Insights from the Mailbag

 

Mailbag

There are other voices that don’t get the exposure that mine manages to. The voices of people who aren’t writers by trade but have such valuable things to say. They’ve written to me this week, in wake of the CNN essay & appearance. I share them with you here because their stories deserve telling and well, because it is helpful to understanding one another, these stories of ours. Burned in my memory as I read their stories is one I tell of my friend Cammie, who was just a bitty baby when her father, so handsome, so young, was slain in Vietnam. We stood in that field overlooking the Ia Drang Valley, she grasping her father’s cracked-leather wallet and his picture, as she wept bitter tears and called out to the heavens: Why? Why? What was it all for?  That was the question that ought to be asked before we voters allow Congress to send our troops to war. It should not be the question children of the fallen wrestle with throughout their lives. We owe them a better answer than: We made a mistake. These mistakes of ours are paid for in bloodshed, paid for by the lives of soldiers fallen and widows and children.

Those of you who do see the film – and I’ve got no problem with that – consider this: It is  not enough to make entertainment out of the trauma of war. If seeing American Sniper compels moviegoers to do more than be entertained, if it compels people to go out and do something on behalf of veterans and military families that will be a great thing. But if all it does is stir up patriotic fervor and nationalism, it is no longer art, only war propaganda.

Now here are those letters I told you all about. Such important stories, give them a read:

Dear Ms. Zacharias:

I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your article about why you won’t see the movie American Sniper.

I’m a police officer in California and was involved in a shootout where I almost lost my partner who was struck several times by the suspect.  I held him and tried to put pressure on his wound as he was bleeding out from his femoral artery.  Fortunately several quick thinking officers put him in a patrol car and we transported him to a trauma center where several transfusions, 20 surgeries, a month long coma, and a second month of surgeries finally saved his life.

All of this went on while my wife had our second daughter who we almost lost at birth.  She spent 2 months in the hospital too.  My life was spent between 2 hospitals, home, and work where I was still trying to be a productive gang officer.

My life came extremely close to falling apart but my wife and older daughter kept me sane until I mentally was able to come back.

I can relate to your dad’s thoughts.  All I could think about was going home to her (she was 2.5 at the time) and my wife.  I’ve made it a point to tell her repeatedly everyday that I love her and am proud of her no matter what she does.  I’ve asked my wife to let all my kids know that I gave them a lifetime of kisses and “I love you’s” in case something ever happens.

Anyways, your article really hit home and I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated it.

Name Withheld

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Dear Ms. Zacharias,
I read this article and felt compelled to contact you. The experiences of fathers who were exposed to the horrors of war affects families down through the generations as I’m sure you are aware. My father was at Iwo Jima and in Korea. We daughters, especially I think, are deeply affected and influenced by having fathers who were soldiers.
Best of luck and wishes to you in your work,
CC
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Dear Ms. Zacharias

I just read your article, “Why I refuse to see ‘American Sniper’ and it was excellent!  In additional to war movies, which glorify the sacrifice and destruction of lives, I have a real problem with commercials featuring veterans who have lost their arms or legs or both, to IEDs and other tools of war.  It feels like the commercials are trying to convince us that it’s not such a bad thing to have your body blown to bits because we have these great prosthetics to replace those limbs; problem solved!  I find myself yelling at the television screen because if we ended war there would be no poor, damaged souls who are left to live with a body that is a daily reminder of the horror they endured.  And no one is talking about the mental anguish veterans endure.

Thank you so much for voicing the concerns that I believe a lot of patriotic Americans share; war should never be glorified. Period.

With much admiration,

SD

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Karen,

I enjoyed your take on American Sniper. I have not seen the movie and probably will not. Your comment on no “us” and “them” was an important one. The longer I live the more I struggle with that super nationalistic view. It is far too easy to dehumanize the “enemy” in order to give us a reason to despise them. There don’t seem to be any real winners in war. At the same time, I am thankful that we have those who are willing to serve and protect my freedom.

I am just thankful that in the end I can trust God that justice will be served.

Have a great day.

JT

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Dear Ms. Zacharias,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments in both your recent article and television interview.
I am a Gold Star son, an Air Force Veteran, a retired law enforcement officer, and a former college adjunct professor.  I admit that CNN’s teaser headline “Why I Won’t Go See ‘American Sniper,’ ” caused my blood pressure to spike a little.  Despite my interest, I debated the aggravation I would cause myself by reading more ignorant comments by the ill informed who call the men and women in our armed forces “cowards,” or make flippant remarks comparing it the film to Nazi propaganda.
However, just as “curiosity killed the cat,” I clicked on the link anyway.
I noted that you too were a Gold Star family member, and your points about it “being personal” resonated with me.  A few years ago, I too had the opportunity to visit Vietnam through a trip sponsored by “Sons & Daughters In Touch” (www.SDIT.org), but I simply could not bring myself to take the trip.  Just as you didn’t want to go see a movie … entertainment (albeit a true story) about something that was so personal to you, I couldn’t bring myself to be “a tourist” where my father gave his “last full measure of devotion.”
I appreciated that during the short television interview, both SGT Dakota Myer and you were actually nodding and affirming each other’s points.
I thank you for your father’s service and the sacrifice that both he and your family paid.
Sincerely,
KH
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I read your article about why you won’t see American Sniper, and I completely understand, I am sorry you lost your father so young. I have to admit after reading the title I was expecting something very different.

Anyway, your point about those people needing to line up to join the military…I get that too. I am a 23 year retiree. When I went in I went in to defend this great country. Unfortunately not everyone feels that way, even some that do join. Personally I want people to join for the right reason, and why that right reason is not obvious is beyond me. Even my own children. Two of my kids wanted to join, but one did not answer the question “Why?” very well. My one son knew the story of Pat Tilman story before he was killed and he wanted to be like him, so he was getting it.

Thanks for your article.
MW
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Hello Ms. Zacharias,

I just read your article about why you cannot see the movie American Sniper. I served for 29 years in the US Army in various positions all over the world. Of all the duties I had to perform the worst were Casualty Notification and Casualty Assistance duties. I spent nearly six years informing spouses and mothers of their son’s demise on a battlefield somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan. It was a very difficult job. I will not see the movie either.

I read your article and I absolutely understand your feelings. I understand that stories like Chris Kyle’s should be told and I even understand the brutality that is needed to win wars. Unfortunately the wars we fight now are not justified in my opinion, but that’s another discussion. You described very well the hurt that is involved not just for our soldiers, but for everyone involved and that is the reason I am sending you this email. I appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to say what many will not.

Patriotism is not about killing and bombing, it’s about doing the best you can to prevent it.

Thank you for article and I look forward to reading your blog. And thank you for your family’s sacrifice.

JS

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Dear Ms. Zacharias:
I read your moving opinion piece on why you are choosing to not see American Sniper. Your plea at the end wishing Hollywood would make a war movie that there is only us, is understandable, but actually has already been fulfilled. Interestingly, Clint Eastwood, who directed American Sniper also created “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.” While Flags shows
the emotional trauma wrought by the war, Letters shows the war from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers, that their hopes and fears were no different then ours.The shame is that everyone’s attention spans are so short, that people have so little interest in history they fail to see that we are, as you say, all human first.
I do think that Mr. Eastwood, in his recent Sniper movie, is trying to show how you dehumanize yourself to become a sniper. I think with his 3 movies, Mr. Eastwood is trying to show an unglorified view of war. It is just so tragic that people twist it and use it to justify their own fears and prejudices. What is so discouraging and so overwhelming is that people fail to see his message and instead take the Sniper movie and glorify Pyle’s (sic)  killings and commend his skill with a gun and see it as an excuse to beat the drums louder for war.I wish you the best in your work with Veterans. I have wanted to work with Veterans for a long time. Do you think that they would be open to my volunteering if I do not have a military background with either myself or my family?Best regards,
JF
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Let me address that last question: Yes. Yes. Yes.
You don’t have to have a military affiliation to volunteer with veterans. If you live in an area where there is a local VA hospital call them up and ask how you can go about volunteering. Walk up to their front desk and inquire. Get involved with your local Veterans of Foreign Wars. If you are on a college campus, there is a Veterans Affairs Office, go ask how you can be of help. Check out you local churches, senior centers, homeless shelters, you can’t toss  rock in most towns in America without finding a veteran. If your skill is writing/interviewing, consider helping out with the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project.
If money is your way of helping, I am sending you over to this link, which provides you with a list of possible orgs to donate to, and gives you insight to which ones do the best job with the dollars you give them. I personally support Disabled Veterans of America and Fisher House from this list.
Charity Navigator can provide you with detailed information about veterans organizations and how they spend your money as they do here with Wounded Warrior Project.
One more thing, many of these organizations are set up entirely to help veterans and families. Gold Star families, like mine, are not always high-profile in communities. Do you know a military widow? Do you know the child of a soldier KIA? Or a wounded soldier? Gold Star Moms and Gold Star Wives are organizations worth supporting. But the best thing you can do for a military spouse is be a friend. The kind of friend who cleans gutters, mows lawns, helps plant flowers, babysits the dogs, the kids, takes a girl for a dinner and movie once in awhile. Just like Mr. Rogers always told us: Be a good neighbor.
Thanks to all who have sent me notes this week. And thanks to you all for reading them.
Now go out and be the change we need in the world.
P. S.
 
This letter was sent to my publisher:

         I was reading an article on CNN by your client and her opening statement in the article is as follows:  “American Sniper” stormed the box office this past weekend with $105 million in ticket sales. Not since the Rambo movies have so many farmers and ranch hands buddy-upped to the popcorn counter. As much as I adore Bradley Cooper, I won’t be seeing the movie. I can’t see it.

 

This line is quite insulting as many Veterans, their families and friends, and active duty members will possibly go see this movie. But her statement pretty much says you are some sort of stereotypical southern bumpkin or some other degrading term for southerners to want to see this movie.

 

While I feel for the loss of her father during Vietnam, this does not give her the right to just make a statement that this film is geared towards a particular group of people. It saddens and upsets me that she would lump veterans such as myself and her father as simple minded farmers only looking for action. I feel she needs to think of the bigger picture and those she may insult before writing comments like that, regardless of her upbringing and background.

Nicholas Clark

 

My Reply:

 

Mr. Clark:
I am a writer. If I meant to say redneck, country bumpkin I would have said it. I live in rural America. Our primary source of income is ag-related. At our local theater there were farmers, ranch-hands at the popcorn counter.
I never think of farmers or ranch-hands negatively. Why would you?

 

Karen

(Unfortunately, Mr. Clark used a fake email addy. So I post it here in hopes that he will see it.)

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Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Gold Star Daughter. Trump will never be my president.

5 Comments

Glria

about 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing all of this. I almost couldn't read it through the tears!

Reply

James

about 2 years ago

Ms. Zacharias , I am a Vietnam veteran I wonder if the fascination with this movie might be gilt from the Vietnam era. I have a lot of gilt about soldiers like your father not coming home like I was able to. I have been able to have a great life, and family. Now retired. Not a day goes by without thinking of those that gave so much, for what? I don't know why I am writing this but I have dealt with my gilt on my own and I am fine. I love my country although when returning I wasn't sure. So much ugliness that war causes brought back to home land under cover of night. You have demonstrated a great value we have freedom of thought, speech and the pen. I thank your father for his service and you for your article. I have no desire to see this movie but I do want to read your book after the flag has been folded.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Thank you for writing & for sharing your own story - so common among those who return home. I am glad to know you are okay. Gordon and I used to talk a lot about why he survived and others didn't - especially the medic. He never got over the guilt of that. But meeting the medic's daughter brought him a great deal of peace, a sense of knowing that she was okay despite it all. When the cancer came back, he said to me that it was ironic that he had spent so many years of his life wishing he could die and now that he was dying, he wanted to live. He had finally started the healing process for his PTSD. Welcome Home. Thank you for your service.

Reply

Enesa Kleiger

about 2 years ago

how sad you think it is ok to stop learning and not participate in life any longer when it comes to a completely different type of war, the military and their families struggle including ptsd as part of it. I cannot believe you are on any military board at all. Your close minded I need not learn or see anymore attitude leads me to believe you think you know it all. You do not. I can understand you having friends that are vets due to your family history, but that in no way makes you an expert to understand the inner goings on in every family and in every war especially this one with no open mind, you have no open heart. You do not know everything about ptsd , every military family struggle, every emotion a family deals with who are military. Your a disgrace to think your opinion of this film makes you more than them in any way to even have an opinion of no need to see it," I have struggled". You do not know what you are talking about and to be on a board scares me for the people who take your opinion seriously. I come from a military family, Vietnam and the others, am still part of a military family , have lost family members to ptsd and the war, am a proud military wife and daughter and embrace learning and growing in order to CONTINUE to help and understand. The film was exceptional and needed to be made for more people to understand and grow. I feel for more spouses and military members after seeing this film and I thought I had seen and heard enough.

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Bob Hunt

about 2 years ago

I am a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, wounded in action. As a tactical air control man, it was my job to control everything that flew in support of my unit. This included fixed wing aircraft that dropped bombs and napalm on enemy targets to medivac choppers that took away our wounded and dead. I directed those airstrikes myself onto enemy targets knowing that many enemy would die, and I personally helped load our dead and wounded onto those helicopters. I had several horrific experiences when close buddies I had made were killed just feet away from myself, and have been haunted by these memories asking why I had survived and they didn't when it could have been me because I was so close to them when they got killed. I never became famous, I never accomplished anything that was important to humanity or our society. I survived only to return to a country who had turned its back on me. I was ridiculed, spat on, called a baby killer. I endured 20 years of PTSD that would wake me in the middle of the night screaming and drenched in a cold sweat. All of these things affected me, my family, my children, and many people around me, people I worked with, people I had contact with in every day life. Because for me, the abandonment by the American people upon my return, made me bitter, made me angry, and made me take my anger, my bitterness and my frustrations out on everybody else. It took 20 years to get over this and a march in a parade in Washington DC on the 4th of July to finally begin talking about my experiences. That resulted in a book I wrote about those experiences and the effect they had on me that to this day, no publisher will even consider (I had to self publish it myself). Hollywood has yet to tell the real story all Vietnam vets carry around with them day in and day out, the story of abandonment, the story of endurance of horrific events, and the story of how war changes all mens lives (and woman who have more recently been given opportunities to serve).

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