In the next few weeks, there will be a flurry of flashbacks and memory pieces on the Vietnam War because 25 years have passed since the United States left that country. Although there has always been much discussion about the war's effect on the military, on U.S. foreign policy and even on Vietnam veterans, its impact on women and children has received scant attention.
Yes, the spotlight will be shone -- as well it should be -- on the female nurses who cared for the wounded in battlefield hospitals. Yet the aftermath reverberates for hundreds of thousands of other women in homes across the nation. For many of them, there has never been closure.
These are the women who have lived with and loved Vietnam veterans, women who have been battling the effects of the war all these long years and who continue to endure. For these women and their children, there has never been any glory, and there have never been any Vietnam memorials. Will we once again miss an opportunity to acknowledge their significant numbers?
In the military, one of the goals of basic training is to instill a belief system in soldiers that allows them to do battle with as little remorse as possible. Yet the belief system deteriorated rapidly for many American men in Vietnam, and its loss contributed to the manifold problems they experienced afterward -- problems they brought home to families and to women, in particular. These included substance abuse; post-traumatic stress syndrome; inability to work, sleep or even love as we recognize the meaning of that word; and of course, suicide, the high number of which among Vietnam veterans is no longer even news.
Husbands, lovers and brothers remained missing even after they returned home, leaving to women both the support of the family and the work of salvaging many damaged hearts. If the men on the home front could not be rescued, then the women needed to figure out how to rescue themselves and their children. This meant finding jobs that would make family life economically viable.
And these women's belief systems were torn apart as well. After all, home was supposed to be a haven, and love alone should have been restorative. When, in many cases, neither proved true, women were forced to confront old conditioning in which youthful dreams of houses and children and living happily ever after were shattered.
Is it any surprise that the views of many women about war, soldiers and perhaps even patriotism underwent a seismic shift? Or that the poster mother of yesteryear who sent her son to fight in a foreign land disappeared from consciousness?
When, in the coming weeks, the media revisit the 25th anniversary with a series of remembrances, including the now-famous pictures of American helicopters lifting off from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in what was then Saigon, I seriously doubt there will be any coverage of the daily heroics of the wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters who have suffered the aftermath of this most unpopular war. And it does make me wonder: Are women's lives less important than men's? If not, why do we continue to study the legacy of Vietnam on men and all the male bastions with not even a nod to its impact on the women and children at home?
(Gologorsky is author of ''The Things We Do To Make It Home'')
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