By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
August 7, 2007
A bridge collapses into the Mississippi River, bringing death to the households of average Americans including a Native American and a Mexican immigrant.
A hurricane ravages a major American city, killing many and leaving scores homeless and without jobs.
Islamic extremists attack symbols of the United States’ economic and military power: the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon.
And how have we Americans responded to these crises?
Here is how noted American Psychologist Elizabeth Carll, Ph.D., reflected upon 9-11.
Dr. Carll is a clinical and consulting psychologist in private practice in Long Island, New York and the author of “Violence in Our Lives: Impact on Workplace, Home, and Community.”
“It was a few minutes before 9 AM on September 11, 2001, and like many typical days I was in my office returning calls and completing paperwork prior to the arrival of my 10 AM patient, when I received a call from my husband informing me that a airplane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center (WTC). While he was describing the incident to me, he saw on TV the live newscast of the second airliner crashing into the other tower. At this point we both realized the horrible implications of this disaster. Within minutes all television networks were reporting the shocking breaking news. When I conceived and established the New York State Psychological Association Disaster/Crisis Response Network in 1990, I had no idea that we would be responding to such a terrible tragedy on our own home grounds, but felt gratified that we had a database of over 250 trained psychologists in NY State alone to respond to this tragedy…..”
“Therapy sessions were punctuated by calls from other therapists for advice, consulting, and support.”
Just a note of shocking news to Americans. This is not for everybody but to those who leap toward therapy, drugs and the help of others when a crisis strikes: not everyone in the world responds this way. Not everyone has that luxury.
When the City of Saigon was invaded by communists in 1975, and the entire nation of the Republic of South Vietnam disappeared from the map in favor of a communist suppressor from the North; there were no therapists for the people.
After Saigon fell to the Communists and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the Communist war lord in 1975, several human rights abuses quickly became apparent. In Communist Vietnam, the rules changed to the will of the Communist party leaders and the abuses included and today include:
–Systematic abuse and imprisonment of any and all people who assisted in the war effort against the Communists or who helped the Americans in any way. The most infamous aspect of these “Trai Cai Tao” or remote jungle or highland “re-education centers” were periods of detention normally from seven to almost twenty years. My Bac or Uncle Chi was in this system for 8 years. But I do know of cases where intelligence officers or others with special skills were in prison for 17 years.
–Leaving Vietnam became a crime. Many of the “Boat People” who escaped did so after being caught trying to escape and suffering through prison terms for their “crimes” several times. I have one friend who went through this system at least 9 times. My wife went through three or four times.
–Life as a refugee was no picnic. Many of those that successfully survived their time at sea (and many starved to death, drown, or were raped and tortured by pirates) reached places like Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. They were refugees with hopes of reaching western lands like Canada, Norway, Australia, the United States and other nations. In Hong Kong women of child bearing age we sterilized so they would not add to the crush of largely unwanted refugees. My wife spent 8 years “detained” in Palawan, the Philippines. She lived in a hut with about 40 other men, women and children. Her cousin was in the Philippines for 16 years awaiting permission to legally enter the U.S. They were awaiting permission to emigrate to America. And there we no “illegal aliens” in this group: you cannot walk from Asia to the United States.
–Loss of all privacy. In Vietnam, neighbors were encouraged to all the police if they noticed anything “unusual” about you or your household.
–Denial of religious freedom. In fact, Catholics were forced to renounce their faith in writing in communist Vietnam.
–Denial of freedom of speech and expression. All media was taken over by the communist machine.–Systematic repression and in some cases genocide against the ethnic minorities that had assisted the Americans. These included the tribal peoples of the Khmer Krom, Montagnards, Hmong Lao, and the Khmer Rouge.
–Unlawful imprisonment. Anyone, at any time, whoever angers the leadership of the Vietnamese Communists becomes subject to unlawful imprisonment. This continues today. An American citizen, Mrs. Cuc Foshee, is such an example. In the autumn of 2006 she was released from prison after 14 months held without charges by the communist government of Vietnam.
I would submit humbly that this experience of an entire nation, an entire people, was a traumatic crisis.Certainly American clinicians would mandate extensive therapy, groups sessions, perhaps a drug regime and other forms of care.
None of that was forthcoming to the people of the former South Vietnam.
What did the former “South Vietnamese” do?
Those that chose to leave rather than live under the communist regime, decided they had to endure any sacrifice or pain in order to achieve the goal of freedom.
“We endured. We lived. We became refugees. We continued to seek our goal: freedom in the United States. And when we got here we got jobs, we applied for citizenship,” said one of my wife’s uncles to me when I asked. He had been an Ambassador to two nations: Germany and Australia. When he got to America he got a job in the construction trades and hauled sheet rock.
I have a friend that was a high ranking and esteemed Naval Officer who commanded six ships in the service of South Vietnam. When he came to America he became a school teacher.
No complaints. I have never heard a single complaint from any of the Vietnamese I know.
“We had no time to worry, complain or seek therapy because we went to work rebuilding our lives,” a Vietnamese friend told me.
That quote is from a Vietnamese “survivor” I know. But I heard almost the same quote from a man near New Orleans who went through Hurricane Camille (1969) as a young man and Hurricane Katrina just recently. He said, “My Dad, my brothers and I rebuilt. What else can you do? We had no time for therapy because we were rebuilding and you know what? We all turned out fine!”
So I asked my Vietnamese friend, “And why are the bookshelves and movie theaters not full of your stories of endurance, self sacrifice and survival.” I am so naïve.
The answer surprised me: “Because we all have the same story. There are millions of stories. And ask any refugee. Ask the Iraqi refugees. Nobody interested in their stories. Americans want a spy movie or a car chase. Nothing sexy about the experience of refugee.”
My wife still calls her Vietnamese contemporaries “Survivors.” Those at church, the shopping mall, and other places are called not “Other Vietnamese” or “Vietnamese Americans.” She often, if not always, says “Survivor.”
So this is an observation of two cultures and not meant as a criticism of anyone. And I do believe in therapy and the proper treatement of PTSD (which I wrote a six part series on). I just think many Americans have lost their way: partly because they have so much money, time, so many blessings, and so few bedevilments that cause them to sacrifice.
If you never sacrifice, a long line at the supermarket is burdonsome. Nothing seems to bother my Vietnamese frieds. They are just happy to be “Survivors.”
Many Americans believe other people can cure you. Not God and not your own inner strength and fortitude. Many believe and seek “rehab” before adjustment, adaptation and a peaceful mind. Many praise at the altars of the wrong gods: “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” We watch glued to TV screens watching Paris Hilton make a train wreck of her life and a mockery of the court.
The Vietnamese I know don’t watch. “She seeking wrong happy. She never be happy that way,” one told me.
So when I heard on TV a woman in Minneapolis say, “When you give up hope, you give up life,” my Vietnamese friends and relatives sprang into my mind.
We Americans are engaged in a great world-wide geopolitical struggle. Yet many of us have become a pampered people of shoppers and spenders.
The NBC TODAY show had one of those invaluable “news” reports I relish, on August 6, 2007.
The topic was SPAs.
Here is the intro to the piece on the NBC TODAY Show web page complete with their own misuse of the word “their”:
“Imagine a week of facials, massages, gourmet meals, hikes, and Pilates classes. Sounds like a great way to spend the last days of summer, right? That’s the sound of a SPA getaway.”
“‘Vacation’ usually means hustling to catch planes, hassling with rental cars, and then squeezing in friends, family, and of course all the major sites. That’s why destination spas make so much sense. According to SPA Finder Inc., there [sic] database counts more than 15,000 spas in the United States.”
15,000 SPAs? That sounds like an extravagance to me.
Until you consider we have over 10,000 high end coffee houses in the U.S. And they are already springing up in places like China.
Many Americans will spend thousands of dollars on themselves in SPAs, hair salons and nail shops. Then on the way home they’ll buy a cappuccino for something going toward $5.00.
I am proud to say I don’t go to a “hair stylist.” Instead I make a small donation to Pete the immigrant barber and he does the job for less than $10.00. No $400.00 “Style job” (or whatever it is called) for me.
John Edwards: eat your heart out.
The bottom line is this: many Americans will pay whatever it takes to achieve their own few minutes of mental bliss. Because they have so much money spending it on self centered wasteful things seems OK to them. God Bless ‘em too!
But ask some of us to really make a real sacrifice; and you may get that “deer in the headlights” stare.
I saw an Army G.I. interviewed on TV a few days ago. He reminded watchers that only about 1% of the U.S. population was involved in the war on terror, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said many Americans slapped an “I support the troops” bumper sticker on their car and they were finished with the problem.
The question is, “Can the people of so many spas, so much pampering and so much luxury prevail in a real terrorized world? Will Americans retreat into themselves?”
The terrorists think the answer is an unqualified “yes.” Your average Muslim extremists thinks your average American is too pampered and too spoiled and ready for a fall.
So I wonder sometimes: will the people of the United States ever again be able to achieve the likes of the landings on D-Day? Can present day America defeat a tyrant like Hitler? Do we have engineering successes in our future to rival man walking on the moon?
I am usually an optimist.
But the two most recent examples of “The Right Stuff” included a half-crazed astronaut wearing a diaper on her way to kill what she thought was her man’s girlfriend with a BB gun. The other was a report of drunken astronauts in space and in aircraft.
Are these folks too spoiled? Lost their way? The terrorists are heartened by stories and people such as these.
When I heard a pundit say what a hard and long “struggle” it would be to replace the Interstate 35W bridge which collapsed, I nearly gagged. We should be able to rebuild that bridge better and stronger in no time. Now I’ve learned that is what the people of Minnesota intend. Bravo!
And I heard a news reader bemoaning “the decaying infrastructure in America.” I thought: we better get on with it and do it right.
We, as a nation, had better take on some of the tough issues facing us like illegal immigration, the war against terror and the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We better not allow our pampered opulence and small tolerance of sacrifice to allow our nation to decay. If we do our grandchildren need to start learning Chinese at an early age.
And if we lose hope we give up on life. And our way of life.
Several factors came together to cause me to think about and write this essay.
First among them was Senator Harry Reid, saying, while America has troops engaged in the field at war, that the U.S. had already “lost” the war. This I find this a very dangerous pronouncement that emboldens the enemy and increases the danger to our troops.
Newt Gingrich also impacted my thought. He made these comments to the news media:
“So my first advice to the president was, ‘Don’t say anything anymore. Keep quiet.’ Let General [David] Petraeus and [Iraq] Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker speak for the country.’
“And then the Democrats in Congress have to decide are General Clinton and General Reid and General Pelosi really more knowledgeable than General Petraeus.
“It’s very hard to go to the country and say I’m going to abandon the Americans in Iraq. It’s very easy to go to the country and say George W. Bush is wrong.”
“None of you should believe we are winning this war. There is no evidence that we are winning this war,” the ex-Georgian told a group of about 300 students attending a conference for collegiate conservatives on August 2, 2007.
Mr. Gingrich said the proper thing to do is to share the burden of Iraq with Democrats.
Mr. Gingrich’s statements, in my view, are right on target.
Then there are some comments made by the Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Times, Mr. Tony Blankley.
Mr. Blankley said the real possibility of a chemical, biological and even nuclear device being detonated in a major American city is further maximized by the unwillingness of many Bush administration critics to appreciate the dangers associated with the rise of radical Islam. He made the statement during the 29th Young America’s Foundation National Conservative Student Conference.
Finally: an essay entitled “The Can’t-Do Nation” and written by John McQuaid appeared in The Washington Post on Sunday, August 5, 2007. John was wondering some of the same thought I have been having. He writes as part of his essay: “The United States seems to have become the superpower that can’t tie its own shoelaces.”
Read it all:
The Can’t-Do Nation
I was also moved by Mr. William Murchison who wrote a column I renamed. He complains that he cannot stay awake watching the likes of Hillary, Barak, McCain and the others. I think maybe 90% of Americans agree with him. I think we are on the wrong track…..and I don’t see any smart train engineers in the field!
Read it all at:
Two great essays:
Today’s Complaint: I hate Complainers
Our series on PTSD: