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December 10, 1973

Home From the War, Vietnam Veterans: Neither Victim Nor Executioners

Author Affiliations


JAMA. 1973;226(11):1363. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03230110051030

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History, sometimes called the propaganda of the victors, is given a grim twist in this account of America's lost war in Vietnam. It is both a lament and a guide to the warrior myth, examining the whole state of jungle warfare—its waste, despair, loneliness, and purposelessness. There are digressions into the impulse to butchery and the marks of atrocity on the survivor-executioner. Mostly, it is a guilt narrative, with chilling pertinence in the light of what we now read of our military adventures in Cambodia. G. K. Chesterton summed it up in lines he wrote many wars ago: "The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law—all these like sheep have gone astray."

Dr. Lifton, 46 years of age, is a professor of psychiatry at Yale. His fascination with man's inhumanity has already been indulged in a