Phillip Butler PhD - After the Vietnam War

After the War
Warrior for Peace & Justice

A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts. — Lao Tzu

Many of the people who shared the horror of the years in Vietnam prisons came home unchanged. Some are angry with me, some just befuddled, that I could have changed my mind about war. Others who were also tortured to within an inch of their lives vocally supported the Bush administration policies of torturing captives. I took a different path. We are the benefactors of the greatest legal document in history – the U.S. Constitution. It has been trampled. Many of our citizens are confused. But my position was, and unalterably is that those policies were simply illegal, immoral and inhumane.

I’m not a pacifist. There were times in the past when war made sense because there weren’t other options. Thoughtful people today understand the need to protect themselves, but fewer think that war makes sense any more. Sadly, our country has consistently used militarism and war as an instrument of foreign and economic policy. The United States has conducted over 100 military or quasi-military interventions into the affairs of other countries since the end of WW II. We spend more on arms and armament every year than all the other countries in the world combined.

The idea of war, after all, is for strangers to kill strangers in such numbers that one side finds the carnage too horrible to continue. And over the course of the past century it hasn’t been the combatants, but civilians who have become the primary victims. During World War One — “The War to End All Wars” — half of the casualties were actual combatants. Today, in a world where some thirty wars are currently being fought, 90% of the casualties are non-combatants, most of them women and children.

It has been more than 36 years since I returned from Vietnam. Much of what has happened to me during these nearly four decades I discuss in the “After the War” section. Today, having put the war years further behind me, I’m in a different place. Giving back to my community has become a big part of my life now. That includes being active with peace and justice, environmental and quality of life non-profit and community organizations. Besides my wife Barbara, our family and friends, I also enjoy golf, playing my piano, and doing some mentoring and public speaking.

I’m also writing a book now. Having put this task off for years, I feel that I’ve reached an age where I’ve gained a better perspective and am making a greater effort to keep an open mind. The other reason for writing the book – getting it all out – is that in my life there have been some extraordinary experiences, the recounting of which may provide clarity for others. Not that anyone needs to be held captive in a rat-infested prison and to be tortured by hostile and inhumane people. But yes, there were lessons there, in perseverance, team work, friendship, self-exploration, and keeping our sense of humor and optimism.

In this section I will recount some of the great pleasures I’ve found in family, friends, music, golf, with animals and nature, with giving back. This isn’t about promoting a lifestyle, but my overall intention is to put some light on activities that have benefitted me; activities that might offer a respite, or a new direction, for others. Again, if I need to say it, I’m not selling anything; just stirring the pot with one man’s story. Above all, it is with humility that I record these events of my life because you should know that I consider myself to be one of the luckiest men on the face of this beautiful earth.