Effects of War on Personal Relationships
A healthy relationship, whether it is between a husband/wife, parent/child or friends, is often based upon four components: respect, honesty, trust and communication. At best there needs to be a balance of the above to support a healthy relationship. Healthy is not a term I would readily assign to a post-Vietnam War family nor would it be a term I would discard outright. Healthy can be defined as functioning well and therein lays the rub. Many post-Vietnam War families function well within their own parameters. They may not flourish according to society's standard but they are quite capable to function well under strenuous circumstances. Then there are post-Vietnam War families that cannot function well and often result in divorce or fractured families. I realize this can be said for many typical families outside of service in the Vietnam War; however, post-Vietnam War families are anything but typical. Trauma germane to war has been introduced into the family unit often even before a family unit has been established. One pillar of the family unit has served in a war. A war that at times was all consuming and affective in the sense they have participated or witnessed events that you would not normally find in typical life. To go beyond the initial moment of trauma, there are the aftereffects that linger with the soldier including their own guilt, their reception upon return, the lack of acceptance they felt, the secrecy, etc. These all hurt the fundamental building blocks in which the veteran relies upon to shape his family life.
If you define healthy according to society's standards, in terms of sound and rational thinking or frame of mind, post-Vietnam War families could run the risk of falling short. It is a near impossible feat to place a square peg inside a round hole. The Vietnam War was anything but sound or rational to a young man in the jungle searching for the strength to survive war, both mentally and physically. Counter this position with a non-service person who has in fact not faced the same trauma and has had a relatively "normal" course in life the differences in attitude, experiences and thought processes are glaring. Although the veteran may have been the actual person to serve in the military, his/her experience plays an enormous role in how a family develops. The children, especially, are raised in the aftereffects of service and often under the umbrella of two opposing worlds colliding -- a father who served and a mother who did not serve.
The Black Hole
Where reality collides with rhetoric is a black hole desperately trying to implode in order for the nightmares to stop. This black hole envelopes the spirit, bonds of trust, personal relationships and the very depths of souls. It is at constant war with a parallel universe where those who did not serve fight to reckon their own reality of a life marred by the ramification of a war they did not physically participate in yet still reel from its after effects. This black hole is the anatomy of many a post-Vietnam War family. Silence, secrets, nightmares and walls are its parameters and guilt, whether founded or not, lack of acceptance and fleeting acknowledgment its epicenter. The hero-myth warped by hyperbole. A daughter's romanticized vision of her veteran father forsaken in a stalled time warp because healing was not always a part of the Vietnam War legacy. The Vietnam War shaped its veterans in different ways. As every human being is unique so are the experiences of the veterans and their families. However, there is a chord that strikes repetitively in as much as the Vietnam War was influential in all aspects of life. Core ideals to interpersonal relationships are fashioned by the way a person interprets and utilizes personal experiences. A person who partakes in wartime activity draws dramatically from this experience in a manner which at time is all consuming. It must be this way as trauma associated with war roots itself so deep inside a person that it is often impossible to separate good experiences from bad as the bad is so deep it wields most of the power. Some veterans have survived this black hole through support of family and friends or even through sheer will power. A great number of veterans and their families will forever be captured in this black hole as its force can be too great to escape. Perhaps this is the enduring legacy of the Vietnam War.