April 30, 2015 marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. My heart goes out to everyone in the military and Foreign Service during those turbulent times, as well as their loved ones. As a preadolescent I remember seeing snippets on the news, which captured the despair and inhumanity of the war, especially during the fall of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) to the North Vietnamese.
If you can’t picture 1975 clearly in your mind, the years leading up to the end of the Vietnam War, the adults coming of age in the U.S. were questioning everything that was the least bit status quo. It was the battle fought at home between the old guard of “inflexible stuff shirts” and the “long-haired hippies,” who often seemed hell bent on “droppin out” of traditional society and a forging path of their own instead of working to resolve the nations problems within the system.
Our military power as a nation, our beliefs about when and why we should go to war, whether we should broadcast a war during dinner time, and other foreign policy issues like whether we could continue to rely on foreign oil were passionate topics. In retrospect, this may have contributed to how poorly many of our veterans were treated when they returned home.
The Vietnamese celebrate April 30 as a day of unification of the northern and southern parts of their country and as a day of independence from the Americans. Given that an estimated 3.1 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and 58,220 American soldiers died in Vietnam, I cannot relate to the joyous celebrations that occurred in Ho Chi Minh City.
I also can’t relate to how the Vietnam Veterans were treated when they returned home. Thankfully, there are programs to help veterans today to recover from the very real psychological and physical traumas they experienced. I believe that no matter what the reason is that someone enlists—and there are good reasons, like better job opportunities and the opportunity for an education—we should support and honor them, not judge them for doing their jobs, especially when they come home.
If you are a veteran, there are many places you can go for help. I invite you to explore how mindfulness and meditation is helping the lives of veterans today.