Barry’s Blog # 8: Myth, Memory and the National Mall

Barry’s Blog # 8:

Memory, Myth and The National Mall

A shorter version of this essay appeared in the August, 2008 edition of Jung Journal — Culture and Psyche, Vol. 2, # 3

 – If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied.  – Rudyard Kipling

 – You can’t stop me. I spend 30,000 men a month.  – Napoleon

 – Patriots always talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country. – Bertrand Russell

 – The past isn’t dead. It is not even past.  – William Faulkner

 – The secret of redemption is memory.” – Baal Shem Tov

Richard Johnson, a captain in the U.S. Army, came ashore in the first wave on Omaha Beach, D-Day, 1944. He served with distinction throughout World War Two, returned home in triumph, started a family, became the C.E.O. of a major corporation and retired after a full and productive career. Then the memories of combat returned – and Johnson drank himself to death in two years. He had refused to confront his trauma for as long as possible, but in the end the memories overwhelmed him. Experts debate whether deaths such as his count as suicides, but they do acknowledge that 6,500 veterans per year, or eighteen per day, kill themselves.[i] Other men, however, have found ways to defeat memory.

Alzheimer’s disease – the plague of forgetfulness – is America’s eighth-leading cause of death, having increased 220 percent from 1994 to 2003. Researchers estimate that five million Americans suffer from it and predict that nine to sixteen million will by 2050.[ii]

Some attribute its increase to changes in reporting and better diagnosis. Others say that an expanding senior population — in which people are living longer than ever before — is closely linked to the growing number of people afflicted with this disorder. At age 65, a person has a one in 10 chance of contracting Alzheimer’s; by 85, those chances increase to one in two.

Certainly, an aging population is a major factor. But why this particular population?

A psychologist I know has worked at veterans’ hospitals his entire career, mostly with Vietnam vets. In the mid-1980’s he noticed a new phenomenon: large numbers of World War II vets were requiring psychotherapy, most for the first time. The timing was curious. Their war had been over for two generations. It was the last “good war.” They had won their war and had returned as heroes, having lived out, as historian Fred Turner writes, “the masculine prescriptions of American mythology.”[iii] But in general, unlike veterans of the next generation, they hadn’t spoken much about their war, except amongst themselves. And they had returned to a bustling economy, to which most contributed forty years of productive engagement. They’d worked hard, very hard. Having bought homes, raised families and served their communities, they were now contemplating or experiencing well-deserved retirement.

Perhaps some had worked so hard in order to remain positive – and to not dwell on memories of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima or Guadalcanal. In fact, twenty to thirty percent of their non-fatal casualties had been psychiatric; over 500,000 had been sent home with “battle fatigue” (previously known as “shell shock” in WW I and “Irritable Heart” during the Civil War.)[iv]

My friend theorized that they were seeking treatment because for the first time they had time, too much of it, and the old memories were flooding their minds. It was a mass case of what psychology calls “the return of the repressed.” Another therapist who has worked extensively with trauma victims, Dr. Judith Herman, of Harvard Medical School, writes, “The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.”[v]

The timing was curious for several reasons. Just as Alzheimer’s was first attaining the status of household word, President Ronald Reagan was pursuing four very public projects. First, he was encouraging white males to perceive themselves as victims of liberals, feminists and big government. Second, he was scaring the hell out of the nation with apocalyptic scenarios of terrorism and nuclear war that, if played out, would destroy everything the old men had worked for. Third, he was skillfully articulating the national myth of innocence:

By the time I got out of the Army Air Corps, all I wanted to do – in common with several million other veterans – was to rest up awhile, make love to my wife, and come up refreshed to a better job in an ideal world.[vi]

Reagan, who had remained in Hollywood during WW II, insisted that he’d personally photographed the liberation of Nazi death camps.[vii] It was a unique form of memory, composed of scenes from movies Reagan had watched, movies of black-and-white morality in which Americans (white Americans) were – unambiguously – the good guys.

Having just endured two decades of urban rebellion and offensives to public morality, many World War II vets were undoubtedly happy to watch Reagan confuse memory and myth – while pursuing his fourth project. A decade after the end of the Viet Nam War, America was once again extending itself, claiming to defend democracy in Central America and fight terrorists in the Mid-east. (Reagan – who kept meticulous diaries – would later tell investigators that he couldn’t remember his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.) To do so, however, the administration needed to reverse the “Vietnam Syndrome” of public disgust at military intervention.[viii]

The timing was also curious because people were beginning to publicly re-enact Civil War and World War II battles. The nation had finally begun discussing AIDS. Millions of Americans were deeply concerned for prisoners of war allegedly being held by Viet Nam.[ix] Hollywood was producing immensely popular revenge fantasies. Rambo – First Blood, Part I had been released in 1982, and Part II (in which Rambo asks, “Do we get to win this time?”) in 1985. Eventually, over a dozen such films featured American prisoners of war.[x] Several inverted history to portray Americans being tortured by bloodthirsty Vietnamese. “Rescuing POW’s from the evil Vietnamese Communists,” wrote H. Bruce Franklin, “now became almost a rite of passage for Hollywood heroes…”[xi]

Vietnam vets were speaking for the first time about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which was not included in Psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a legitimate mental condition until 1980. And countless civilians were publicly confronting childhood trauma in the “recovered memory” movement (called “false memory” by its detractors).[xii] Memory was in the air, even as many old vets were losing theirs.

Finally, the timing was curious because – after tremendous public controversy – the Vietnam War Memorial had been dedicated on Washington’s National Mall in late1982. Finally – and only after the opening of the Memorial – the Vietnam vets were receiving “Welcome Home” parades.

Time, in the form of retirement – otherwise known as mandated uselessness – was catching up with the WW II generation. With time on their hands, many could no longer hold back the flood of war memories and were finally acknowledging that they needed help. For others, Alzheimer’s wiped away the terrible images. “Forgetting,” writes James Hillman, “that marvel of the old mind, may actually be the truest form of forgiveness, and a blessing.”[xiii] But when Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, departs, what remains in awareness is up to her, not to us. The poet Rilke feared that losing one’s demons risks the loss of one’s angels. As the bad memories slipped away, the old men were losing the good ones as well.

Someday researchers may discover an organic cause for Alzheimer’s. Perhaps, however, we can imagine the disease as a choice made at some level by some traumatized psyches, a response to the return of the repressed. Or, as mythologist Michael Meade has suggested, when a culture forgets its elders, the elders forget themselves. The old men had spent their lives being productive, and now they were being cast aside to the gated communities and golf courses, or worse, to old-age homes, where there was little to do but think of the past.[xiv]

Finally, we might imagine the sudden rise in the incidence of Alzheimer’s as a metaphor for national denial and the perpetuation of myth. The myth of American innocence is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. It reconciles the contradictions between our ideals of democracy, freedom and opportunity and the realities of racism and empire. This myth allows us, indeed encourages us, to forget.


The men who’d survived World War II share a particular relationship with veterans of the Vietnam War. They are fathers and sons, and this relationship invites us into the realm of myth.

We idealize the family as the ultimate safe container. Yet we experience myth most directly in the crimes and betrayals that parents inflict upon children. Myth suggests that it has always been this way – or at least since the triumph of patriarchy. In Greek myth Ouranos (Heaven) first ruled the universe. But he never felt secure, due to a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him. So one by one, he rejected them as they were born, pushing them back into the body of his wife, Gaia, Mother Earth. Enraged, Gaia helped one son escape. When Ouranos came to mate with her, Chronos emerged and castrated him. But the rebellion of Chronos and his siblings, the Titans, merely resulted in more tyranny. Chronos, now king of Heaven, also received a prophecy that a son would overthrow him. So this god ate his children as they were born.

Chronos (Latin: Saturn) personifies Time, which devours all things.[xv] One of his sisters was Mnemosyne, Memory, who carries the oldest stories of all, told from Gaia’s perspective. But as Western culture evolved, she was important only to the poets. Eventually, Chronos’ wife Rhea bore a son in secret. She tricked Chronos by giving him a stone wrapped in cloth instead of one of the children, which he swallowed. Zeus grew to adulthood, freed his siblings, and defeated his father. But even Zeus keeps a weary eye on his son Apollo, whose arrows kill from a distance.

Meanwhile, Ouranos and Chronos found archetypal homes in the psyche. They are the original patriarchal fathers, the distant gods of the sky. Their stories set the stage for generational conflicts that have been literalized for four thousand years, or two hundred generations.

And they provide the ancient – and modern – worlds with two extreme psychological patterns of fathering. Ouranos, escaping to the sky, is the classic absent father: gone, divorced, uninvolved, alcoholic, or merely hidden behind the newspaper or glued to a screen, dismissing his children with, “Go ask your mother.”

Chronos is overly involved: he can be critical, tyrannical, judgmental, loud, narcissistic, abusive, predatory, invader of psychological and sexual boundaries and sometimes murderous. Ouranos neglects the children, but Cronos – Time – kills them. What he consumes, with his unreasonable and unquestionable expectations, is the child’s individuality. Many artists have depicted Chronos, but the most famous is Goya’s Saturn Devouring One of His Sons. Jay Scott Morgan writes of it:

Cover the right side of the face, and we see a Titan caught in the act, defying anyone to stop him, the bulging left eye staring wildly at some unseen witness to his savagery, his piratical coarseness heightened by the sharp vertical lines of the eyebrow, crossed like the stitches of a scar. Cover his left eye, and we are confronted by a being in pain, the dark pupil gazing down in horror at his own uncontrolled murderousness, the eyebrow curved upwards like an inverted question mark, as if he were asking, “Why am I compelled to do this?”[xvi]

Chronos is a fundamental part of the fabric of our daily lives. Benjamin Franklin equated Time with money. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver told the Lilliputians that his watch determined every action of his life. They concluded that it must be his god. Now we carry this god with us all the time, on our wrists.

Greece is one source of the Western tradition; Palestine is the other. The Hebrews evolved a body of myth in which the primary image of the father-child relationship is marked by the constant threat of sacrifice. Jehovah’s potential wrath always hangs over the heads of the Israelites. When Phineas murders a Hebrew prince for sleeping with a pagan woman (he murders her as well), God is pleased: “Phineas turned my wrath away…he was zealous for my sake, so that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.”[xvii] This father would have killed all his children because of one’s indiscretion. Elsewhere, Jehovah accuses the Israelites: “… you slaughtered my children and presented them as offerings!”[xviii] Like the pagans, they “shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters,” writes the Psalmist, “whom they sacrificed unto the altars of Canaan…”[xix] Escaping Sodom, Lot offers the mob his two virgin daughters to “do ye to them as is good in your eyes.”[xx]

And of course, Abraham – father of Judeo-Christian-Moslem monotheism – would sacrifice Isaac to prove his devotion to Jehovah.[xxi] Their descendent Moses, survivor of the Egyptian murder of Hebrew children, threatens Pharaoh with the death of all first-born Egyptian sons.

When Ham accidentally discovers his father Noah naked, Noah curses Canaan, one of Ham’s sons, and all of his descendants.[xxii] Noah’s other sons escape the curse by covering their eyes to not see him naked. Assenting to Ham’s curse, they gained Noah’s approval. Indeed, biblical brothers often fight each other (Cain/Abel, Jacob/Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Amnon/Absolom) instead of their fathers. Unlike the Greeks, the Hebrew patriarchs seemed to deliberately promote sibling rivalry, knowing that if brothers were to love each other, they would unite and overthrow them.

When Jehovah abandons his only son, he firmly establishes Western culture’s most fundamental theme. Indeed, when Jesus cries, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” he is quoting from Psalm 22, which is already hundreds of years old at the time. He gives voice to the ancient trauma of abuse, abandonment and betrayal that often results in profound depression – or the unquenchable desire to hurt someone. The theme had already entered the Gospel story. Herod, having heard of his birth, orders the murder of all boys of two years or less in the Bethlehem region.[xxiii]

Here, Hebrew and Greek myths intersect: patriarchs, fearful of rivals among their subjects or children, pursue the most terrible of initiations, killing the innocent. Many of the survivors become killers themselves, or subject their own children to the same abuses. Psychologist Lloyd de Mause surveyed the history of childhood and pronounced it “a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken.”[xxiv]

These patriarchs display different styles of fathering and authority, but they have two things in common. First, they are narcissists who refuse to acknowledge the independent, subjective souls of their children. Second, by refusing to bless their children equally, to share the abundance of life with them, they encourage sibling rivalry and establish the belief that all good things – from food to petroleum to love itself – are scarce, and must be earned through sacrifice.


Tribal initiation rituals symbolically kill boys to turn them into men. Patriarchy, however, conducts pseudo-initiations, which always include both a threat and a deal: Submit to our authority or else. Sacrifice your individuality and your emotions. In exchange you may dominate your women and children.

When young men enact these myths, symbolic death becomes literal death. They attempt to defeat Time through heroism, to overcome death by inflicting it on others. Robert Moore writes, “There is no way to understand the attractiveness of war without understanding the unconscious seduction of the archetype of initiation.”[xxv] War allows old men to project their ambivalence toward their own “inner” children onto actual youths. It is deferred infanticide, the revenge of the old upon the young. And Time – Chronos – crushes all memory of other possibilities. Wilfred Owen wrote “The Parable of the Young Man and the Old” from the trenches of northern France in 1918:

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned, both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

And builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


Ideas that we don’t know we have, have us. Chronos was alive and well in the 1960’s. The final scene of the 1979 movie Hair says it all: the protagonist and dozens of other young recruits reluctantly disappear – swallowed – into the black, gaping maw of a giant troop transport. He is bound, with three million other sons of World War II vets, for Vietnam. There, the ancient drama was enacted on a massive scale.

The sons had grown up consuming the myth of the Hero, especially as Hollywood depicted him in dozens of war movies. The young Ron Kovic (who would later write Born On The Fourth Of July) thrilled to Audie Murphy portraying himself in To Hell And Back.” Murphy himself had been inspired by Gary Cooper in Sergeant York.

Between the mythical Hero and the memory of history, however, lies the reality of sacrifice. Fathers – so myth tells us – have always sacrificed sons in war. But Vietnam marked a significant shift. Between 1945 and 1965, a fundamental change occurred in military culture. Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage write that the officer corps became permeated by

a set of values, practices and policies that forced considerations of career advancement to figure more heavily in the behavior of individual officers…(it was) rooted in the entrepreneurial model of the modern business corporation.[xxvi]

These changes produced officers who were ambitious, aloof, transitory (serving “in country” only six months instead of the full year endured by the “grunts”) and only marginally skilled. Above all, they were determined to produce efficient – if often completely bogus – results and to cover up any problems so as to keep their records clean. They were middle-tier managers who manipulated short-term statistics. Foot soldiers quickly perceived that their superiors cared little for their safety.

In Vietnam success was measured for the first time in terms of the body count rather than in conquered real estate.[xxvii] We’ve all seen the movie images of helicopters dropping troops into “hot zones,” where they are quickly pinned down by enemy fire. In fact, the army’s primary tactic for eight years – “search and destroy” – was to literally sacrifice these units to flush out the concealed enemy. Treated as “live bate,” they suffered until air strikes hit the enemy positions, and then the survivors left the terrain to the enemy’s survivors. Sociologist William Gibson writes: “Story after story…concerns commanders who knew large enemy formations were in a given area, but did not tell their subordinates because they did not want them to be cautious.”[xxviii]

Abandonment and betrayal became the primary metaphors for hundreds of thousands of young Americans.  Psychologist Jonathan Shay quotes one veteran: “The U.S. Army… was like a mother who sold out her kids to be raped by (their) father…”[xxix] The soldier’s most common experience, says Shay, was violation of the moral order, or betrayal.

It is important to understand that Viet Nam was a children’s war, fought not by reservists or the National Guard (as in Iraq), but by teenage (disproportionately Black or Latino) draftees.[xxx] Their average age was nineteen. Lyndon Johnson chose to maximize support by minimizing its impact on older citizens.[xxxi] There were few domestic sacrifices such as increased taxes; thus the war’s debt fell on future generations. Nearly half of Americans who died had been sent there as teenagers; 14,000 died in combat before their twenty-first birthdays. On the other side, forty percent of those killed by American incendiary and anti-personnel bombs were children. And, because dioxin (the active ingredient in Agent Orange) remains in the body’s DNA, 35,000 Vietnamese babies are born with birth defects annually.[xxxii]

World War Two studies had shown that only a fifth of front-line riflemen fired their weapons at exposed enemy soldiers.[xxxiii] Fear of killing, not of being killed, was the most common cause of battle fatigue. Something in the soul had survived that still insisted upon fundamental mutuality with the Other; men were not by nature killers. Having learned this, the Fathers responded with what Colonel David Grossman has termed “a new, evolutionary leap in the conditioning of the mind.”[xxxiv] Psychologists introduced methods of desensitization and operant conditioning that taught soldiers to “respond reflexively even when literally frightened out of their wits.”[xxxv] This method was “psychological warfare conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one’s own troops.”[xxxvi]

By the Korean War, firing rates were up to fifty-five percent – and over ninety percent in Vietnam.  However, writes Major Peter Kilner, “Soldiers who kill reflexively will likely one day reconsider their actions reflectively.”[xxxvii]

Vietnam veterans suffered two unique injustices. Much larger numbers of them than in any previous war actually killed other human beings.[xxxviii] They were in an ambiguous situation, wrote Peter Marin: “…the agents and the victims of a particular kind of violence. That is the source of a pain that almost no one else can understand.”[xxxix] It is possible that the major factor in PTSD is not the memory of fear and terror but the knowledge that one has killed others.

Secondly, when they broke down emotionally, the fathers ignored them. Indeed – for their own reasons – officers looked the other way when soldiers took out their rage upon civilians in countless incidents of atrocity, or upon themselves in suicide and drug addiction. 8,000 died from “friendly fire.”[xl] Over twenty percent tried heroin, and eleven percent were regular users.[xli] By 1971, ninety thousand had deserted.[xlii] Many took it out on their superiors: twenty percent of officers who died were “fragged” – assassinated by their own men.[xliii]

Thousands of veterans joined – and led – the anti-war movement, hoping to shake the nation out of its denial, hoping Americans would remember their own ideals. When they brought the shameful massacre of My Lai to its attention, however, the nation – and the doctors – turned away. As noted, in World War II a quarter of American casualties had been psychiatric. But in Viet Nam, fewer then five percent were. In 1968, the American Psychiatric Association revised the DSM manual and dropped the category of “gross stress reaction” that had covered victims of combat trauma, classifying it in the same category as “unwanted pregnancy.”[xliv] Thus, with a bureaucratic adjustment, the Fathers decided that men whose souls had been broken by the terrors of combat simply didn’t exist. As a result, when one veteran of My Lai told VA psychiatrists of his nightmares, they dismissed his stories as delusion and classified him as paranoid schizophrenic.[xlv]

“The threat My Lai posed to both national myth and individual civilian’s psychic security,” writes Turner, “can be measured by the variety of ways Americans found to deflect and deny its importance.”[xlvi] George Wallace growled, “Any atrocities in this war were caused by the Communists.”[xlvii] Following a brief flurry of outrage, most Americans agreed that My Lai was an anomaly, even a fabrication. Polls found that eighty percent opposed (Lieutenant William) Calley’s guilty verdict.[xlviii]

“Our boys” would never do such things. Or only if they were sick: In subsequent years, it became common to blame a few “mad” veterans for crimes that in a larger sense the nation as a whole was responsible for. Such thinking served to help Americans forget a “terrifying chain of metaphorical logic,” writes Turner:

If these soldiers had behaved like the German soldiers of World War II, then perhaps their commanders were Nazis and we at home were “good Germans.” If they were simply “crazy,” then perhaps they alone were responsible for the killings.[xlix]

The trauma of the Vietnam veterans was complicated by their sense of betrayal. Most returned to their urban streets and small towns alone, often mere days after being in firefights.[l] There, as we know, many were treated disrespectfully – but not, as it turns out, by anti-war protestors. After exhaustive research, sociologist – and Vietnam veteran – Jerry Lembcke concludes that the spitters and hecklers touted by the media were hawkish veterans of World War II who regarded the young men as losers. It was their fathers – in hundreds of VFW and American Legion posts scattered across small-town America – who attacked the Vietnam vets.[li] One WW II vet observed an anti-war march and snarled, “…we won our war, they didn’t; and from the looks of them, they couldn’t.” At another rally, a Vietnam vet read the names of Texas men killed in the war, while (reported by Life magazine) pro-war hecklers yelled, “Spit at those people, spit on ‘em.”[lii] As recently as 1992, Turner quotes a Korean War vet: “I can’t understand these Vietnam guys. They’re always crying. When we came home, we kept it to ourselves and did what we had to do.”[liii]

Lembcke concludes that the Nixon White House deliberately disseminated the “myth of the spat-upon veteran” in order to counter the fact that Vietnam veterans were actually leaders of the anti-war movement. By 1970, a major argument for continuing the war was to protect the troops who were already there – and to free those who were allegedly held captive by the North Vietnamese. Similarly, Franklin argues that, following the cataclysmic year of 1968, Nixon deliberately introduced the issue of the issue of the M.I.A./P.O.W.’s to evoke strong emotional support for a war that was becoming universally unpopular. Within four years, over fifty million bumper stickers were sold. The killing of the children, however, continued.[liv]

For conservatives and some veterans, the war ended with a narrative that would have great staying-power: betrayal. The heroic soldiers had been betrayed by liberal politicians, who wouldn’t let them win the war. Eventually, public discourse about the war was displaced by discourse about the people sent to fight the war. PTSD and homelessness (perfectly legitimate issues) replaced long-distance genocide, while the focus on veterans as victims of betrayal replaced the focus on veterans as political actors. And it masked the true betrayal of a generation of children by their fathers, which can only be understood in mythic terms.

The madness went underground but eventually re-surfaced. By the 1990’s more than forty percent of Vietnam combat veterans – at least 300,000 men – had reported engaging in violent acts three or more times in the previous year, giving rise to the media stereotype of the deranged Vietnam veteran. Thirty-six percent, 250,000 men (some put the number at 1.4 million), met all criteria for PTSD.[lv] In 2005 161,000 were receiving disability compensation for PTSD-related symptoms. By 1998, between sixty and a hundred thousand Vietnam veterans had committed suicide.[lvi]

At least one third of homeless males are Vietnam-era combat veterans – 150,000 to 250,000 on a given night.[lvii] Shay acknowledges that all veterans suffer maladies such as inappropriate hyper-vigilance. But he argues, “a soldier’s trust in his own perceptions and cognitions usually recovers spontaneously upon return to civilian life, unless the soldier has also experienced major betrayals by his own leaders.”[lviii]


Betrayal invites us back into the realm of myth. Commentators in the sixties commonly dismissed the “generation gap” as Oedipal rage. Bruno Bettelheim told Congress that radicals, who “were fixated at the age of the temper tantrum…pitted the sons against the fathers.” Others twisted myth to suit their purposes: The National Review brayed, “The Revolution Eats Its Parents.”[lix] But if young people dreamed of patricide, it was directed against Chronos’ insatiable appetite for his own children. After all, hadn’t oracles warned Uranos, Chronos and even Zeus that their children would overthrow them? Isn’t that fear at the root of the patriarch’s reign of terror? Two myths intersected. The dream of the hero’s journey crashed against a nightmare, the refusal to anoint the new kings and queens of the world.

The generation that had survived the Depression, saved Europe from the Nazis and consumed both material gratification and the myth of innocent intentions couldn’t possibly understand. Hardening in their resistance, they claimed, “My country – right or wrong!” But the youth, who always see mythic issues more clearly, chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”

By 1970, after a decade of upheaval, middle-class Americans were exhausted, disenchanted and vulnerable to reactionary backlash. Hollywood saw the opening and responded with urban vigilante movies starring Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood in which lone (white) redeemer-heroes violently cleaned up the urban chaos.

The white working-class that had struggled so hard to achieve its Dream sensed that the students were satirizing and condemning their materialistic lifestyles and prejudices. Conservatives were quick to emphasize this fatal flaw of class difference. When the Ohio National Guard exploded at Kent State in 1970, writes historian Milton Viorst, the public was outraged at the students, not those who’d killed them. Many rejoiced that, “…the act had been done at last… the students deserved what they got.”[lx]

“The act” was public – nationally televised – ritual sacrifice. Although America had been killing its children in Vietnam and in the ghettoes for years, here was an unmistakable message, a hardening of the generational position: Your purpose is to be like the fathers, or to die. Shortly after Kent State, while students were striking at 450 campuses, construction workers attacked demonstrators while police watched and refused to intercede. Years later, after exonerating the students, Kent State commissioned a monument. However, it rejected sculptor George Segal’s model of Abraham poised with a knife over Isaac.

By the year 2000, a curious dichotomy was established in the media and in public perception. The 1998 film Saving Private Ryan and several subsequent books identified the WW II vets (now either praised for their successes or stowed in rest homes for their eccentricities) as America’s “greatest generation.” Meanwhile, literally dozens of films inspired by Rambo had reduced Vietnam vets from active, idealistic anti-war protesters to violent and dysfunctional lunatics. They had become – at worst – scapegoats, psychological crucibles for the nation’s doubts and misgivings about the war. Psychologist Robert Jay Lifton wrote that the Viet Nam veteran

…has been the agent and victim of that confusion – of on the one hand our general desensitization to indiscriminate killing, and on the other our accumulating guilt and deep suspicion concerning our own actions.[lxi]

At best, although the legitimization of PTSD was enormously important for the treatment of thousands of vets, Hollywood converted a political discourse into a medical one. Now, the primary victims of the war – in our memory – are not the three million Southeast Asians but American boys.

Film images of demonic Vietnamese (or Arabs) torturing American soldiers help us all forget that it was their own fathers who sacrificed these men – both abroad and at home. The post-World War II G.I. Bill provided nearly eight million vets with jobs, education and housing.[lxii] Since then, however, veterans’ benefits have been lowered with each revision of the bill. Eligibility requirements have increased and assistance has constricted. Moreover, the least favored military units have endured over half of American casualties in Iraq. Members of the National Guard receive merely a third of the benefits that regular troops receive, and no benefits at all after leaving the service.

The World War II generation idolized Reagan. Curiously, though, and despite their own youthful sacrifices for the nation, they enthusiastically supported his (and Bill Clinton’s) destruction of the welfare state and his disdain for children and minorities – and most especially for the children of minorities.[lxiii] It is one of America’s great ironies that the generation that benefited from history’s most generous social welfare program so thoroughly undercut efforts to pass on similar, if much smaller, benefits to their own children and grandchildren.[lxiv] And this stunning attack has been occurring in a time when – superficially, it appears – our society has been emphasizing youthfulness in all things. In 2007, Americans underwent eleven million cosmetic surgeries. How can we avoid concluding that we are desperate to look young, while we despise those who actually are?  Chronos rules our pocketbooks and our imaginations.


Reagan couldn’t completely overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome,” but George H.W. Bush had more success. Aware that unrestricted media access in Vietnam had contributed to the public’s disillusionment, Bush’s Pentagon severely limited the public to carefully choreographed and antiseptic images in which the Persian Gulf War recalled the familiar, mythic narrative of good intentions. By once again sacrificing themselves to liberate a weak country from tyranny (and returning whole and healthy), American soldiers seemingly established the memory of Vietnam as an aberration in our glorious history.[lxv] When it was done, even though Sadam Hussein remained in power, Bush boasted, “The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands.”[lxvi]

Not so many years later, however, over half of the 580,000 Gulf War veterans are disabled – and thirteen thousand are dead.[lxvii] Depleted uranium is the primary suspect – a substance that studies prior to the war had proven to be highly toxic. The brass was fully aware, and had never warned the soldiers. Anthrax vaccine is the second.[lxviii]


The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, like the Vietnam War, are being financed not by increased taxes (which for the rich have actually fallen) but by massive borrowing. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that their true costs will eventually exceed three trillion dollars.[lxix] This is another subtle and slowly developing example of how America is eating the future of its children.

Veterans make up one in four homeless people (194,000 out of 744,000 on any given night), though they are only eleven percent of the adult population. The VA has already identified 1,500 homeless veterans of our current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.[lxx] One in five of these recent vets – over 100,000 – have been granted disability.[lxxi] The Rand Corporation estimates that one in three – 600,000 – will eventually return with either brain injuries or PTSD, but there is already a backlog of 650,000 claims.[lxxii]

Highly significantly, in terms of the real causes of PTSD, forty-eight percent say that they have been responsible for the death of an enemy combatant, and twenty-eight percent for the death of a non-combatant.[lxxiii]  However, says another therapist, few active duty soldiers come forward for counsel. He has been to Germany twice to help provide aid to soldiers rotating in and out of Iraq. But, he says, they are subject to repeated mixed messages. On the one hand, help is available, while on the other no real man would admit being in emotional pain. “We (therapists) were under-used,” he laments, “…there’s going to be a tsunami of pain when they return.”[lxxiv] Over 80,000 are teenagers.[lxxv]

And when they do admit that they need help, psychiatrists routinely and deliberately mis-diagnose PTSD as “personality disorder.” This policy is designed to inhibit the number of future claims of PTSD to be paid for by the V.A. Since personality disorders have their ostensible origins in childhood, not military service, they cannot be claimed as service-connected.[lxxvi]

Vets hear such responses if they can find mental health professionals, since military insurance has cut payments to therapists and lowered reimbursement rates.[lxxvii] Indeed, large numbers of veterans – 1.8 million, or one in eight under age 65 (an increase of 290,000 since 2000) – are ineligible for any VA benefits.[lxxviii] Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980.[lxxix] In May 2008, the government’s top psychiatric researcher predicted that the number of suicides among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans might exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care.[lxxx]

It is difficult to avoid concluding that we, like Chronos, are deliberately betraying our sons and daughters. Over 43,000 troops listed as medically unfit for combat in the weeks before deployment have been sent anyway.[lxxxi] 50,000 have seen their tours extended through the “Stop-loss” policy, some for an extra eighteen months.[lxxxii] The Pentagon has grossly under-reported casualty statistics and required hundreds of disabled vets to repay part of their enlistment bonuses.[lxxxiii] It has blocked efforts to help soldiers and vets register to vote at its facilities.[lxxxiv] In a colossal insult, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard were deployed for 22 months – longer than any other ground combat unit. When they returned, 1,200 of them discovered that their orders had been written for 729 days – one day less than the 730 days that would have paid for education benefits.[lxxxv]


Almost none of those who sold America the Iraq war had served in the active military.[lxxxvi] The only exceptions were Donald Rumsfeld (1954-7), Richard Armitage (who’d participated in the C.I.A.’s “Phoenix Program”), and Colin Powell – who in 1969 had a role in the Army’s cover up of My Lai.[lxxxvii] In February 2003, Powell ordered that the U.N.’s copy of Picasso’s great anti-war painting Guernica be veiled before he would present Bush’s case for invading Iraq, lest anyone remember that most of the casualties of modern war are civilians. Stung by 9-11 and the affront to our sense of innocence, we were too willing to believe him.

The myth of American innocence is constructed partially upon identifying threats and demonizing others (Indians, blacks, immigrants, communists and now terrorists), partially through repeating stories of our innate goodness and purity, and partially through forgetting.[lxxxviii] After twenty-five years of Rambo-inspired inversion of history, yellow ribbons for the P.O.W.’s and media images of pathological vets, Vietnam has now been safely woven into our national narrative of altruism and idealistic intentions. An officer named Hugh Thompson – who had landed his helicopter at My Lai to save Vietnamese civilians from Calley’s maddened troops – died in January 2006. His name does not appear on the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.


The Wall serves a number of purposes. First, by making no political statement about the war, it counters the flood of belligerent media noise by offering a silent place for people who have no common political or cultural language to share public sorrow. It doesn’t mention the ranks of the dead, and it lists them not alphabetically but in chronological order of death, making them individuals rather than statistics.

Thus, walking along the wall, the visitor is drawn into the story of the war itself known only by the veterans, where abstract ideals of sacrifice give way to uncontrollable death. One experiences the escalation of the war – the panels rise from ground level to over one’s head, and one feels helpless before the staggering numbers, where individuals turn back into statistics. After the high point, one follows the wall back toward its low point, just as American soldiers were gradually withdrawn. But this is no linear narrative: the earliest fatalities are inscribed at the memorial’s central hinge and loop around, so that the last dead are listed next to them. The hinge between the two walls is a pivotal – and thus sacred – space between the end of one war and the beginning of the next, a place of temporary peace.

Second, as a receptacle for thousands of photographs, poems and memorabilia (and as we make rubbings of the names), it invites us to conduct emotions from one world to the other, to enter an active, ritual conversation with the dead.[lxxxix] In addition, since visitors must look up the names in a printed index to locate them on the wall, they take more of an active role.

A third purpose is revealed in its low, anti-heroic design. The black granite standing within the earth is an interface between the sunny world of the father-gods and the dark abode of their children. For veterans it marks the boundary between their memories and the present. Sinking gradually like blood soaking into soil, it subtly reminds the rest of us of our collective responsibility to the dead and of the knowledge that can be found in the dark earth. It “… coaxes everyone into the same ritual of descent,” writes journalist Michael Ventura, “a ritual that the psyche can’t help but recognize.”[xc] The polished black marble surface reflects our faces behind the inscribed names, as if we were among the dead, looking back into our own eyes. The veil between the worlds is very thin here (It is worth noting that “apocalypse” means, “to lift the veil”).

Its fourth purpose is to encourage an imagination of reconciliation. A veteran left this note, along with a photograph:

Dear Sir:

For twenty-two years I have carried your picture in my wallet. I was only eighteen years old that day that we faced one another on that trail in Chu Lai… Why you didn’t take my life I’ll never know. You stared at me for so long, armed with your AK-47, and yet you did not fire. Forgive me for taking your life. I was reacting just the way I was trained, to kill V.C…So many times over the years I have stared at your picture and your daughter, I suspect. Each time my heart and guts would burn with the pain of guilt. I have two daughters myself now…I perceive you as a brave soldier defending his homeland. Above all else, I can now respect the importance that life held for you. I suppose that is why I am able to be here today…It is time for me to continue the life process and release my pain and guilt. Forgive me, sir.[xci]

Novelist Toni Morrison’s phrase disremembered past describes that which is neither remembered nor forgotten, but haunts the living as a ghost. The path to closure, for the soul and for the soul of the culture, goes directly through the recovery of memory and mourning rather than through forgetting. Only then can the “corpses” of a life – all one’s losses and disappointments – receive proper burial. In other, older cultures, authentic grief rituals align the ego’s wish for closure with the deeper intentions of the soul to know itself. This is depicted in the Iliad, our oldest war story, when Priam begs Achilles for the body of his son Hector. The king must confront both the corpse and the cause of its death. Acceptance of the truth at this level leads to real closure, while grieving together, as Priam and Achilles do, unites people, even enemies, like nothing else.

Vietnamese Buddhists say that souls linger near their families for four generations. But without proper burial rites, they can’t continue on to the spirit world. With 300,000 missing from the war (compared to 1,500 Americans), many rural Vietnamese consider their country to be one of wandering souls (co hon). When relatives finally accept that a loved one’s body will never be found, they build an empty, “windy tomb” (ma gio) in the family plot. On their national holiday, the “Day of Wandering Souls,” they tend these tombs praying that all souls might remember the way home.

By contrast, in film after film, Hollywood has made our veterans of that war into scapegoats. By implying that they are morally wounded – and by not addressing the economic – and mythic – forces that drive us to war, the media allows the rest of us both to forget national responsibility – the U.S. has attacked, directly or indirectly, forty-three countries since the end of World War Two – as well as to ignore individual trauma.[xcii] Eventually the nation as a whole learned to separate the warriors from the war. At least we don’t spit on them or call them baby killers. SUV’s sporting magnetic ribbons exhort everyone to “support the troops.”

But if we can endure the sight of our own reflections in the black granite, the Wall invites us to remember that we all – simply by being Americans – suffer from unhealed trauma. PTSD occurs within a wider syndrome: our endemic numbing, our unwillingness to mourn, our denial of death, our toleration of Apollonic, long-distance violence and our addiction to innocence, which leads us to endlessly repeat the tragedy of Vietnam.

Actual war vets have experienced a terrible initiation without completing it. Psychologists like Edward Tick have had success with a three-part healing process: purification, storytelling and restitution.[xciii] Without remembering and grieving, writes Shay, veterans continually re-enact their traumas. But “communalization,” telling one’s story within a trusted community – or at the Wall – can “rebuild the ruins of character.” For such healing to occur, however, listeners must be willing to experience some of the terror, grief and rage that the victim – or perpetrator – did. “This is one meaning, after all, of… compassion.”[xciv]

The wound leads to the gift: the need to make meaningful narrative out of trauma leads to the search for authentic community, and for art. Mnemosyne was mother of the nine Muses, who serve her by rendering her essence – history – into art. The ancients knew that it was only Memory, giving birth to art, who can defeat Time. Shay argues that veterans and the greater public for whom they have suffered should meet together, “face to face in daylight, and listen, and watch, and weep, just as citizen-soldiers of ancient Athens did.”[xcv]


Consider a subtle distinction: we erect memorials so as not to forget; they serve Mnemosyne. We build monuments so that we will always remember, and we dedicate them to Chronos. James E. Young, author of Holocaust Memorials in History, writes that a monument is

…an essentially totalitarian form of art or architecture… a big rock telling people what to think; its a big form that pretends to have a meaning, that sustains itself for eternity, that never changes over time, never evolves — it fixes history, it embalms or somehow stultifies it.[xcvi]

If memorials honor the reality of endings, monuments embody the myths of beginnings, and if America is about anything, it is about beginnings. The World War II Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall in 2004, not far from the Vietnam Memorial. Its website describes it as:

a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common cause of defense…and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny… an important symbol of American national unity, a timeless reminder of the moral strength and awesome power that can flow when a free people are at once united and bonded together in a common and just cause.[xcvii]

Unlike the Vietnam Memorial, however, it has almost no evocative power. It is a mild celebration of a heroic project that Americans can be proud of, rather than a focal point for grief over something – Vietnam – that many are ashamed of, something John Kerry once described as “…a filthy, obscene memory.”[xcviii] Indeed, this pleasant, park-like environment is as boring as a waiting line at the post office, especially for the hundreds of schoolchildren whose teachers lead them there to do history reports. It was established twenty-two years after the Vietnam Memorial, and its designers knew perfectly well how emotionally compelling that space is. We must conclude that they chose intentionally to tone down such impact.[xcix] They created a fine place to take an aged veteran, a safe place calculated to not bring up too many unpleasant memories and to sooth them should they appear. It casts few shadows.

The two contrasting structures evoke two aspects of the National Mall, and of our national soul. The Washington Monument is the grand center of the mall, standing halfway between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Along the Mall, several great museums (the root of “museum” is muse) stand between it and the Capitol, while between it and Lincoln’s shrine lie various war memorials and space for future ones. With the exception of the Holocaust Museum (and arguably the Museum of the Native Americans), the eastern half displays America’s great achievements in art and science, while the western half grudgingly accepts the need for darker meditations.[c]

From a Native American perspective, however, we are taught to honor the four directions and their corresponding natural elements. The Washington Monument rises into air, visible for miles, while the Vietnam Memorial descends into earth. The World War II Memorial, with its predictable fountains, receives a pleasant flow of water from the reflecting pool. Like the Washington Monument, its primary color is white. Perhaps it is so uninspiring, however, because it lacks any reference to the fourth element, fire. It lists all of America’s victories – except for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Without the balance of fire, the soothing balm of water becomes a white-wash of memory.

The Washington Monument belongs to Time and the father gods. Fifty stories tall, this massive phallus speaks of potency: masculine confidence, progress, growth, opportunity and achievement. Upon completion in 1885 it was the tallest building in the world. Like the huge painting in the eye of the Capitol Rotunda (“Apotheosis of George Washington”), it proclaims his – and America’s  – right to sit at the table of the gods. It reaches to the heavens that, in our myth, have blessed America with its unique destiny and responsibility to improve the world in every way. Its whiteness symbolizes purity, righteousness, the redemption of the world – and, let’s admit it, the dominance of white people in a city and a world that is overwhelmingly non-white. Together with the Capitol, it represents the American empire that our myths support, and the technological capacity to serve empire’s ends, even if those ends require – as do Chronos and Jehovah – the periodic sacrifice of its children.

By contrast, the Vietnam Memorial is for the sons and the grieving mothers. So much is obvious. If we take a deeper look, however, we see something else, something that could not have been consciously designed. Some greater power, unconcerned with chronological time – Mnemosyne herself, perhaps – has been at work. The Vietnam Memorial is aligned so that one of its walls points directly at the Washington Monument while the other points directly at Lincoln. Or we could say that they stare directly at it. After it was dedicated, two other related sculptures were added nearby: a group of three young soldiers gape at their own future, while three grieving nurses – one of them holding a dead soldier in a Pieta pose – can’t bear the sight and turn away.[ci]

Tourists who leave the Mall by crossing Constitution Avenue from the Lincoln Memorial sometimes stumble upon the lesser-known Albert Einstein Memorial Grove, and here is where we may intuit the Vietnam Memorial’s deeper significance. Einstein holds an open book inscribed with his equations that unlocked the secrets of the universe. But his eyes are the saddest I’ve ever seen sculpted in stone or bronze. They tell us that every increase in knowledge is an increase in suffering.

And this image, dedicated three years before the Vietnam Memorial, is staring directly at it, as if to imply that Einstein’s discoveries had led to nuclear fission, Hiroshima, the Cold War and Vietnam. It is only a small leap to add America’s post-Cold War world dominance, the consequent reaction of the Muslim world, 9-11, unending War on Terror and the betrayal of thousands more sons and daughters.

While the Washington Monument boasts of our brightness and the Lincoln Memorial of our ethics (“With malice toward none…”), the Vietnam Memorial, this bloody gash in Mother Earth, offers us the opportunity to drop (unveil) the mask of our innocence and, like Persephone dragged down by Hades, find our souls in the center of America’s darkness.

The greatest lights cast the largest shadows. The Vietnam Memorial insists on reminding us of those shadows – and that our healing can come only from facing our losses and crimes with unflinching eyes. But the Washington Memorial, like all cathedrals to the father gods of the sky, pulls the eye away from the ground, away from any emotions but awe or pride, away – like Alzheimer’s disease – from Memory herself. Like Ouranos, it pushes its children down into the Earth, where the three nurses await half a mile away.[cii]


In1994 Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer’s. Seven months later, after a 20-year hiatus of severed ties (and major economic motivation), Clinton normalized relations with Viet Nam.

Leaving Washington, the tourist can take the Metro past Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon to – what/who else? – Ronald Reagan Airport. There, before boarding, one can browse the Smithsonian gift shop, which contains literally dozens of books about America’s wars, its soldiers, its generals, its air power, its military hardware and its strategies.

However, it has no books about Vietnam, and there is no mention of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. The tourist, his pride in America restored, is at peace.

I begin this essay on Studs Terkel’s 95th birthday in 2007. The great chronicler of American memory is on the radio, speaking about “the United States of Alzheimer’s.”[ciii] That spring, Alberto Gonzales says, “I don’t recall” sixty-four times in Senate testimony.[civ] President Bush publicly lectures Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet on human rights.[cv] That summer, all officers are absolved of responsibility for the massacre in Haditha – only a few “bad apple” enlisted men are blamed. Testimony indicates, however, that – just as in Vietnam – superiors were pressing soldiers to increase the body count.[cvi] In March 2008, on the 40th anniversary of My Lai, the New York Times refuses to cover the “Winter Soldier” hearings. Such “constantly renewed ethical virginity,” says Ella Shohat, thrives “only in the magic kingdom of amnesia.”[cvii] For the time being, Chronos has defeated Mnemosyne.


            Still, the spirit of the Earth insists on being heard.  She asks for honesty and the willingness to grieve what we have lost, and what we have become. In return, she offers authentic community, reconciliation and the possibility of rebirth. The ancients knew that it was only Memory, giving birth to art and ritual, who can defeat Time. Significantly, the Muses are often depicted with Apollo, in images of an initiated male peacefully making music in a community of creative women.

Time is defeated not by heroism but by memory and its creations, in the ritual imagination, where “time stands still.”



Through the midnight streets of Babylon

between the steel towers of their arsenals,

between the torture castles with no windows,

we race by barefoot, holding tight

our candles, trying to shield

the shivering flames, crying, “Sleepers awake!”

hoping the rhyme’s promise was true,

that we may return

from this place of terror

home to a calm dawn and

the work we had just begun.

Denise Levertov, “Candles In Babylon”


[i] — “VA confirms 18 vets commit suicide every day” (

[ii] –,1,6037787.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

— A.P., 6/10/2007, “Scientists say Alzheimer’s cases to quadruple by 2050.”


[iii] –Turner, Fred, Echoes Of Combat: Trauma, Memory And The Vietnam War (University of Minnesota Press, 1996), p. 150

[iv] — Colonel David Grossman (Ret.) writes, “The U.S. suffered this loss despite efforts to weed out those mentally and emotionally unfit for combat by classifying more than 800,000 men 4-F (unfit for military service) due to psychiatric reasons. At one point in World War II, psychiatric casualties were being discharged from the U.S. Army faster than new recruits were being drafted in.” ( Sixty percent of post-war V.A. patients were psychiatric, and thousands were victims of “ice pick lobotomies.” (Coleman, Penny, Flashback – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, p. 54-5).

[v] –Sturken, Marita: Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The AIDS Epidemic, And The Politics Of Remembering (Univ. of California Press, 1997), p. 81

[vi] –Ronald Reagan with Richard G. Hubler, Where’s The Rest Of Me? (NY: Duell, Sloan and Pierce, 1965), pp. 112-121, 138

[vii] –“I know all the bad things that happened in that war. I was in uniform four years myself.” (Reagan, defending his visit to a German SS cemetery, April 19, 1985.) In the grandest of ironies, Reagan’s official biographer Edmund Morris (Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Random House, 1999) dramatized Reagan’s life with several invented characters, complete with fake footnotes.

[viii] –The U.S.’s successful invasion of the tiny island of Grenada, allegedly to rescue American students, began exactly two days (October 25, 1983) after the terribly destructive terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon.

[ix] — A 1991 poll showed that 69 percent of Americans believed that American POW’s were still being held in Southeast Asia (Echoes of Combat, p. 118-19). Between four and ten million had worn POW/MIA bracelets, vowing never to remove them until all Americans were accounted for. H. Bruce Franklin (M.I.A. or Mythmaking In America. New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1993) argues persuasively that each Presidential administration from Nixon to Clinton manipulated the myth of the POW.’s for its own ends, until it became economically expedient to drop the issue and engage in very lucrative trade with Viet Nam.

[x] –The most recent, Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, was released in July of 2007.

[xi]M.I.A. or Mythmaking In America, p. 156.

[xii] –The recovery, 12-step and self-help movements in general were enjoying their greatest popularity. The Courage To Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, on recovery from childhood sexual abuse, would eventually sell over a million copies.

[xiii] –Hillman, James, The Force of Character and the Lasting Life (NY: Random House, 1999), p. 93

[xiv] –Ironically, the exile of the elderly mirrored another exile: hundreds of thousands of inner-city youth were being cast into prison, mostly for non-violent drug offenses.

[xv] –Later European images of Father Time included the scythe or sickle with which Chronos had castrated his father – as well as a crow (“corone” in Greek).

[xvi] — Jay Scott Morgan, The Mystery of Goya’s Saturn (

[xvii] –Num. 25:11

[xviii] –Ezek. 16:19-21

[xix] –Ps. 106:38

[xx] –Gen. 19:8

[xxi] –Jerusalems’s Dome of the Rock is built around the rock upon which Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac.

[xxii] –Genesis 9:20-27, 10:6-20

[xxiii] –Mathew 2:16

[xxiv] –de Mause, Lloyd (ed.), The History of Childhood – The Evolution of Parent-child Relationships as a Factor in History (London: Condor, 1976), p. 1

[xxv] — Moore, Robert, The Archetype of Initiation, Havlick, Max J., ed. (Xlibris, 2001), p. 87

[xxvi] –Gabriel, Richard A. and Paul L. Savage, Crisis In Command (NY: Hill and Wang, 1978), p. 17-18. This study, commissioned by the Army War College in 1970, was so damning that General Westmoreland immediately had it classified.

[xxvii] –Phillip Slater wrote, “This transfer of killing from a means to an end in itself constitutes a practical definition of genocide.” (The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture At The Breaking Point (Boston: Beacon Press 1970, p. 33)

[xxviii] –Gibson, William, The Perfect War: Technowar In Vietnam (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000), p. 111

[xxix] –Shay, Jonathan, Achilles In Vietnam  (NY: Simon & Shuster, 1994, 1995), p. 5

[xxx] –One of every two Hispanics served in combat units, and one in five were killed. Corresponding percentages for whites were much lower (Tangled Memories, p. 114). After 1966, “Project 100,00” recruited over 350,000 young men previously considered ineligible because of low test scores. 80 percent were high school dropouts, and 40 percent read at less than 6th-grade level. Most were put directly into combat and suffered twice the casualty rate of other troops (Flashback, p. 66-7).

[xxxi] –Males, Mike, The Scapegoat Generation (Common Courage Press, 1996), p. 266

[xxxii] It is impossible and useless to compare quantities of suffering. But we should note that of the two to three million Vietnamese who died, most were not killed in the same small-arms engagements that killed most of the Americans. Most Vietnamese were killed by B-52 air strikes (in which the pilots – at 30,000 feet of altitude, as at Hiroshima – never heard the explosions). In mythic terms, this is the realm of Apollo, whose arrows kill from a distance. Or, as James Hillman has noted, his distance (detached, objective, impersonal, scientific, rational, technological distance) kills. Phillip Slater summed up the vast array of long-distance weaponry the U.S. already was using in 1970 and asked, “Do Americans hate life? Has there ever been a people who have destroyed so many living things?” (The Pursuit of Loneliness, p. 34)

[xxxiii] –Marshall, S.L.A., Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command (U. of Oklahoma Press, 1946, 1978)

[xxxiv] –Grossman, David, “Evolution of Weaponry,” and “Aggression and Violence,”

[xxxv] –Ibid

[xxxvi] –Grossman, quoted in Dobie, Kathy, “AWOL In America,” Harper’s Magazine, March, 2005, p. 38.

[xxxvii]Flashback, p. 75

[xxxviii] — Rachel MacNair, Ph.D., postulates the existence of a variant of PTSD she terms “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Syndrome (PITS).” She argues that individuals who kill become traumatized as a consequence, not of being the victim of trauma as is the common interpretation of PTSD, but by being an active participant in causing trauma in others. “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing” (Westport, CT: Praeger), 2002.

[xxxix]Tangled Memories, p. 66

[xl] Friendly fire is also known in military terms as “fratricide.” Curiously, the English language includes patri-, matri-, geno-, infanti- and even ecocide, but it has no word for one of its primary mythic motifs, the sacrifice of the children. “Child” derives from German, rather than Latin. But perhaps the act is so taboo – that is, sacred – that our language refuses to name it.

[xli] –McCoy, Alfred W., The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia  (NY: Harper, 1972), p. 221

[xlii] –Faludi, Susan, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (Perennial/Harper Collins, 1999)., p. 337

[xliii] –Ibid, p. 126

[xliv] Flashback, p. 88

[xlv] –Lembcke, Jerry, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam (NY: New York University Press, 1998), p. 105

[xlvi]Echoes Of Combat, p. 41-2

[xlvii] –Ibid

[xlviii] Stiffed, p. 347

[xlix]Echoes Of Combat, p. 41-2

[l] –In sharp contrast to previous wars, they had been arbitrarily separated after boot camp and sent to combat units composed entirely of strangers, where they had spent a year, and then sent home abruptly as individuals. There were no communal rituals of purification or decompression such as their fathers had experienced on the long trips home from Asia or Europe on troop ships.

[li]The Spitting Image, p. 54.

[lii] –Ibid, p. 58, 77

[liii]Echoes Of Combat, p. 197. Turner reports that 40 years after Korea, this same vet’s children fear his repeated flashbacks.

[liv] –Franklin, H. Bruce, M.I.A. or Mythmaking In America, (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1993), p. 48. Five days after Nixon’s inauguration, his representative introduced the subject into the Paris peace negotiations and soon made it a major issue, “an ingenious tool for building insurmountable roadblocks within the peace talks.”

[lv]Achilles In Vietnam, p. 98, 168. The illness is most prevalent among those who engaged in ground combat over short distances – the men who overrode their reluctance to kill. By contrast, those officers who flew the B-52’s were not similarly affected: they killed from four miles up, and never saw the results.

[lvi] –Tick, Edward, War And The Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Quest Books, 2005), p. 165. Lembcke, however, notes that similar numbers of non-Vietnam veterans of the same era committed suicide. He and Faludi argue that the downturn in the economy and the wave of plant-closings that began in the 1980’s (over ten million jobs lost in the “rust belt”) had a powerful effect on the mental health of working-class men. But veterans of all wars continue to kill themselves in disproportionate numbers. In 2005, in just 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces – 120 per week. Veterans are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.) But veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served recently, had the highest rate, between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000. ( Whatever the facts, the VA has shown little interest in investigating them. In 1990 it published the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, still considered the most fundamental look at “virtually every segment of the veteran community. However, it never mentions suicide.

[lvii] –Ibid, p. 179

[lviii]Achilles In Vietnam, p. 170

[lix]Stiffed, p. 300

[lx] –Viorst, Milton, Fire In The Streets, America In The 1960’s (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 542. In the weeks after the killings, many locals greeted each other by holding up four fingers, signifying “We got four of them.” A prosecutor stated publicly that all the troublemakers should have been shot. James Michener reported that a “depressing” number of Kent State students were told by their parents that they, too, should have been shot. (Michener, James, Kent State: What Happened and Why, Random House, 1971), p. 453-455

[lxi] Echoes Of Combat, p. 53

[lxii]–Branch, Taylor, “Justice For Warriors” (New York Review of Books, 4/12/07)

[lxiii]–“The nine most terrifying words in the English language,” he declared, “are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

[lxv]Tangled Memories, p. 122-139. Sturken reminds us that Vietnam’s primal images of napalm-stricken children, the trench at My Lai, Buddhist monks immolating themselves and the South Vietnamese officer executing a suspected Viet Cong were replaced by images of spectacle – night explosions over Baghdad and “smart bomb” views of approaching targets – with no dead bodies. She cites a study claiming that “…the more television Americans watched, the less they knew.” (p. 139).

[lxvi] –Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States (NY: Harper, 2003), p. 600

[lxviii] — While the Food and Drug Administration approved it, the Anthrax vaccine never went through large-scale clinical trials. Even after the war, troops that had never been deployed overseas, after receiving the anthrax vaccine, developed symptoms similar to those of Gulf War Syndrome. The Pentagon failed to report to Congress 20,000 cases where soldiers were hospitalized after receiving the vaccine between 1998 and 2000. Anthrax vaccine is the only substance suspected in Gulf War syndrome to which forced exposure has since been banned to protect troops from it.

[lxix] –Stiglitz, Joseph, with Linda J. Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (Norton, 2008).

[lxxi] – html?ex=1178596800&en=0eb15cf4206c44eb&ei=5070

[lxxii] The disability process symbolizes the bureaucratic confusion over PTSD. To qualify for compensation, veterans must prove that they witnessed at least one traumatic event. This standard is used to deny thousands of claims. But some experts argue that debilitating stress can result from accumulated trauma as well as from one significant event. Even the VA’s chief of mental health, Ira R. Katz, wonders, “… what if someone hasn’t been exposed to an IED but lives in dread of exposure to one for a month?…According to the formal definition, they don’t qualify.” (Dana Priest and Anne Hull, “The War Inside,” Washington Post, 6/17/07).

[lxxiii]Mother Jones, March-April, 2007, p. 65: Hoge C. W., Castro C. A., Messer S. C., McGurk, D. Cotting, D. I. & Koffman, R. L. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 13-22.

[lxxiv] — Only 40 percent of troops who have screened positive for serious emotional problems seek help. Nearly 60 percent wouldn’t seek help for mental-health problems because they felt their unit leaders would treat them differently; 55 percent thought they would be seen as weak, that soldiers in their units would have less confidence in them. (Priest and Hull, “The War Inside,” Washington Post, 6/17/07).

[lxxv] –In 2002, almost half of Marine recruits were 17 or 18. Almost 600,000 of America’s 1 million active and reserve soldiers enlisted as teens. As of March 31, the U.S. military included 81,000 teenagers. Its 7,350 17-year-olds needed parental consent to enlist, and only in April 2008 were all barred from battle zones (Allen, Terry, “America’s Child Soldier Problem,” (

[lxxvi]  –“CREW and VoteVets release email telling VA staff to ‘refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out’” (

[lxxvii] –Hefling, Kimberly, “Finding Therapists Proves Hard for Troops,” AP, 6/11/07. Roughly a third of returning soldiers seek out mental health counseling in their first year home. They are among the 9.1 million people covered by Tricare, the military health insurance program. This number has grown by more than 1 million since 2001. Tricare’s psychological health benefit is “hindered by fragmented rules and policies, inadequate oversight and insufficient reimbursement,” the Defense Department’s mental health task force said in May.

[lxxviii]Study: More Veterans Are Uninsured,” Associated Press. 10/30/07.     Most are in the middle class and are ineligible for VA care because of their incomes. Others cannot afford their copayments, or lack VA facilities in their community. In January 2003 the VA ordered a halt to the enrollment of most veterans who are not poor. The move was designed to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for care. But veterans now make as little as about $24,000 a year in some regions and still do not qualify for health coverage from the VA.

[lxxix] –“Soldier Suicides at Record Level,” Washington Post, 1/3108.

[lxxx] –“Post-War Suicides May Exceed Combat Deaths, U.S. Says” (

[lxxxi]  — “U.S. deploys more than 43,000 unfit for combat” (USA Today, 05/07/08)

[lxxxii] –“Stop-loss Used to Retain 50,000 US Troops” (Christian Science Monitor, 1/31/06)

[lxxxiii] –20,000 vets’ brain injuries not listed in Pentagon tally

( “ Wounded Vets Asked to Pay Up,” AP, 11/26/07. The contracts themselves are notoriously filled with loopholes: “Laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice…REGARDLESS of the provisions of this enlistment document.” (Citizen Soldier: “The Military Enlistment Contract and You,”

[lxxxiv] –“ Veterans Administration Won’t Help Soldiers Register to Vote” (

[lxxxv] –The Army called the issue a clerical mistake — but was dragging its feet about fixing it. (

[lxxxvi] –The “Chickenhawks” and their ideological friends, none of whom served in the military: Bush (G.W. and Jeb), Rice, Cheney, Libby, Ashcroft, Rove, Bolton, Zelikow, Chertoff, Abrams, Bennett, Pipes, Negroponte, Goss, Tenet, Townsend, Krongard (Howard and Buzzy), Boehner, Schwarzenegger, Noonan, Giuliani, Gingrich, Romney, Pataki, Starr, Armey, Quayle, DeLay, Hastert, Frist, Lott, Lieberman, Brownback, Chambliss, Bloomberg, Keyes, Watts, Ney, Kemp, Medved, McConnell. Gramm, Vitter, Santorum, Ailes, Reed, Abramoff, Norqist, Wolfowitz, Horowitz, Podhoretz (Norman and John), Hitchens, Rubin, Feith, Fukuyama, Perle, Bauer, Kristol (William), Kagan, Will, Buchanan, Collier, Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, Hagee, Bauer, Krauthammer, D’Souza, O’Reilly, O’Rourke, Hannity, Carlson, Limbaugh, Drudge, Mathews, Dobbs, Savage, Cunningham, Friedman, Bennett, Greenspan, Woolsey, Ledeen, Gaffney, Scaife, Kissinger, Brzezinski, Bremer, Holbrook and Forbes.

[lxxxviii] –The notion of “syndrome” (literally, “running together”) is fundamental to America’s understanding of history. The “Vietnam Syndrome,” an image of an emasculated, timid nation, was replaced by a syndrome of acquired immune deficiency. The body (politic) was transformed and destroyed by a shifty, evil invader – a terrorist (see Tangled Memories, Ch. 7). Next came the Gulf War Syndrome, an unexplained array of symptoms that have broken down another generation of heroes and countered the attempt to regenerate the myth of heroic American decisiveness.

[lxxxix] — Allen, Thomas, B., Offerings At The Wall: Artifacts From The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection (Turner Publishing, 1995). By its publication date over 500,000 non-perishable items had been left at the wall.

[xc] –Ventura, Michael, Letters at Three A.M.: Reports On Endarkenment (Dallas: Spring Pubs., 1993), p. 169

[xci] Offerings At The Wall, p. 52.

[xcii] –Chossudovsky, Michael, “The Criminalization of US Foreign Policy From the Truman Doctrine to the Neo-Conservatives,” (, 2/5/07).

[xciii]War And The Soul, p. 189-283.

[xciv]Achilles In Vietnam, p. 189

[xcv] –Ibid, p. 194

[xcviii]Echoes Of Combat, p. 6. In April 1971, Kerry and dozens of other veterans camped on the Mall and hurled their medals onto the steps of the Capitol. But in 2008 Kerry refused to attend the re-constituted “Winter Soldier” hearings.

[xcix] –The Vietnam Memorial has spawned the designs of at least 150 other memorials. However, writes Elizabeth Hess, “A strong desire to diminish, rather than engage (its) radical elements…is evident in the majority of these new memorials.” (“Vietnam: Memorials of Misfortune,” in Reese Williams, ed., Unwinding The Vietnam War  [Seattle: Real Comet Press, 1987], p. 275).

[c] –James Young argues that the Holocaust Memorial, emotionally effective as it is, can serve forgetfulness: “By getting to know something that happened in another place, to another people, they come to understand that these kinds of things could supposedly never happen in America. So it’s a way for America to teach Americans about what has not happened here… this means we don’t have to hold up the ultimate example of slavery in American history.”(Interview With James E. Young, Ibid.)

[ci] –At first, Maya Lin, the Memorial’s designer, vehemently opposed the addition of the sculpture of the soldiers, with its predictable American flag. Later, she realized, “In a funny sense, the inclusion (of the statue and flag) brings the memorial closer to the truth. What is also memorialized is that people still cannot resolve that war, nor can they separate the issues, the politics, from it.” (Echoes Of Combat, p. 179).

[cii] –The Great Mother Goddess is universally symbolized by three women.

[ciii]Democracy Now, Pacifica Radio, 5/16/07,(

[cv] –“Bush Prods Vietnamese President On Human Rights and Openness,” Washington Post, 6/23/07

[cvi] — “Testimony in Court-Martial Describes a Sniper Squad Pressed to Raise Body Count.” (New York Times, 9/28/2007)

[cvii] — Shohat, Ella, “Exceptionalism and NeoColonialism,” KPFA radio, 11/20/06 (

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3 Responses to Barry’s Blog # 8: Myth, Memory and the National Mall

  1. Pingback: Barry’s Blog # 151: The Sixth Gate of Grief | madnessatthegates

  2. Pingback: Barry’s Blog # 168: Cultural Appropriation? Part One | madnessatthegates

  3. Pingback: Barry’s Blog # 219: Thank You For Your Service | madnessatthegates

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