Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Vietnam”

48 Hours After Veteran’s Day

Two days have passed since Veteran’s Day. It is a well-meaning attempt to show those who put their lives at risk to defend our freedom that we care and appreciate their sacrifice. Perhaps it moves a few, most likely those who have better adjusted to their past and control their present. But for those still fighting a war inside their heads, those who struggle because of a physical wound, who are denied the benefits and help they deserve, it might just be another day full of hollow rhetoric.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way. One key strategy is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carries the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that. Hitler was on our doorstep even if he never crossed the English Channel.

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I can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense (taxes). But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return and cannot smoothly reabsorb into society.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US and found homeless war veterans on too many street corners.

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A country that refuses to take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then that is how they will behave. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime (street and white-collar), and a general erosion in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the millennial generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late. It is 48 hours after Veteran’s Day and time is running out.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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The Veterans Must Be Cared For

In my series of individual actions that will have a profound impact on our society, I have covered energy, universal health care, and gun control. Whether you agree or not, these are all legitimate topics. The next might not be, but I want to advocate that it is.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way.

One aspect is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carried the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that.

imgresI can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense. But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return from risking their lives for our freedom.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18A society that cannot take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then tat is how they will take it. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime, and a general decay in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the younger generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Crossing The Line

I realize that this post is not going to sit well with the audience of Left Coast Voices, and Roger, who already pointed towards the fact that big business is probably salivating at the prospect of making big bucks from another war, presents a scary scenario of those most motivated to crank up the war machine.

I get it and I am pretty sure he is right. But I am not sure that is reason enough to prevent intervention to not step in and stop the Syrian dictatorship from using chemical weapons again on anyone.

In the 1990’s I walked around with a gas mask in Tel Aviv, sealed up a room, participated in the drills, and sat in a shelter wondering if my family and friends were alright – if the missiles landing around us were regular scud missiles or tipped with chemicals.

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As a soldier, I trained with gas mask and in gas released scenarios. I will never forget the labored breathing and the sweat that gathered on the gas mask making it so difficult to see. I remember the sarcastic jokes – no wonder Darth Vader turned to the dark side!

I am not even sure I believe in the – It’s an internal matter, we shouldn’t get involved – excuse. Countries are very artificial entities, especially those carved out by colonialist interests. But people are human beings, whether Syrians, Afghans, Africans or Tibetans. The only thing that seems to differentiate is who sits in a country with oil.

With regard to Syria, I’m not even convinced that the line was not crossed long before the chemical attack.

But I’m also astounded at the United Nations. How we find ourselves in a situation whereby the world movement refuses to do anything but shake its head and wag a finger is beyond me. If the world expects America to police the world, a frightening prospect, why are we pumping money into the United Nations? If the US were to pull out, would the United Nations even exist?

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Brett D. Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom claims that “the U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and more than 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget” – source. If chemical warfare is a red line that has been crossed why is the US not giving 22% of a UN coalition?

Finally, the fact that President Obama felt he needed more than one man (namely himself) to makes the decision whether the US would strike Syria should not be construed as weakness … rather it is DEMOCRACY. I’m not sure how many 2nd-term presidents would take such a step. I doubt many and I support the President and his decision.

I care less for countries and more for the people who live in them. No one should have to live through a war, whether internal or not. If we truly treasure our freedom, we must understand that we are never free while others are not.

At what point in a war has a country (or faction) crossed the line? Probably when the first bullet is fired. What is clear: once you have fired chemical weapons, you are way past the line and must be stopped.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

And the Winner Is… Syria! – Tom Rossi

Ryan Seacrest: “And the winner of this year’s Trumped-Up Bullshit Justification for War Award is… Syria! (applause) Here to present the award is well-known fake journalist, Sean Hannity.”

 Hannity: “Congratulations, Syria, on this accomplishment. The question on everyone’s mind is, how did you manage to beat out perennial front-runner Iran?”

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 Syria: “Well, I thought I’d just lay low for a while, then make my move when the other countries got overconfident. Iran had been ‘phoning it in’ for quite a while, riding on its reputation. Iran just started to assume it had the award in the bag. Iran didn’t push through the finish line.”

 Hannity: “Wow. That’s a lesson for young people… and young nations everywhere.”

 Syria: “I like to set a good example.”

 Hannity: “So, how did you manage to overcome the Iraq ‘problem,’ as it has come to be known?”

 Syria: “Uh, by that do you mean the inevitable comparisons with the famous Iraq quagmire? Well, a famous American jazz musician once said, ‘…it’s the notes you DON’T play that are important.’ I paid heed to this advice and didn’t try too hard. I just let the American War… I mean, media machine, do the work for me. They did a beautiful job and I certainly owe half this award to them.”

 Hannity: “Well, speaking for everyone, as I often do, thank you. But could you expand on just how the war… I mean, media machine, helped you in your quest to become the most focused-on ‘rogue nation’ in the world?”

 Syria: “Certainly. They used a… how you say in America… ‘tried and true’ method. They simply repeated, or featured interviews with ‘respected’ officials like John McCain who repeated a sort of mantra – ‘It’s nothing like Iraq. It’s nothing like Iraq. It’s nothing like Iraq.'”

 Hannity: “So, you learned from, well… Iraq!”

 Syria: “Exactly! In the drum-up… er… I mean, lead-up, to the Iraq war, I believe President Bush named it, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ right? During this period, we saw the same comparisons to America’s most famous quagmire, Vietnam. But the American people were simply told, over and over again, how terrible was Saddam Hussein. Then, they started to forget, or simply not to care. But that was much easier. Decades had passed since the Vietnamese conflict – decades of opportunity for the ridicule of the anti-war protesters. Iraq was still a raw memory in the minds of Americans. And, like Iraq, Syria is a desert country. Is it ‘desert,’ or ‘dessert’? I always forget! Ha ha! Anyhoo, even though it had only been ten years, people forgot the propaganda campaign for Iraq. The U.S. government and media repeated exactly the same lines! Can you believe that? People had forgotten the whole thing. And Syria was there to capitalize. That’s what people don’t understand – good preparation makes good luck. If you prepare, you will be ready when the opportunity arises for greatness.”

 Hannity: “Another gem for young Americans. Are you looking forward to the bombings?”

 Syria: “Who wouldn’t be? Hahaha!”

 Hannity chortles.

 Syria: “No, I kid, I kid. That part of it is, how you say… hit or miss?”

 Hannity laughs.

 Syria: “That’s just a part of this process. Syria accepts its role on the world stage, the good, the bad, and the unholy.”

 Hannity: “Ha! You’ve exposed my long hidden sense of humor! Certain people over at ‘The Daily Show’ will certainly be taken by surprise. Thank you, Syria! Enjoy your award. Let’s give the stage back to Ryan Seacrest.”

 Syria: “Thank you so much!” (blowing kisses to the audience)

 Ryan Seacrest: “Isn’t Syria delightful? Next up, after the commercial break, the award for ‘Most Maligned Leader of a Non-Muslim Country. Stick around, everybody!”

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 -Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Running with the Enemy…Forever

Running with the Enemy is the latest offering from Lloyd Lofthouse, author of My Splendid ConcubineI thought to review the book, but Lloyd is my publisher and mentor. Given the controversies currently surrounding reviews, I think it easier to present (with his permission) the first chapter and let you be the judge.

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A word, however, about Lloyd: He served in Vietnam in the Marines and I can only imagine how difficult it is to return there in your mind when writing a novel. As I sent him chapters of Unwanted Heroes, a story about an Asian-American war veteran battling his PTSD seen through the eyes of a young Englishman who befriends him, I often wondered how Lloyd would cope with it. It took a lot of courage to return there, but as one war veteran said after reading Unwanted Heroes: it is a story that must be told.

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In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, a rogue CIA agent needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He also has a secret lover, Tuyen, who is half Vietnamese and half French.
 
Tuyen is also a beautiful Viet Cong resistance fighter.
 
Since she was a young child, Tuyen has lived under the brutal control of her older, sexually abusive half-brother, Giap, a ruthless and powerful Viet Cong leader, who has forced her to kill Americans in battle or die if she refuses.
 
When Ethan discovers he is going to be court marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and Tuyen will be arrested and end up in an infamous South Vietnamese prison, where she will be tortured and raped, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence.
 
The CIA agent and Giap—working together with the support of an unwitting American general—will stop at nothing to catch the two, and the hunt is on.
 
The star-crossed lovers travel across Laos to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma’s Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen fight a ruthless drug lord and his gang.
 
In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan also discovers that a massive assault is planned on his Marine unit’s remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one who believes Ethan is innocent.
 
Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Running with the Enemy – Chapter One

On April 11, 1880, General William Tecumseh Sherman addressed a crowd of more than ten thousand in Columbus, Ohio, and said, “There is many a body here today who looks on war as glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

 ***

       

         His lover—a member of the National Liberation Front—was trained to kill Americans. It was possible that she had already killed some of his people, but that wasn’t going to stop him from wanting more of her.

        

         Ethan Card stared out the sunken pit of a broken window at the grounds of the former French colonial rubber plantation, which the South Vietnamese rainforest was reclaiming. Columns of mature, struggling rubber trees marched away from the dying house as if they were soldiers fighting a losing war. A patch of blue sky was still visible, but the rest was an angry blanket of dark clouds.

 

 When the French ruled Vietnam, Ethan thought, this place must have been something.

He heard the distant popping of a firefight that signaled combat and wondered who was dying: Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, Americans, South Koreans, ARVN, or Chinese communists?

The scuttle of a tiny, hard-shelled monster on the gray, wood floor of the second-story room distracted him. He knelt and flicked the insect away; watched it roll into a ball then, slipping into a crack, disappear into the floor.

 

The house creaked and he shivered. Before returning to the olive-green GI blanket spread on the floor behind him, Ethan looked around warily. Something did not feel right, and he paid careful attention to his warrior instincts.

 

He sensed Tuyen’s movement and glanced at the blanket where she lay nude on her stomach—her face cradled on her arms. Her long, dark, glossy hair hid most of her features. She was French, Vietnamese and Thai. At least that was what she had told him. There were other indications, as well.

In the village where they met, a Vietnamese woman called her a French bastard behind her back. He was sure Tuyen had heard and ignored it.

 

Her height and aqua eyes were French, but the rest was Asian. She was tall for a Vietnamese with the slender body of a fashion model. Admiring her nudity, he knelt and traced a line between her shoulder blades down her spine with his finger tips, stopping just above her hips.

 

Her silky, warm skin excited him causing his heart to race and his breath to catch in his throat. The urge to make love again was tempting, but they had already been in the deserted house too long.

 

“Why you fuck woman that fight with your enemy?” she asked in broken English.

 

“Because you told me you are not a communist,” he said. “Why are you fucking me?”

 

“Maybe you go home to America and replace me with other woman,” she replied.

 

He loved listening to her throaty, crude accented English.

 

“I am not a butterfly,” Ethan replied, “and, when I return to the United States, I’m taking you with me.” Otherwise, there wasn’t much for him in America but bad memories and a strict Evangelical Christian mother who often quoted Holy Scripture when lecturing him.

 

A loud creak sounded outside the shattered window. “What was that?” he asked, aware that discovery by either side would be disastrous for both of them.

 

A rumble of thunder shook the old house, and it started to rain. The fat drops pounded the leaky roof like a barrage of pebbles.

 

“It nothing,” she replied, as she rolled over on her back. “Only ghosts. This is old house.” Slipping an arm around his neck, she pulled him down on top of her.

 

Still, that creaking noise bothered him—it sounded as if someone had shifted weight from one foot to another. His combat sense warned him to listen closer, and when he did, he heard a rat scampering across the rotting attic floor above their heads.

 

“I think us together this morning too long,” she said.

 

“Maybe it is your Commie brother, Giap, spying on us.” He watched her features closely and noticed a quiver in her lips as heat climbed into her face at the mention of her half brother’s name.

 

“No,” she said, spitting her words out as if they were laced with cobra venom. “Giap recruiting in far village.”

 

Ethan knew that something dark and brooding existed between Tuyen and her half brother, but he couldn’t ask what it was. She had made it clear when the affair had blossomed months earlier that questions of her private life and family were forbidden. To cross that line could mean losing her, and she was his addiction—his opium.

 

Then as fast as the hate in her face had switched on, it vanished. “I loving you,” she said; then kissed him on the mouth. He felt a thrill shoot through his groin as her lips pressed against his. He should have stopped, but he couldn’t resist.

 

***

 

Victor Ortega picked up the pocket recorder from the windowsill and turned it off. He leaned against the wall and stared at the abandoned rubber plantation that spanned thousands of acres across hills where the jungle was still reclaiming the land. Raindrops from the swollen clouds pelted him. It was time to leave with his evidence.

 

A smile split his tanned, leathery face. Langley would not approve of him using his CIA skills to frame an innocent man. Ortega’s part-time business—the selling of weapons and information to the North Vietnamese Communists—had put Army intelligence on his trail. He needed a goat and Ethan and Tuyen fit the bill.

 

Ethan Card didn’t know it yet, but he was going to take the fall for Ortega’s illegal operations. Ortega had been watching several armorers, and because he had discovered Ethan fucking Tuyen, that link made him the perfect patsy. Card was having an affair with a member of the NLF who had a North Vietnamese Communist cadre leader for a brother. Who wouldn’t believe Card was guilty?

 

Using a miniature, silent camera, Ortega leaned into the window and took half a dozen pictures of the nude couple copulating for the third time.

 

Perfect! These photos would be the clincher. One shot had caught Ethan’s full profile and her face with eyes closed.

 

It was time for him to leave, and he had to be careful. Ethan was a recon Marine with a tiger’s senses. Ortega took a cautious step on the blue, rain-slick tiles of the veranda’s roof. He shifted his weight gently from one foot to the other. Then a crack sounded from one of the veranda’s tiles.

 

Oh, shit!

 

Icy fear shot through him galvanizing him into action. Moving quickly, he lay against the house below the window opening where the roof met the second-story wall. Holding his breath, he waited.

 

***

 

Ethan couldn’t dismiss the noise this time. He slipped from Tuyen’s embrace, rolled away from her across the floor and grabbed his forty-five caliber M3A1 submachine gun that he lovingly called his Greaser, because it fired four-hundred-fifty rounds a minute.

 

He waited until Tuyen had finished rolling the other way, picked up her AK-47 assault rifle and pointed it toward the offending window the sound had come from.

 

She nodded, and he darted toward the window to flatten himself against the wall next to it— his heart hammering from the rush of adrenaline.

 

Moving fast, he spun and aimed the Greaser out the window until he was flat against the wall on the other side. He stared at her and shook his head.

 

“We go,” she said, and gathered her clothing.

 

He watched her long, naked legs slide into black pants. “I can be here early tomorrow morning,” he said.

 

“Giap back. I no make it.” She slipped the black blouse over her head.

 

He was disappointed at losing sight of her naked body.

 

“We together in three days,” she said. “He gone again.”

 

He finished dressing, went to her, and placed a hand on each of her shoulders. They kissed.

They should have met in another time, another place where there was no war. He worried that someday what he had with her might end. That day would be a clusterfuck! There must be some way he could keep what he had with this lusty beauty.

 

***

 

Ortega, drenched from the rain and sweat dripping from his face, rolled down the veranda’s roof. He dropped easily over the side, twisted his body like a gymnast, and reached out to grab the edge of the roof above him. His brief grip with tiles slowed his momentum, and he landed easily on his feet. Turning right, he ran close to the house and sprinted for the trees.

 

***

 

An hour later, after driving miles through the rainforest, Ortega arrived at the United States Marine Corps recon base camp. Inside the fortified camp, he crept to the armorer’s van surrounded by stacked layers of sandbags.

 

The rain pounded the metal roof of the van, masking his entrance. Storage lined one wall of the long, narrow space and a workbench took up half the other wall. Shadows smothered the small desk at the far end of the van. To one side of the desk was a file cabinet that Ortega had searched a few times without Ethan’s knowledge. His eyes settled on Lance Corporal Wilson, Ethan’s assistant, who was bent over the bench working on a weapon. The man was an idiot; a fucking lowlife fool.

 

“Hey, man, did you pick up the fucking weapons at division?” Ortega asked.

 

Wilson yelped and jumped. “Asshole!” he said, and turned revealing the Ka-Bar he was holding close to his body with the blade’s edge facing Ortega.

 

Ortega laughed. “You’re such a fucking jerk.”

 

Wilson blushed and put the knife away. “They’re here.” He went toward the back of the van, returned with a crate, and put it on the bench. “It makes me nervous when you arrive this late to pick up the goddamned weapons. What if Ethan comes back early? What the hell would I say?”

“You worry too much, man.” Ortega reached into a pocket for a roll of South Vietnamese piasters, and threw the money on the counter.

 

“You bastard,” Wilson said. “I am taking all the risks. If Ethan find out what I’m doing, he’ll skin me alive. Do you know how crazy these fucking recon Marines are?”

 

“And do you know the strings I had to pull to get you, a regular piss-ant jarhead, assigned to this unit as its assistant armorer?”

 

Ortega stared with scorn at the lance corporal, and said, “Nothing will go wrong if you do as you are told.” He stopped talking and glanced at the wall clock behind the desk when a helicopter roared overhead. The thin metal roof of the van vibrated from the backwash. He knew it was the evening ass-and-trash flight to the division area at Chu Lai fifty miles away.

 

Once the noise of the slick was gone, Ortega continued. “You have nothing to worry about, alright, man? Soon, Ethan will be working for me.”

 

Wilson bared his teeth and pushed his face toward Ortega. “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know the bastard. He lives by the rules.”

 

“It’s in the bag, man.” Ortega wrapped a poncho around the crate with the two M-60s in it. He shouldered the weapons and went to the door. “Now, cool it. Tonight I’ll make my pitch to Ethan. Then you won’t have anything to worry about.”

 

He left the van and went to his Jeep thinking he would have to kill Wilson soon. The man was unreliable and unstable.

 

***

 

Ethan returned from his business in Chu Lai to the recon base camp late in the afternoon. In his olive-drag Dodge M37 truck, he approached the steep narrow climb to the camp at the top of the orphan hill—an island fortress surrounded by rice paddies that in turn were surrounded by a dense rainforest.

 

A trailer-towing Jeep barreled down the dirt road toward him. Ethan automatically searched the paddies on either side for signs of life, hoping the demolition team had checked the road thoroughly that morning for buried explosive. Satisfied, he pulled his truck to one side, stopped, and waited for the Jeep to pass. His windshield wiper clicked back and forth clearing the raindrops from the glass.

 

He stiffened when he saw the man driving the Jeep. It was Ortega. The bastard had talked to him once—veiled, probing questions about weapons and how to requisition them. Ethan saw similarities between this man and members of Chicago’s Black P-Stone Nation street gang.  As a teen, Ethan knew Jeff Ford, who had united the leaders of about fifty street gangs in Chicago and called the new organization the Black P-Stone Nation.

 

In fact, Ethan had run with one of the smaller street gangs that joined Fort’s organization, and when Ethan told his fellow gangbangers he was leaving for good, they jumped him and beat him ruthlessly. He’d arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island bruised, limping and wearing torn and bloodstained clothing that didn’t impress the drill instructors. They rode him harder than the others for the next few weeks, but he welcomed the challenge and absorbed the discipline as if it were his salvation.

 

Ethan had been told that Ortega was a civilian liaison working with tribes living in the Central Highlands of Kon Tum Province, and that his job was to gain their loyalty to fight for America. However, the rumors also said he was CIA and had an army of Montagnards tucked away in the Annamite Mountains straddling the Laotian border with Vietnam.

 

***

 

Ethan inserted the M1911 Colt Forty Five’s new recoil spring as he finished reassembling the weapon, and then rubbed his hot, itchy eyes with the knuckles of his free hand. He had also replaced the barrel bushing to increase the weapon’s accuracy. The large wall clock showed three in the morning. He needed sleep, but there was too much to do. Lance Corporal Wilson was an expert at avoiding his job and seldom kept up with a day’s work.

 

Sensing movement behind him, Ethan reached for one of the twelve-inch throwing knives he kept on a shelf under the bench near his workstation. He glanced in a small steel mirror on the wall and looked at the face reflected in the polished metal.

 

“Shit!” He hissed. Putting the knife back, he picked up a rag and wiped his hands. “What do you want?” He faced Victor Ortega.

 

“We’re about to become fucking partners, man,” Ortega said.

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” There was something strange about Ortega’s voice. It sounded as though he had just smoked dope. Natasha, one of several girlfriends he had collected during his year in community college, had sounded that way after a few joints—something he never liked about her and one reason he dumped her before shipping out for his third tour in Vietnam.

 

Ortega spread half-a-dozen requisitions on the counter. “Take a good look at your name. These are fucking weapons you signed for, man.”

 

Ethan reached out, hesitating when the hill trembled from several artillery rounds going out. The roar of the mobile, armored one-hundred and fifty-five millimeter howitzers shook the hill and everything on it causing a thin haze of dust to rise from every surface.

 

When the battery stopped firing, Ethan took one of the papers and studied it. It was for two M-60 machine guns and the date was yesterday. “I never ordered these.”

 

“Of course you did. It’s your fucking signature. Look closer, man.”

 

The howitzers started firing again, and Ortega spoke louder. “I know for a fact that those weapons are in the hands of Viet Cong, and that there’s a bank account in Okinawa with your name on it. Check the fucking receipts in your file cabinet. They go back months. Some of those receipts are for weapons that have been found in the hands of dead Viet Cong.”

 

A cold shiver of disbelief invaded Ethan’s gut. His submachine gun was in reach, but the throwing knife was closer. “What the hell is this about?”

 

“These receipts say you’re going to fucking work for me, man. My customers want what you can supply. You are going to feed that demand. After all, the United States is a demand and supply economy. Anything for money. Say no, and I will hand these papers and others like them to Army intelligence. With your history as a member of a Chicago street gang, you’ll spend the next twenty years to life in a federal pen.”

 

Ethan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He reached for his Greaser. “Wilson is mixed up in this, isn’t he?”

 

“Don’t be a stupid ass, man,” Ortega said, almost shouting to be heard over the roar of the howitzers. “I’m not in this alone, but I wouldn’t work with a fucking idiot like him.” The battery stopped firing leaving a sudden, shocking silence.

 

Ortega glanced behind him with disgust and lowered his voice to a near whisper. Instead of staring at the barrel of the submachine gun pointed at him, he looked into Ethan’s eyes. “Pull that fucking trigger and friends of mine will turn this evidence over to the Provost Marshall in Da Nang. It doesn’t matter if I’m dead. Your ass is still mine, man.”

 

Ethan tightened his finger on the trigger. It wouldn’t take much pressure to fire. “You’re bluffing.”

 

“Do it, man,” Ortega said, and rubbed the tip of an index finger along his top row of teeth. “Go ahead. You have all this fucking honesty and integrity to uphold.” His bark of laughter was chopped off short at the sound of troops running outside. Once the squad was gone, he said, “The people I work with are all over Southeast Asia. You want fucking power. You want fucking money. Join me and you will have both.”

 

Ortega moved closer to one of the storage racks and placed a hand on the barrel of an M-16. He caressed it as if it were a woman’s leg. “If the Army catches you moving the weapons, man, I’ll know it before they can get to you. When that time comes, I’ll set you up with a warlord in the opium trade in Laos near the Golden Triangle. That will put you hundreds of miles from Vietnam. The fucking Army cannot touch you there. That is a winning deal, man?”

 

“Fuck you.” But Ethan didn’t pull the trigger. “Maybe I should take you to the Colonel,” he said, “and give him these papers—let him hear what you want me to do.”

 

“That wouldn’t be smart, man,” Ortega said. “Do that and I’d tell him you caught me going through your files. The fucking rumors are true. I do work for the CIA. Who would they believe? You, a criminal that ran with street gangs in Chicago, or me, a career agent working to preserve democracy throughout the world?”

 

“I’m not going into business with you.”

 

“Well,” Ortega drawled, “there is the matter of a little Viet Cong pussy you’ve been banging. The way I see it, you love that slant-eyed snatch. The fucking Army will hear about her if anything happens to me or if you decide not to get with the fucking plan. She will look good sitting in that China Beach prison the ARVN keep for prisoners of war. Imagine what those South Vietnamese intelligence agents would do to her to make her talk.”

 

Rage pounded inside of Ethan’s skull, and he struggled to keep it under control. His finger twitched against the Greaser’s trigger.

 

The door creaked. Ortega slid into the shadows behind the door and vanished from sight.

 

Corporal Alex Smith stood in the opening staring at the submachine gun. With the night behind him, his face glowed as if he were a ghost. “Hey, Card, calm the fuck down and aim that thing away from me.”

 

Ethan’s friends called him by his last name.

 

 “You work too hard. I went to three fucking places looking for you before I came here. I should have known. Belamy is putting the team together. We are going to Laos to pick up a downed Navy pilot. The air-rescue boys can’t get to him so get a move on. The slick flies in five fucking minutes.”

 

Ethan stared at him with a dazed look.

 

“Did you hear me?” Smith said. “Are you fucking shit faced or something?”

 

“I haven’t slept for forty-eight hours,” Ethan said. “Don’t worry. I … will be there.”

 

Smith nodded and disappeared in the shroud of darkness outside the van.

 

“When you have had time to think,” Ortega whispered harshly, “you’ll see how hopeless your situation is. Just remember, evidence is everything, and in a military court, you will be dead meat. I got you, man. You belong to me.”

 

Ethan looked at the silhouette of the man in the dark corner. “I’m taking you to the Colonel.”

“The Colonel ain’t here,” Ortega said. “He’s off to that ARVN ranger camp near Kon Tum. You’ll be going there when you return from Laos. That is, if you don’t get yourself killed first. The way I see it, man, you have only one choice.”

 

Ethan didn’t want to deal with this now. He grabbed his gear for the mission and left the trailer in a rush. The noise of a helicopter approaching the hill grew in volume.

 

The mission wouldn’t give him time to think about Ortega’s demands. Every skill he had would be called on to keep him and the team alive. There was no half effort in terrain controlled by an invisible enemy that wanted you dead. Maybe when he returned, if he survived, he would discover this was nothing but a nightmare—a joke or something. However, the anger and frustration filling him said Ortega’s threats were real.

 

***

 

After his confrontation with Ethan, Ortega flew in a Cobra gunship to the highland ARVN ranger camp.

 

Back in Puerto Rico in that fucking San Juan slum where he grew up, Ortega’s father had taught him how to read a person’s body language, and Ortega’s instincts said Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate.

 

He needed the Army to back off their investigation of the stolen weapons. Because Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate, Ortega decided to hand him over, and he would earn credit for solving the Army’s case, while staying in business.

 

He watched the sun splash brilliant colors across the horizon. The high mound of dirt to his right surrounded the camp and hid the bottom of the rainforest from his view. Logs and concertina wire ringed the top of the mound.

 

The tall, thin figure of Colonel Edward Price jogged into sight. Price, an African American, was in his forties with close-cropped dark hair peppered with white. Sweat soaked his camouflaged clothing.

 

“Colonel,” Ortega said, remembering that his old man taught him it was best to talk cultured when around people with money or power.

 

The Colonel stopped, but his legs continued to pump as he ran in place. Obviously, Price had been running for some time, and Ortega saw that he wasn’t the slightest bit winded.

 

“I thought it only right to let you know what one of your men has been up to.” Ortega took several forged requisitions and the photos of Ethan and Tuyen having sex and handed them to the Colonel.

 

Price’s legs stopped moving. His granite face remained expressionless as he studied the papers and the photos. “That’s Ethan Card,” he said. “Where did you get these?”

 

“Colonel, division will be contacting you today or early tomorrow,” Ortega said. “They want Ethan Card for selling weapons to the Viet Cong, and he will be court-martialed.”

 

“This cannot be true,” Price said. “Card is a good man.”

 

“General LaBourne in Da Nang feels differently. His people have been trying to find the traitor for months. Americans have been murdered by weapons Ethan Card sold to the Viet Cong. I recorded a conversation between Ethan and a Viet Cong woman that is his contact. There’s also a bank account in Okinawa in his name with too much money in it.”

 

Price lifted his gaze from the papers and pinned Ortega with his cold, gray eyes. “I know my men. I know Ethan Card. I don’t believe this crap.” He dropped the papers and the photos to the ground and resumed jogging without looking back.

 

Ortega knelt, picked up the evidence and smiled. He was pleased. The Colonel had reacted as predicted. With Price primed and angry, Ortega would now arrange through his contacts to make sure General LaBourne called the Colonel to Da Nang. The General was an Arkansas bigot. He and Price had a history stretching back to World War II. Once the two met, Ortega might as well order Ethan’s body bag.

 

______________________________

Running with the Enemy can be purchased at any of the following outlets:

Amazon Kindle

Paperback

Amazon.com

Smashwords

.

 

Heroes Slipping Thru The Net

Mentioning my latest book, Unwanted Heroes, at Xmas holiday parties last month seemed to strike a resistant chord with a number of people, none of whom were war veterans, but often had a close family member or friend with a difficult story. 

The issue that a homeless person who does not take advantage of the benefits offered also touched a nerve. The now-famous story of the NYPD officer who bought a pair of boots for a seemingly homeless guy sitting outside a shoe store barefoot in winter has been overshadowed by the fact that this man actually has a room provided by the VA and social services. He also has shoes but chooses not to wear them or live in his apartment.imgresThere are many people who vigorously defend the VA and, correctly, cite the vast improvements seen in the last decade or so. But I remain unconvinced that we are doing enough. 

President Obama said in a Veterans Day speech: “No veteran should have to wait months or years for the benefits that you’ve earned … so we will continue to attack the claims backlog. We won’t let up. We will not let up.”

The New York Times ran an article in late November, “that the Department of Veterans Affairs, in the long slog through its own paperwork, is in some ways marching backward.”

In fact, during the first half of the year, two-thirds of claims for disability and pension were still pending more than four months after being filed. This is in spite of the VA having strict timelines for claims. This lag gets even worse when a rejected claim is appealed, with the average duration to resolution being two and a half years.

There are two important points to take into consideration:

1) Many of those who need help are challenged to deal with bureaucracy – any bureaucracy. Most everyday citizen has challenges with personal documentation filing, understanding procedure or dealing with a labyrinth of organizational structure. How much more difficult can this be for someone with trauma and mental instability?

It seemed to me that many of the people who complimented the VA system were people who were well-organized (or had a partner who was) and able to work with the system.

2) The Department of Veteran Affairs is reeling from an avalanche of people stepping forward in need of help. The New York Times article cited that the number of claims has doubled in the last decade, reaching 1.3 million in 2011.

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In addition, almost half of the veterans seeking help are coming with more than a dozen medical issues, far higher than anything seen after World War II and Vietnam. Again from the New York Times: “Many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are returning with severe injuries requiring elaborate and complicated care. The population of Vietnam-era veterans is older and sicker than ever. And the list of ailments for which the department is giving compensation — like heart disease, leukemia and Parkinson’s, from exposure to Agent Orange — is growing.”

This suggests that we should not be criticizing the VA, rather providing the infrastructure necessary to deal with this explosive growth in need. Steps are being taken to move records to an intranet, but the department simply needs more hands and a simpler process.

The New York Times article suggests that the VA be more realistic in predicting how long a process will take to allow these men and women to plan accordingly.

I side with President Obama on this issue. When the United States called for it’s citizens to take up arms to defend the values intrinsic to our society, the people didn’t answer by giving a vague date when they might turn up.

Waiting two-and-a-half-years to receive what is rightfully yours after sacrificing so much for your country is simply unacceptable. There are too many Unwanted Heroes slipping through the net.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

The Demons of War are Persistent – Guest Post by A. W. Schade Pt. 2

This is part two of an article. The first can be found here.

I have taken on a cause through writing stories, such as this one, to reach out to young and senior Veterans to break the stigma of PTSD, and seek assistance.  Today is different from previous wars, and help and medical acknowledgement of PTSD has come a long way. 

Please ‘Take Action’ on the following suggestions; from one old warrior to others of all ages:

  • Break through the stigma of PTSD and get medical or peer-to-peer assistance now – PTSD is real!
  • Unless you are in a high-risk job, you will probably not experience the adrenaline rush and finality of your decisions as you did in combat. For me, I lived playing business games – never finding the ultimate adrenaline rush again. It is a void within me that I feel often.
  • The longer you wait for treatment, the harder it will be to handle the demons. They do not go away and can lay dormant in your soul for decades.
  • Understand it is never too late in your life to begin looking forward and achieving new objectives.
  • If you do not want to speak about PTSD with your family or friends, then hand them a brochure from the VA that explains what to look for, and why you need their support. You do not have to go into detail about the tragedies of war, but without your loved ones understanding your internal battle your thoughts can lead to divorce, loss of family relationships, destitution, or one of the rising suicide tragedies – a terrible waste of a hero.
  • Silence and solitude is not the answer! If you have PTSD you may not be able to beat it alone.
  • If you are concerned about your military or civilian job, seek help from peer resources. They have experienced what you have been through, and will help keep you living in the present, instead of the constantly looking over your shoulder to past atrocities.
  • Or call a person in a peer support group anonymously. They will not know you, but will talk for as long as you wish.
  • You cannot explain the horrors of war to someone, except maybe a PTSD psychologist, that has not experienced it – so don’t try. Seek those who peers who can help make a difference!
  • Get up off your ass and take a serious look into yourself! Accept the fact that if you have continuous nightmares, flashbacks, depression, bursts of anger, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, you have PTSD. If so, talk to someone who can help.
  • There is financial and medical assistance through the VA; which may help you avoid living a life of destitution.

Finally, let your ego and macho image go. There are too many individuals and groups today wanting to help you [A list of many of these support groups are listed on this site], or you may find yourself alone and bitter for a lifetime. The demons are not going away, but with help, you can learn to fight them and win one battle at a time.

Semper Fi!

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

The Demons of War are Persistent – Guest Post by A. W. Schade Pt. 1

Forty years have passed since my deployment as a combat Marine to Vietnam. But only several years since I acknowledged my inability to continue suppressing the demons alone. Like many veterans, the “Demons” have haunted me through nightmares, altered personas, and hidden fears. Even as many veterans manage the demons’ onslaught successfully, millions survive in destitution, finding solitude and social disconnection. Scores consider themselves cowards, should they concede to the demons’ hold? Countless live in denial and loneliness, protecting their warrior’s pride. The most vulnerable— tormented by guilt and feeling forever alone — too often choose to “end” their lives.  —A.W. Schade, USMC 1965/69

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As friends and family gather to celebrate another joyful holiday, I am often melancholy, reminded by vivid memories of lost friendships and battlefield carnage that erratically seeps from a vulnerable partition of my mind. This partition is a cerebral hiding place I concocted, decades before, mechanisms to survive in society. I unwittingly clutch at a profound loneliness as I avoid searching for memories of my youthful years. If I dare to gaze into my past, I must transcend through a cloak of darkness weaved to restrain the demons from so many years before.

My pledge to God, Country, and Marine Corps was more than forty years ago. As a young, unproven warrior, I consented to the ancient rules of war. At eighteen, like many others, I was immersed in the ageless stench of death and carnage, in the mountains and jungles of Vietnam. However, my journey began much earlier, on a sixty-mile bus ride with other nervous teenagers, to New York City’s legendary Induction Center at 39 White Hall Street.

We went through lines of examinations and stood around for hours, recognizing one another’s bare asses before we could learn each other’s names. We did not realize so many of us would remain together in squads and fire teams, building deep-seeded bonds of friendships along our journey. Our initial ‘shock’ indoctrination began immediately at Parris Island; intimidating Drill Instructors scrambled our disoriented butts off the bus, organized us into a semblance of a formation, and herded us to the barracks for a night of hell! Anxiety, second-guessing our decision to join, and apprehension was our welcoming. Following what we thought would be sleep (but was actually a nap), we awoke in awe to explosive clamor, as the DIs banged on tin garbage can lids next to our bunks, yelling ‘get up you maggots.’ Even the largest recruits trembled.

 

We remained maggots for the next few weeks and began intense physical and mental training, slowly recognizing the importance of “the team” instead of “the individual.” In less than sixteen weeks we were proud United States Marines. It was a short celebration though, as we loaded our gear and headed, in order, to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, Okinawa and then the Philippines, where we continued to enhance our stealth and killing skills, before executing these talents on the already blood-soaked fields of Vietnam.

We argued and fought amongst ourselves as brothers often do. Still, we never lost sight of the bonds we shared: We were United States Marines with an indisputable commitment to “always cover each other’s back.” Crammed into the bowels of Navy Carrier Ships, we slept in hammocks with no more than three inches from your brother’s butt above you. The sailors laughed as these self-proclaimed “bad-ass Marines” transformed into the wimpy “Helmet Brigade.” We vomited into our skull buckets for days on our way to Okinawa, where we would engage in counter guerrilla warfare training. Aware that we were going to Vietnam, we partied hard in every port. The first of our battles were slug fests in distant bar-room brawls.

Conversely, our minds were opened to the poverty and living conditions of these famous islands in the Pacific. Their reputations preceded them, but stories about the war in Japan—John Wayne movies—were not what we found. Instead, we found overpopulated, dirty cities; we were barraged constantly by poor children seeking any morsel of food. In the fields, families lived in thatched huts with no electricity or sanitary conditions. While training I experienced the horror of being chased by a two ton water buffalo (with only blanks in my rifle). Moments before, this same beast was led around by a ring in its nose by a five-year old boy. Worse than the chasing was hearing the laughter of brother Marines watching me run at full speed, trying to find something to climb.  In the tree, I felt as though I was losing the “macho” in Marine, and we were still thousands of miles from Vietnam.

In confidence, we spoke as brothers about our fears, hardships growing-up, family, girl friends, times of humiliation, prejudice, and what we planned to do in our lifetime once our tour of duty in Vietnam was over. We knew each other’s thoughts and spoke as though we would all return home alive, never considering the thought of death or defeat. We had not learned that lesson, yet. Moreover, we dreamed of going home as respected American warriors who defended democracy in a remote foreign land, standing proud, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and experiencing life, as none of our friends at home would understand. Our country had called and we answered.

We transferred to a converted WWII aircraft carrier that carried helicopters and Marines instead of jet planes. We were to traverse the coast of Vietnam and deploy by helicopter into combat zones from the Demilitarized Zone, the imaginary line separating North and South Vietnam, to the provinces and cities of Chu Lai and Da Nang. Then further South, to the outer fringes of Vietnam’s largest city, which was, at that time, Saigon.

Within sight of land, we heard the roar of artillery, mortars and the familiar crackling of small-arms fire. These were sounds we were accustomed to because of months of preparing ourselves for battle. However, for the first time, we understood the sounds were not from playing war games. Someone was likely dead. Anxiety, adrenaline highs, and fear of the unknown swirled within my mind. Was I prepared? Could I kill another man? Would another man kill me? From that point forward, death was part of my life. We would eventually load into helicopters, descending into confrontations ambivalent, yet assured we were young, invincible warriors. We were convinced the South Vietnamese people needed us; many of them did. Thus, our mission was simple: save the innocent and banish the enemy to Hell!

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 This story is continued in its entirety at www.awschade.com. On Friday, Art will share some practical solutions.

AW Schade; a USMC 1965/69, Vietnam Veteran, retired corporate executive and author of the award winning book, “Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion.” A captivating, comparative, and enlightening tale that seeks to comprehend the doctrines and discord between and within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Secularism. What the seeker discovers, transforms his life forever!]  Amazon:  Paperback & Kindle  http://amzn.to/JFxPyK   B&N Paperback & Nook http://bit.ly/JFy5On 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted HeroesThe Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Veteran’s Day – An Excerpt from Unwanted Heroes

Unwanted Heroes will be released in the new year. The galley proofs are back in the hands of the publisher and I have just seen a first rendition of the cover. 

Unwanted Heroes brings together an old, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine.  They soon discover they share even more when repressed memories bring them together in a gripping climax, finding in each other, an unlikely ally to free themselves from the tragic past that binds them both.  

In recognition of Veteran’s Day, I would like to share a scene with you. Mr. van Ness is Will’s (the protagonist) girlfriend’s father.

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Mr. van Ness downs the rest of his cognac in one gulp and stands up.

“I want to show you something, Will. Come.”

We leave the country club in his black, shiny Mercedes and drive about twenty minutes to the military cemetery in the Presidio. There are stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I stare silently as we pass through the tall stone and iron gates. The cemetery, like most of the city, is built on a hill. Rows of white tombstones stand in perfect, military symmetry, each defined by straight grass borders, like a white and green chessboard. A huge flag blows in the wind as I follow Jane’s father to a section of graves.

“What do you think the average soldier dreads when he goes off to war?” He asks without looking back at me.

I think for the moment. “Death, captivity, maybe never seeing his loved ones again?”

Mr. van Ness nods. “That’s about it. What about an officer?”

“The same?”

“Yes, but there’s something else. The officers see the young, fresh faces when they join the unit. Sometimes, if we’re embarking together, we see their parents, wives, girlfriends, and children. They hug and cry, while the family steals surreptitious glances at the officer, silently pleading: bring my boy home, my lover, my father.

“And a shiver courses through you. You are not God, probably not much of a soldier either. You know you cannot protect them, but still you swear a silent oath; to try and bring them back alive, as many of them as you can. Fuck the war, the politics, the drive to serve your country. All you want is to bring your boys back. You’d rather face a thousand of the enemy than one of these parents, wives or children at the funeral, or remembrance service.”

We stop by a tombstone and he crouches down, tenderly cleaning some dirt that has gathered there. I crouch with him as he takes a deep breath.

“The last time my wife entered my den was about fifteen years ago, Will. She shouldn’t have, but her motives were no doubt innocent. She found a small black notebook, almost full. I had written a list of names, mainly women. The names reappeared regularly and there was a column with dates and another with dollar amounts. She found a checkbook from a bank she was sure we didn’t use.

“That evening she confronted me. We didn’t hold secrets from each other, financial or otherwise. Who were these women? Ex-lovers? Illegitimate kids? I roared back that it was none of her damn business, how dare she enter my den and I yelled other absurdities. We’d never raised our voices to each other like that and have never since. Totally out of control, total rage.”

He points to the tombstone.

“My first sergeant, Pete O’Reilly. He died in my arms. The last words he heard were an oath from my lips to take care of his two young kids. Their mother received monthly checks from the bank, anonymous. When his oldest daughter was eighteen, she received a letter from the bank about a trust fund for her and her brother to pay for university tuition. The youngest graduated from Stanford a few years back.”

We move on to another grave. “His family’s all devout Catholics. I swore that they’d never know how he died. He’s buried here as a hero, and so it’ll remain.”

At another grave, he seems lost in thought, buried memories resurfacing. Then at length he turns to me. “Jane doesn’t know this, neither does her mother.” I nod, understanding the unspoken and he continues. “I worked in intelligence as well. I oversaw the recruitment and training of a spy network, of sort. Nothing glamorous. We gave the alcoholics and junkies money for booze and drugs.

“They gave us information, basic stuff like troop movement, nothing too significant. Crumbs. They were the dregs of their society and they knew little. But sometimes they knew enough to prevent some of our troops dying. If we thought we could use methods and intimidation to get more out of them, we never hesitated. If it saved one more life…

“I didn’t care, I could justify it. Not for the great United States, or for freedom and democracy, but to get my boys home alive. If this piece of shit’s confession could save just one of my boys, let him scream.”

He took a moment to compose himself. “They were handled by Asians, usually Asian-Americans recruited over here. These people had it hard. They may have nothing to do with Vietnam, born thousands of miles away, in a different culture, a different language. They were doing their job as loyal Americans, no different from the rest of us.

“But they were seen as different. Yellow skin, slit eyes aroused all the wild fears and prejudices that permeated the white and black soldiers. They largely hung out together and felt betrayed.

“Then we returned home. To some we were heroes, but many felt uneasy, as they’d heard of the horrors we’d inflicted. For the Asian-American soldiers, it was twice as bad. In civilian clothes, they were just another immigrant, just another who looked like the enemy. They received no honor, no respect from their peers. Sometimes they were even rejected by their own.”

He pauses again. I watch his warm breath escape as he exhales into the chilly air.

“There are two of these men still alive, physically at least. They’re both loners, pariahs. They’ve never held down jobs, never married. They wander the streets, allowing themselves to remember only enough to ensure they return to a hostel of sorts that feeds them and gives them beds. They are luckier than the homeless you talk about, Will. Their officer turned out to be a rich bastard who cares. Their tabs at the hostel are taken care of.”

There is silence and we stand up stiffly, both staring around. I search for something to say and put my hand on his shoulder. “You’re a good man, James, a generous man.”

He turns sharply and looks at me incredulously. His voice becomes sharp and loud. “I don’t do it for them! I do it for me! I do it so that I can live, so that I can continue. I do it to keep away the nightmares, to prevent the faces of widows and orphans staring at me at every turn.”

He begins to walk towards the car.

“You’re still a good man, James.” I shout after him, my voice shaking with emotion. He turns to face me. My arm sweeps in the cemetery and, with considerable effort, I steady my voice. “They all know who you are and what you did. They still think you’re a fucking hero. So do I, sir, even if I can’t understand it all.”

He stares at me for what feels like hours and I walk slowly towards him. He is breathing heavily; I see this even though the winter coat he wears. When he speaks, his voice is quiet, but steely.

“Find your boss, son. Find him and help him if you can: his brother too, if the poor bastard’s still alive.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

It is Time – Relief for Victims of Lone-Wolf Killers such as James Holmes – Guest Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse

Alon: Last week’s post garnered a lot of attention – Who’s Afraid of the NRA – Guest Blogger Lloyd Lofthouse redirects our attention from the political outcomes to focusing on the victims.

It is Time – Relief for Victims of Lone-Wolf Killers such as James Holmes – LLoyd Lofthouse

What happened in that theater outside Denver, Colorado on July 25, 2012 or, for example, the terrorist bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, were acts of terrorism and/or combat no different from what happened on 9/11 or in America’s foreign wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, twelve days after 9/11, the US Congress enacted the September 11th Victim Compensation fund of 2001. This $6 billion program was intended to compensate any individual (or the personal representative of a deceased individual) who was physically injured or killed as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. Source: Homeland Security: 9/11 Victim Relief Funds

We already know what happens to America’s combat veterans in similar situations—and US troops are trained, armed and ready.

In July 2010, PBS News Hour reported, “Of the more than two million men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s estimated one in five will come home with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD,” said health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser.

Bowser quoted U. S. President Barack Obama, who said, “I don’t think our troops on the battlefield should have to keep notes just in case they need to apply for a claim. And I have met enough veterans to know that you don’t have to engage in a firefight to endure the trauma of war.”

Before President Obama, the rules required veterans to document events like firefights or bomb explosions that could have caused PTSD. Such documentation was often time-consuming and difficult, and sometimes was impossible. … Under the new rules a veteran need show only that he or she served in a war and performed a job during which events could have happened that could cause the disorder.

But what about the innocent victims of combat in the United States?

I’m not talking about the homicide rate (which is in decline) or riots (which most people may avoid by staying away from the location of the riot). I’m talking about the victims of lone-wolf mass killings such as what happened recently near Denver, Colorado.


What Motivates “Lone-Wolf” Shooters – there are thousands hiding in public!

According to The Arizona Republic, “There has been no corresponding decline in mass murder—these sudden, stunning eruptions of violence with multiple victims, often perpetrated by gunmen who researchers refer to as ‘pseudo-commandos.’ Such a killer, clad in body armor and with a small arsenal of firearms, struck Friday in Aurora, Colo., leaving a dozen dead, 58 wounded and a nation horrified. …

“The United States experienced 645 mass-murder events—killings with at least four victims—from 1976 to 2010, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. When graphed, these incidents show no obvious trend. The numbers go up and down and up again. The total body count: 2,949.”

The total number killed in the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001 was 2,819.

If what happened in that Colorado Theater does not qualify as a homegrown terrorist attack by a ‘pseudo-commando’, what does?

Lone-wolf acts of violence in the United States must be considered the same as any disaster and be included under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988. Under this act, the Federal share of the costs of such efforts is to be no less than 75 percent of the eligible costs. Total assistance under this Act for one emergency is to be limited to no more than $5,000,000, except when the President determines additional funds are needed. If additional funds are needed, the President must report to Congress on the extent of the additional need.

If what happened in Colorado is not covered under the Stafford Act, we need a new law that will. After all, it is the government’s responsibility to safeguard innocent, law abiding US citizens and in acts of lone-wolf violence, the government has failed 645 times since 1976.

It’s time to take care of our own in situations such as a lone-wolf mass-murder events. If the US Federal government can spend $49 billion for foreign aid in 2012, it must help the victims of acts of violence similar to what happened in Colorado in that Century Theater—the victims in such acts of violence should be treated the same as if they were 9/11 victims, wounded in combat or came home with PTSD from Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

This post is reprinted with permission from The Soulful Veteran

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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