot of manpower whether it's going into factories or just dropping out of society. Some of us are coming back with physical scars and some are coming back with emotional scars. Sitting beside me is Charlie Stephens. Charlie was in the 101st Airborne, and he's brought back maybe some of those invisible scars that I think a lot of us have. Charlie, why don't you talk to us for a couple of minutes and tell us about what is _____ coming down man? Why can't you get any help?
STEPHENS. When I came back to the United States in 1967, I know that some of the things I did in Vietnam I wouldn't have done prior to going over there. At least I don't think I would have done it. But I knew something was wrong because I could still do those things now that I was back here. I had thirty minutes of debriefing, a steak dinner, and a guy patted me on the back and said, "Well, you did a good job in Vietnam. Now you're back home, forget it." It just didn't work that way because when I was on leave I would get uptight, I'd get very irritable. If someone says something to me, I get real excited sometimes.
I can't answer a person. Maybe we'll get into an argument or something, and I can't give them the answer that they want. They start to, you know, like really pressure me for an answer. I'll get uptight, and I might swing at them. I won't think twice about it 'cause I was taught it's better to give than to receive. A chaplain told me that: "Do unto others before they do unto you." I don't know 'cause like I came back here, I went to a psychiatrist. Where was the first one? Well, before I went over, I went to a psychiatrist at Fort Campbell, Kentucky because after my paratroop training I thought it was all over. When I got to my unit I was still a cherry, so they threw me out of the window twice with a poncho and told me to make my cherry blast. I went to a psychiatrist the next day because a sergeant reported that he saw me jump out of a window twice. Well, when I came back from Vietnam, I went to a psychiatrist again because of the things I did, cutting off ears, castration. I was a medic, but we did all this. They wanted to get an accurate body count so you cut the right ear off everyone you had killed. Now, I was taught in Fort Sam Houston that we just supposed to carry our weapons for our personal protection and our patients' protection and that we were supposed to treat the enemy the same way we would like, treat an American soldier. Several times I had to leave like women lying in hammocks dying, one lady suffering from a chest wound. I know the lady died and there were two babies left unconscious. The lieutenant told us to just go sit up on this hill, and the next day when they were burying the dead, they were burying these two babies too. They were alive when we left that village. We had guys up on top of the hill firing down with machine guns at these people, and at that time it didn't, you know, it really bothered me, but I was afraid to speak on it. And before I realized it, I was doing the same thing. When I came back here, well, now I'm out of the service, I've been going to the VA for treatment since 1968, and every time I go to a doctor, he says, "Well, you'll be all right in a couple of years, six or seven years, you'll be all right, so don't worry about it." So finally I got one psychiatrist that seemed to like really be interested like in treating the guys. But this guy he's so busy that you can never see him, and then if you go down, I have a peptic ulcer also that I got in the Army, if you go downstairs for medical treatment like for my feet or for my ulcer, if I go downstairs for medication, they say, "Well, you don't need any medication because it's all in your mind. It's all psychogenic," they tell me. And that's the ball game. You get no treatment from the VA, and the doctor that you have like he's so busy, if you're working, you can't see him when you want to.
MODERATOR. I want to ask a question of the panel in general. Where are we going nationally? Men like Charlie and lots of others can't get help. Guys are coming back as drug addicts. They're coming back and finding unemployment, inflation. They can't adjust and relate to the life they had before, and I think every vet here can swear up and down that he could never go back to being the way he was before. Are we going to go through a national guilt complex? Is this country ever going to wake up and realize what the _____ we've done? And if it does, what are the effects going to be? Not just on the 2 1/2 million vets that have already realized this, but I mean on the whole nation and that's open for anybody that thinks they can answer it.
MCSHEFFREY. I think there's another thing which guilt has something to do with. That's when you get out and try to get a job 'cause like we see what our system is doing. You know how they survive with this system by mass genocide and stuff like that. How can a guy come back here and really want to make a lot of money?
BJORNSON. I'm sure none of us can answer your question. The war isn't the only conflict, but the war has a lot of secondary conflicts or maybe parallels. This includes certainly the ecological problem, the problem of racism, the problem of oppression and repression. Our federal government is attempting to try to control what they consider a monster they've created. It's hard to say. You know, Marx once said that this country would change without a revolution. Maybe it will.
Last Updated Wednesday, March 17 2004 @ 07:51 PM MST; 7,156 Hits