In honor of Veteran's Day. This was inspired by a New York Times request for stories about veterans.
My father's death was classified as a combat death in Viet Nam. He died in 2000, at age 56, from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The military has decided that Agent Orange caused the cancer that killed him. Enough other veterans have died too, so the Department of Defense pays out compensation instead of risking the lawsuits. That doesn't help the uncounted Vietnamese civilians and veterans who have died of NHL. It's a silent killer, if not caught by routine screenings the victims suffer night sweats, severe fatigue and malaise, then simply pass away. My father endured those symptoms and all of the horror inherent in cancer therapy -- chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant, etc., etc.
He was much luckier than the 58,000+ who actually died during the war, obviously. He came home, resumed a life with my mother, had my sister and me and lived as a productive member of the same society that he had initially risked his young life for. These are commendable and fortunate things. However, he never did recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and from the best of my understanding, he and so many others had no idea for years that this was even a thing. If he wasn't drunk or on the streets, he was fine, right? Except he wasn't. Stress can combine with other causes to trigger cancer, and given the constant levels of needless stress he endured, I think that PTSD was partly responsible for the lymphoma.
The PTSD suffered by soldiers, and, I imagine, every single person dwelling anywhere close to a conflict zone, lives on long after the conflict ends. It affects the families of these people, creating stressful or even abusive paradigms that can lead people to think that aggression is okay. Ultimately, a cultural acceptance of aggression leads to more war and the circle of pain, death, trauma and tragedy will continue.
Veterans deserve respect and honor. They have served their ideals with a passion and commitment that the rest of us can't comprehend but I hope we all try to appreciate. Unfortunately, all of that passion and commitment is going in the wrong direction. The only way to stop war and have peace in this world is to cease participating in the cycle. Until we actually withdraw from violent conflicts, someone will always want to retaliate. And as the Fort Hood incident last week makes clear, it's impossible to protect ourselves from all of those retaliations. The best defense is a good offense, and it is the very concept of war itself that is the ultimate villain to fight.