In 1982 Roberta and I were married the same weekend that a now iconic movie came out. But that’s not the movie I want to talk about-I’ve said enough about that movie already*. However, that same year another movie was released that also became something of an legend. It was a fairly low budget piece about an Vietnam vet and Green Beret who runs afoul of a corrupt local sheriff, and in a haze resulting from what would now be called post traumatic stress, goes on a rampage piling up body bags filled with local law enforcement. The movie was First Blood, the actor was Sylvester Stallone and the character was John Rambo.
So why do I bring this up? Well this week, in the town of Hope B.C. where the movie was shot, they are tearing down the bridge on which Rambo was first arrested by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy). It has been a tourist spot for nearly 30 years but the creosote coated timbers are finally becoming unsafe and an environmental hazard; so, down it comes.
In my opinion First Blood was the best of the Rambo movies for a couple of reasons. First, as much fun as some of the others were, First Blood is the only plot that is remotely probable. There are no fortresses to be taken down, no armies of trained soldiers, just a lot of local deputies and state troopers up against a man that the U.S. Military turned into a killing machine – a killing machine gone over the deep end.
The second reason I like the first Rambo over all the others is that it is the only one that comes close to properly addressing the real problem of the Vietnam vet and many veterans in general. What do you do with a person whose one life skill is the ability to end a life, in a variety of extremely effective ways? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real injury that many vets face. Most of them don’t go on killing rampages in mountain towns but they are certainly just as dysfunctional in a society that has no use for them any longer.
Which makes the timing of this event in B.C. interesting; because as this bridge comes down Canadian troops are coming home, and many of them will be facing PTSD themselves. And what will their fate be? Will they get the help that they need to deal with the after effects of their ten year mission? I hope so; because historically the Canadian government, like so many in the western world, have spent most of their time trying to shift the blame for a soldier’s trauma to something other than combat. And that is a national shame.
Throughout our history it seems that Canadian soldiers serving overseas have won the respect and admiration of everyone except their own government; and it doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power. Through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan, local populations have come to love and cherish the memories of what our men and women in uniform have done for them. They fully comprehend the value of the sacrifice that has been made on their behalf by people with no reason to be there other than the cause of freedom. Meanwhile, back home, those same soldiers have to battle the government that sent them to war for the basic necessities of life, and for help to deal with the after effects of their time in service.
Some research suggests, but has not yet fully confirmed, that a contributing factor in PTSD can be an uncertainty about the value of the mission the soldier has just been through. When victory is clear and well defined, trauma is lessened; when the victory is less certain, symptoms of PTSD increase.
If that’s true then this might well be one of the toughest missions Canadian troops have ever faced. Unlike WW1 & WW2 the success of the Afghanistan mission is not so clear. The Taliban is still a clear and present danger and the future of community projects started by Canadians is uncertain. One hopes the Americans will be able to continue the work that we have started, keeping schools open and encouraging women to take control of their own destinies, but with the economic crisis currently being faced by the Obama government nothing is guaranteed.
What is certain however, is that like those who came before them, our troops have done their country proud. By all reports, many people are grateful for the efforts our men and women have made. A friend of mine who returned from Afghanistan just a few weeks ago tells many encouraging stories about the difference we have made in that country and the regret expressed by local people at the departure of our troops. Much of it is because the ill equipped troops that first arrived ten years ago (they actually were sent on a desert mission with green forest camouflage gear) have since been properly re-equipped and given a wide range of modern, high-tech equipment and supplies enabling them to perform beyond expectations.
The support from home has also been encouraging. From the shipping of care packages to our bases in Kandahar and the famed ‘Highway of Heroes‘, Canadians have shown their troops the support they need as they continue to build bridges between Canada and struggling communities around the world.
Now let’s hope and pray that the Harper government will give them the tools they need to deal with their personal struggles as enthusiastically as they equipped them for combat.
Until next time… Shalom.
*No, I’m not naming it. Have fun figuring it out.