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Nineteen

I’m nineteen years old. Just finished my Leaving Cert (again) and hoping that I’ll be accepted into college next month. Every morning I get up to a few pages of my novel American Gods, followed by a glass of juice and a few episodes of Community. Every afternoon I either spend out with my friends, scaling the heights of an abandoned mental institution, playing football or making a blissful attempt at being a writer. Every day I wake up safe, my only worries the misfortunes of youth and my only fear is dogs (no way I can say that poetically, they scare me… don’t judge…)

Overall though; being 19 is fun. I’m too young for the weights of adulthood and free of the restraints of childhood. I’m luckily threading a fine line which unfortunately I’ll have to cross soon into the unknown waters of girls, college exams and work.

Recently however, I heard a statistic. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bother you with facts and statistics of historical events which will bore us all to tears and leave us with a sour taste in each other’s mouths.

One evening, while driving home with my Dad from a game the song 19 by Paul Hardcastle came on the radio, a song which, I’ll admit shrugged off, until I heard one line in the song.

“The average age of the soldier fighting in the Vietnam War was Nineteen Years Old”

I’m nineteen.

Most of my friends are nineteen.

Down to the great lottery which God plays we all happened to be born into 21st Century Cork City.  I know we complain and all that; how there is nothing to do and how we’ve no money, but imagine if the dice rolled wrong into March 1965? We’d have been thrust head first into the Vietnam War, our lives never to be the same again.

Between the period of 1965 and 1973, the American Army was embroiled in a bitter struggle against the Vietcong over the battlefields of Saigon and South Vietnam. During this period it is estimated that over 600,000 men fought deep in the jungles, with the average of nineteen. Meanwhile, young men who were deemed as intelligent by the American system and in college, were left out of the draft and saved from warfare.

Over in the battlefields of Vietnam, the young men trudged through the jungle, not fighting the trench warfare of days gone by or the tank battles of yesterday, but to take on gruella warriors coming from all angles. In searing heats, they marched through the thick bog land not knowing who their enemies where. Men and women would have been hiding anywhere, to spring upon them at any time, with no one to be trusted. Truces, such as on the festival of Tet in January 1968 where short lived, ushering in a battle of constant tension and danger.

Personally speaking, I can’t imagine crawling upon thorn and thistle, while bullets whizzed through the air and any step could bring death.  But imagine having to kill a person? To decide a person’s faith and being told to carry on that you did the right thing? When we see it in movies it’s grand, we all have sat through the new Batman or James Bond watching the Joker kill another innocent while Batman races to stop him, but we all shrug it off. Imagine seeing a person’s head taken off next to you in a heartbeat? Or even to sleep and shit in the same room with a person for six months then to have them gone in a second?   Following the Vietnam War, it is estimated that half of the Vietnam War soldiers returning, of an average age of nineteen suffered from the medical condition, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” to which the experiences of battle have been burned into their memories. One soldier, named “Roy” described it as, ““You can’t take a 19-year-old brain and subject it to the constant threat of death or injury by rocket fire and expect it not to be affected.”

These soldiers, whenever after six months of heavy combat or the medic in the sidelines, each came home battle scared and worn, with an estimated 100,000 “still fighting the war ten years on“. The problems of Vietnam where tumbled into the seventies and eighties, with many of the veterans suffering from drug addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts which lingered around leaving an almost thirst, with 100,000 having succumbed to these urges by 2015, with other homeless on the streets, and others constantly reliving the war in their only private theatre; forever nineteen.

Imagine having your whole world changed at nineteen? To be forever altered into such a way that you can’t hold down a relationship or even function from day to day? It’s something which scares me, fascinates me and intrigues me all at the same time. Like every other young person out there, I want to travel and experience the world, but not under the conditions of a foreign countries war and problems. I don’t want to kill a person. I want to grow up, get married and get a job.

Unfortunately though, some people are forever destined to be nineteen.

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