Recently a friend closed down his second hand bookshop specialising in military books. I asked him if he had anything about military nurses. One of the books he recommended was Minefields and Miniskirts, a book about the experiences of thirty five women from various backgrounds who were involved in the Vietnam War, including entertainers, journalists and consular staff as well as nurses.
In addition to inevitable references to the brutal human cost of battle, this book shows another dark side of a war zone; one of racism, gang rape and torture. Where women aren’t safe in their own camps , and even performing on stage to entertain the troops can be fatal.
…a young Australian had only been two weeks in-country when she was shot dead on stage.
A GI killed her by mistake. He was actually shooting at his commanding officer, and she came into the line of fire while she was performing and died instantly.
The book also looks at the post war experiences of women, from health issues (PTSD, high rates of cancer, chronic illness, infertility, still births, early menopause…) and the lack of recognition of their service throughout the war.
Helen [Keayes] ran into Dr Peter Edwards, Australia’s official historian of the Vietnam era.
‘I said to him, “I was there. I was there for two years”, and he said, “That’s interesting”. And I said, “Well, aren’t you going to talk to me about it?” And he said, “oh no, I’m writing the official version of the war”.’
If the experiences of those in a war zone weren’t confronting enough, the families left at home have some of the saddest stories to tell.
Fom the loneliness of being left behind in military housing where the known absence of the “man of the house” could encourage prowlers intent on disturbing the wives and children of serving soldiers; to the changed personality of returned servicemen. Once gentle and amiable men turned violent and withdrawn, their newly expressed hostility often being picked up and mirrored by their children.
At first the children shrank from Tom’s outbursts, but the, Beryl realised to her horror, they started imitating him.
‘Instead of living with one Vietnam veteran, it was like I had three…’
As a Christian, I was saddened by one of the experiences described in the book, where some of those affected by the war in Vietnam confess to a loss of faith and an inability to continue believing in God.
“…I don’t believe in God anymore after my personal tragedy…”
While I can understand that loss, I see it results from an inadequate understanding; based on a belief that God’s primary function is to take care of us and keep us all from harm – that He should be at our beck and call to ensure the well-being of mankind. That in some way His existence is conditional upon the beneficence of the world around us. In other words, if terrible things happen, then God can’t exist.
But I see things in a different way. It’s up to us to conform to GOD’s ways and not for Him to dance to our tune, fixing the problems mankind causes. And it is mankind’s abandonment of God (as He GENUINELY is) that lead to the atrocities of war as well as the everyday, more mundane risks we face throughout life.