Rutherford. S. (2000). Vietnam Veterans. Edited for AVI
Archive from 2000
Scott Rutherford, Vietnam Veteran, Secretary of a group of Vietnam Veterans who have helped organise several projects of Vietnam Veterans restoring parts of Vietnam including building orphanages and helping with ecological restoration programs as part of their reconciliation with their past and the present day Vietnam.
Your (Adopted Vietnamese) story moved me greatly. I escaped the war for a lot of reasons. But I prepare the teams of vets the VVRP organizes to go back to Viet Nam. It has given me a lot of insight into the spiritual and psychic suffering that all of you who were touched by the war have had to go through.
The preparationfor the return and the trip back are healing experiences which sometimes become very profound and life changing–both for the vets and for me. I think that the only true healing can come when we are willing to open ourselves up to our own wounds and the wounds of others.
I prepared the attached piece for the VVRP Board of directors a number of years ago which you may find interesting. I was inspired by two books about VN vets. One was “Home from the War” by J. Robert Lifton. The other was “Healing from the War” by Robert (?) Eggendorf .
Thanks for contacting me. Take care, Scott
Mission od Helping Vietnam Veterans Return to Vietnam
It seems inescapably clear to me that our mission of helping Viet Nam veterans return to Viet Nam to heal from the war through the construction of health clinics has a special power. It is apparent not only in the response it triggers in veterans but in the public and in the institutions which are supporting us as well. I believe it has something to do with its mythic nature. People feel on some visceral level that the journey on which our team members are embarking involves them in a very direct and meaningful way. It becomes their journey–and thus our nation’s.
Returning is an emotional and spiritual journey through which the veteran as returning warrior confronts and once again lives through the horror and violence of the original Vietnam experience in which he or she was deeply scarred. Among the products of that experience are feelings of shame and guilt which are unrelieved and unredeemed by any larger meaning which can explain or justify the annihilation and devastation in which they participated.
The journey back to Vietnam offers the hope and possibility of assuaging the guilt and shame and of achieving a new understanding and meaning which will redeem it–of regaining a lost integrity. And this indeed is what occurs through the simple–but highly symbolic–act of working alongside former enemies and allies in building a health clinic.
The earlier experience was the result of dark and impersonal forces of domination, misguided nationalism, and unacknowledged racism. At its center was violence. In its wake was unprecedented suffering, death and devastation–and psychic pain so profound that it often could only be denied, losses so unimaginably great that they could not be grieved.
In contrast, the return journey grows out of an acceptance of the pain and of an openness to one’s loss and one’s grief–and an understanding and acceptance of the part one played in the debacle. It is motivated by a desire to mend and to make whole all that was broken and divided–most especially the relationships–to oneself, to one’s fellow human beings and to one’s God. At its center is compassion, forgiveness, nurture. Its product is the humanizing of the former enemy, healing and reconciliation. These are expressed tangibly in a building whose purpose is the healing of the people one was impelled to destroy.
This experience is called by many names and involves many things: reparations, restitution, penance, atonement, redemption. Whatever it is, it is a a new beginning for one’s life, a new way to be in the world.
The journey is completed when the former warrior returns home to share the experience. As the story of the new journey is told, the grieving and healing and reconciliation which the wounded warrior has experienced become a personal reality for all those who are able to hear what is being said to them. All can potentially experience the relief from guilt and shame which the warrior has experienced, the lost integrity which has been regained. All have it within their power to make their own new beginning.
And just as individuals have this choice so does a nation.
Scott Rutherford, Coordinator, Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. Internal Memo to Board of Directors, May 10, 1990.