Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can also teach us how to make peace with ourselves so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again. —Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk (went into exile in 1963 for being a peace activist in Viet Nam and was latter nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by previous winner Dr. Martin Luther King).
One of the most profound decisions a nation can make is whether and when to go to war. That decision affects every citizen directly or indirectly, just as it impacts the nation as a whole. War is the responsibility of every member of a society, whether or not they agree with it.
Increasingly, though, American wars are fought at both a geographical and cultural distance. A relatively small military force fights on behalf of a civilian population that does not understand what modern war is, has no interest in learning, and has not been asked to participate in paying the financial or psychological costs. The result is a stunted and repressed society, out of touch with veterans and with the most basic values that sustain community.
While awareness of the problem of over-burdened and isolated veterans is increasing, veterans tend to be viewed in terms of their needs. Wounded in body or mind, veterans may require longterm medical care, specialized rehabilitation, and mental health support. They are disproportionally prey to divorce, addiction, and homelessness. Suicide by veterans has reached epidemic numbers. Press coverage of long-delayed or withheld disability benefits increases the sense of abandonment in veterans and public perception that their needs are a drain on economic resources.
What is missing in all this is the picture Thich Nhat Hanh paints of veterans as an invaluable, even irreplaceable, resource to the nation. Because they know the enduring pain that war creates, they are in a position to counsel restraint. To silence their stories through neglect or indifference is to disdain their sacrifice and squander their wisdom.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision has three parts:
1. Achieving awareness, transformation, understanding and peace for veterans.
2. Allowing veterans to share the realities of war with the rest of society.
3. Learning as a society how to make peace with ourselves so as to learn how not to use violence to resolve conflicts.
CORE VIET NAM addresses each of these parts:
CORE VIET NAM makes it possible for Vietnam veterans to return to Viet Nam to make peace with their former enemies, with the land on which they fought, and with their own memories. In this way, veterans have the opportunity to revisit places of trauma, reflect on their experience and transform their relationship to their own story. The welcome that American veterans receive from Vietnamese veterans often leads not just to unexpected friendships but to a renewed sense of value and purpose.
CORE VIET NAM encourages civilians to become knowledgeable and aware of the realities faced by veterans of modern conflicts and to be prepared to hear, support, and honor their stories. Because modern civilians are not being asked to support war directly, they may begin to think of the military as simply another specialized career option and lose the sense of shared responsibility. By accompanying veterans on healing journeys, civilians learn to listen in a profound way and to experience their own healing
CORE VIET NAM believes that helping veterans restore their lives after war contributes to healing civilians as well. A nation that is able to reincorporate its veterans in a humane and sacred way will be stronger, wiser, and less likely to consider war an option in conflict. A true “welcome home” for veterans consists of more than yellow ribbons, parades, and cameos at sporting events. It means a willingness to listen, to learn, and to help to share the burden borne on behalf of a nation.
CORE VIET NAM gives American veterans and civilians opportunities to learn from a war-torn culture the ways of reconciliation, healing and peace.
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