My Enemies Are Less Than Me- PTSD

December 1, 2012

I came from a poor Polish neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey.  There were other ethnic neighborhoods all around us, Afro-Americans, Italians, Irish, Puerto Ricans and others.  My parents raised me never to demean someone by calling them names.  I suppose that this was somehow connected with the Polish jokes or perhaps the fact that the first generations of Polish wanted to be called simply Americans.

I can remember them using some of these slang nicknames that we all knew but they were somehow more civilized to not teach their children to carry on this terrible failing at least this was how my family operated.  I had some prejudice and probably still do but I fought them and fought to see everyone as an equal.  Different, perhaps, but not less than me.

Then I went into the War in Vietnam and all the Enemy was referred to as, “Gooks”  or “Slant Eyes” or “Slopes”.  I’m sure there were other names, too but these were how my circle referred to them.  It was impossible to tell which Vietnamese person was on you side and who wasn’t, it was quite easy to refer to all friends and foes alike in these terms.

I think this was an intentional thing we were taught to do, so that we could more easily explain how we treated them.  If they were less than us we could do unspeakable things to them and justify it by seeing them as inferior to us.  This mistreatment included violence, destruction, sexual misconduct and other degrading things that we, as Americans, inflicted on the Vietnam people.  We did it because we were the “saviors” and the “heroes’ of this conflict.

I look back on my 365 days in Vietnam and wonder how I could have done some of the things that I did?  I try to picture myself doing any of these things in the United States and I cannot.  Somehow being in Vietnam gave me license to do whatever I wanted.  Sort of like that saying, “Anything done in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.   When we walked away from our tour, our misdeeds stayed there too.  The regretful PTSD feelings followed us home.

I hear how the population of Afghanistan and Iraq and other Middle East Coutries are referred to by today’s military; Hajjis, Camel Jockeys, Rag Heads and I’m sure others as well.  Since 9/11 those Middle Easterners, who are living in the United States have received the same titles.  These derogatory epithets label these people as “less then us”.  The ridicule and violence aimed at these people is shocking especially since it is being perpetrated in our own Country.  Now the phrase should be “What happens in the Middle East is happening here too”.

Is this hate stimulated by the PTSD of returning service people or have we crossed some invisible line so that everyone can be infected with this horrible PTSD disease that foments violence? By treating them as our inferiors does it give us the OK to punish them because they deserve it or even if they don’t deserve it?