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Home from the War

July 1, 2005

Talk about deja vu all over again: Here was a fed-up veteran recalling being sent into war without enough military equipment, under troop commanders who considered civilians the enemy. But 26-year-old Patrick Resta wasn’t talking about Vietnam. He was relating his experiences with an Army National Guard unit in Iraq.

An organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, Resta is making the rounds of churches, campuses and peace demonstrations that Vietnam vets trod three decades ago. In a recent talk at the Unitarian Church of Montclair, Resta noted his fledgling group is a new version of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. So here in the hometown of Yogi Berra, the grand master of baffled bemusement, I sat in amazement in the front row, recalling uttering similar sentiments, as a VVAW organizer, a long time ago.

Resta, as many of us did at his age, is conducting a mission to bring his buddies home alive and end the war they are waging before it consumes America. He is seeking the help of his countrymen. “I think those of us who served in Iraq have an obligation to speak out. You’re not getting the truth back here,” he said. “The situation is not going to improve until the US military leaves.”

As church members gathered around him and his wife after his talk, Resta was equally blunt about his personal life. There are experiences that haunt him. But there’s a six-month wait at the VA, he said, even to be evaluated for post-traumatic stress. His therapy at the moment consists of organizing other disillusioned vets, speaking wherever he can find an audience, and writing a book. From my experience, that’s not a bad start.

Six years before he was born, Resta’s current condition of anguish was described by Robert Jay Lifton in his 1973 landmark study of war veterans, which has just been reissued as Home from the War: Learning from Vietnam Veterans. “Wars give rise to wars,” Lifton wrote in the preface to the new edition. “But there is a more personal and primal connection between veterans of Vietnam and Iraq: they are literally fathers and sons or fathers and daughters. Vietnam veterans…may have little difficulty accepting the oppositional sentiments and warrior disillusionment of their children. That sharing of an antiwar survivor mission can indeed be a powerful bond.”

Hard to believe it’s been nearly 35 years since Lifton, who was well known for his study of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, accepted a request from an unknown veteran to help address both “the severe psychological problems of many Vietnam veterans” and “the military policy of the war which results in war crimes and veterans’ nightmares,” as I wrote in a 1970 letter quoted in his book. Of the dozens of vets and mental health professionals who created a self-help project that pioneered ways to cope with an unnamed nemesis that got named post-traumatic stress, none of us, I doubt, imagined our children would face a similarly ugly war.

Patrick Resta’s antiwar campaigning can be checked out in a Google search and on the Iraq Veterans Against the War (www.ivaw.net) website. He and his buddies are looking to end a nightmare in Iraq and in their lives. To that end, they are seeking forums to speak to people who don’t shy from hearing harsh truths. Vietnam vets, and every one else, can do a lot to help.

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