Conspiracies and Patriotism

Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon.

Conspiracies and Patriotism

I have been and still am skeptical about most conspiracy theories.  It seems to me that some people want to believe that there are various conspiracies perpetrated by extremely intelligent and powerful people who are controlling and manipulating world events.  I think this is much more comforting to believe than the alternative, which is that the people running the world are not so very intelligent, that they actually have very little control, and world events are largely in uncontrolled chaos.  The world is flying on a wing and a prayer.

In 1971 in Vietnam I briefed the Secretary of the Army one on one, and then listened to him and a three-star general discuss what was going on in Vietnam.  They were both very good men.  And they both had many sources of information.  But they seemed clueless and uncertain.  This undermined any illusion that I had that someone “up there” was in charge and knew what was going on.  They sounded like two privates in the mess.  I suppose that even if they had known exactly what was going on, the President would not have allowed them to do anything about it.  No one wanted to start a larger war with China or Russia.

About ten years later at a conference I asked Walt Rostow, LBJ’s former Assistant for National Security Affairs, what plans they had for averting nuclear war.  He just shrugged and said that they were trying to hang on and hope that future generations would solve this problem.   Here again I was unable to maintain any illusion that someone knew exactly what was going on and was in control.  I was depressed for several days afterward.

I recently watched Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), which implies that there was a conspiracy of hawks within the government who assassinated JFK because he was soft on communism and was not going to send troops to Vietnam.  I also watched the award-winning documentary, The Fog of War (2003), in which Robert MacNamara, the much reviled former Secretary of Defense, recounts at length his service in the administration before and after the assassination of JFK, as well as his work with Curtis LeMay during WWII.  It has been said that the crazy general in Dr. Strangelove (1964) was based on Curtis LeMay, or at least his ilk of hawks in the military and government.

After watching these films I am no longer so skeptical of Oliver Stone.  He may be exactly right.  People seem to forget that the American war in Vietnam was engineered by “The Greatest Generation.”  The administration and the highest echelons of the military were replete with WWII veterans.  These boys had to be extremely tricky, sneaky, and paranoid to stop Hitler and Tojo, and I’m glad they were.  But if there was a conspiracy of WWII hawks in the administration who assassinated JFK, they must have lived long enough to see what havoc, folly, and stupidity they wreaked in Vietnam.  So much for being in control.  So much for being intelligent.  But they probably went to their graves blaming doves for everything.

As far as I can tell this is still one of the best countries in the world, and has the most freedoms.  But it still leaves much to be desired.  I am patriotic about the Constitution of the United States of America, and the checks and balances to protect against oppression and corruption.  I am patriotic about the flag, and the republic for which it stands.  I am patriotic about men and women who, for the sake of the ideals of freedom, and for others, gave so much.  They gave their lives.  There is no greater love.  They gave their children.  They gave their limbs and their health.  They lived in pain from injuries and shrapnel in their bodies all the days of their lives.  They lived all the days of their lives with PTSD and horror for all the killing and destruction and cruelty they had witnessed and sometimes perpetrated.  But I am not patriotic about conspiracies, greed, stupidity, arrogance, hubris, violence as a national policy instead of a last resort, and wars based on false rationalizations.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, we can supply you with a list of available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.

Mike Muller:  MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff he briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  He was in Vietnam for one tour.

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Morality, Pacifism, Killing, and Torture

DSC00069Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon. 

Morality, Pacifism, Killing, and Torture

In 1968 I was about to graduate from college, and I knew there was a high probability that I would be drafted into the war in Vietnam.  I had been in Catholic schools for sixteen years, so I had sixteen years of religion and theology classes.  I considered my options.  I could go into the military, leave the country and renounce my citizenship, refuse to be drafted and therefore be imprisoned for two years, go into medical school, go into the seminary for the Catholic priesthood, or claim I was a pacifist.  I did not want to be a physician, and I knew I did not have the “gift” of celibacy.  As a Catholic I could hardly claim I was a pacifist.  Personally I had to admit that if I stood by and failed to defend someone weak and helpless from an attacker, I would be disgusted with myself.  No, in all honesty I had to admit that if I needed to defend myself or others, I would do so.  Therefore I was not a pacifist.

I did not think my country had the right to draft me into a war that had little to do with our national security.  On the other hand, would it be wrong to let them draft me?  It seemed to me that the Catholics in Vietnam were fighting for their religious freedom, so I didn’t think it would be wrong for me to help them.  That was my thinking at the time.  Later I changed my opinion about that.  In the historical theories of the “just war” there must be some hope of winning it.  Our logic and motivations and implementation in the war in Vietnam was so FUBAR that it was immoral.

Clearly there is such a thing as a “just war.”  Defending ourselves with lethal force is sometimes necessary and even good.  Just as I would be disgusting if I failed to defend the helpless against attackers, so it could be disgusting to be so weak and stupid as to fail to use lethal force when it was needed.  WWII is a clear example of a just war, and it is clear that we would have been weak, stupid, and disgusting if we failed to fight against Hitler.  Einstein was at first a pacifist, but finally had to admit that it was necessary for people to fight against Hitler.  Many pacifists make that same switch.  Pacifism is fine as an intellectual theory, but when you see someone killing your friends you see a different truth.  It seems that everyone would agree that killing is bad, but if you look at it from the perspective of defending against those who would harm you or others, then killing can be “good,” or the right thing to do.  But of course we always want to review that situation and ensure that killing was truly the last resort.

This is the case with police officers.  They occasionally need to kill people to defend themselves or others.  Everyone would agree that, generally speaking, killing is “bad,” but almost everyone would also want a police officer to kill anyone who was trying to harm you or your family if there was no other option.  Some police officers are extremely brave when they refrain from pulling the trigger long past the time when they would have been justified to do so.  They are risking their lives in the hope of saving the other person’s life.  But we don’t take killing lightly.  And we don’t want any kill-happy officers on the force.  So each and every time there is a killing, there is an administrative review to ensure that the officer as a last resort made a reasonable and prudent decision to use lethal force.  Even imprisonment is “bad.”  It is not good to deprive people of their freedoms.  But sometimes it is necessary and good.

In recent years there has been much self-righteous posturing in the media about the morality of torture.  People keep saying, “Torture is bad.”  I keep looking for an intelligent and informed discussion of the morality of torture that is comparable to historical discussions of the morality of war and killing.  I am disappointed and dismayed.  Recently a retired member of the CIA who was in charge of the interrogation of terrorists was interviewed by a prominent journalist on national TV.  These are both people who are at the pinnacle of their professions, but not once did they refer in any intelligent way to the morality of torture.

When I was a young man I had to ask myself personally if I could be a pacifist, and in doing this I imagined a personal situation which would be a critical test of that proposition.  Could I stand by and watch if I saw my wife, sister, child, or anyone being attacked?  Clearly the answer to that was no.  Similarly, I now imagine a personal situation which would be a critical test of the morality of torture.  If my child were being held by kidnappers and I had captured one of them, and he refused to give me information about who was holding my child and where, would I torture him?  In a New York minute, yes, and I think almost everyone would do the same.  People say that there are much more sophisticated psychological techniques that are more effective than torture, and as a psychologist I know this to be true.  However, those techniques are time consuming, and my child would most likely be dead before they were effective.  So I would torture the person to get the information necessary to save my child’s life.  Furthermore, I think it would disgusting of me if I were too weak and stupid to be willing to do this when it was necessary.  How could I stand by and allow my child to be imprisoned, tortured, or killed?

We authorize and train our soldiers to kill people.  We begin this in high school and sometimes even in elementary school when, in ROTC, we train our young children how to use a rifle.  How outraged we are when other countries train their children to kill!  We are hypocrites.  In theory killing should be done only when it is necessary as a last resort in order to defend ourselves or others.  We authorize our police officers to kill people when it is necessary as a last resort.  But we know human nature, and we don’t want any kill-happy soldiers or kill-happy police officers.  If an action in war is called into question, we review it.  If a police officer must kill, we always review it.  So if the military or the CIA has a terrorist in captivity, and they have reason to believe that the terrorist has knowledge that could prevent the deaths of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people, torture may from time to time be necessary and “good.”  It should not be routine, and we have to beware of torture-happy people such as those at Abu Ghraib.  Psychological research shows clearly that this is likely to happen if we fail to guard against it and review it constantly.  Those in command of Abu Ghraib failed to guard against this.  Sometimes even the administrators of our domestic prisons fail to guard against guards who become sadistic.  All known psychological techniques for effective interrogation should be exhausted, if time allows, before torture is used as a last resort.  In most cases torture should not be necessary, and would therefore be wrong.

I know this is a bitter and terrifying pill for some people to swallow, but this is the nature of the world we live in.  Thus far the human race has been unable to stop the warring, the killing, the imprisoning, and the torturing.  We need to do everything we can to achieve peace in this world, but so far, the necessity of defending ourselves remains.  Our enemies can be foreign terrorists, or burglars and rapists who live nearby.  They may even be members of our own families.  This is what we face as human beings.  I think we can take comfort in the knowledge that most of the time we do in fact live in peace and love.  Most of the time people obey the laws and treat each other with respect and love.  We must do everything we can to live in peace and love, and do everything insofar as possible, to follow the examples of Gandhi and MLK in pursuing nonviolent resistance.

Read Part One-

Morality: The Gap Between Civilians and Combat Veterans

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, we can supply you with a list of available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.

Mike Muller:  MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff I briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  I was in Vietnam for one tour.

A Dream of Heaven

DSC00069Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam Veteran and has been a Psychologist counseling veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon.   

When I was about eighteen I realized I had to choose a career.  I asked myself what I liked to do best.  That was reading novels.  Of course I didn’t think I could earn a living at that.  When I was younger and slaving away in my father’s boat factory, I would sneak into his office when he was away and write stories on a manual typewriter.  So I decided I would be a writer.  However, I did not want to be irresponsible like my father.  Depending on which description you might be comfortable with, my father and his father were gangsters, hustlers, gamblers, or sharp operators.  The boat factory was my father’s brief effort to get out of the bar business.  The bar business can be a front for all sorts of activities.  Our family income was highly variable.  I did not want to be like my father.  I did not want to be irresponsible, and I figured that being a writer was very unreliable and irresponsible when it came to taking care of a family.  So I decided to get a doctorate in English, which would enable me to have a job.  The Vietnam war intervened.  I could have avoided Vietnam by joining a seminary or going to medical school, but I had already decided to get a doctorate in English.  After my tour in Vietnam I began working on my doctorate.  I hated it.  Reading literary criticism all day, day after day, was boring for me.  I switched to working on a doctorate in counseling psychology, and used my graduate courses in English for a masters degree in creative writing.  My masters thesis was a series of short stories about Vietnam.

My first job after earning my doctorate was at a Vet Center in 1981.  I had not learned anything about PTSD in graduate school—the diagnosis had just been recognized!  But I quickly learned about it at the Vet Center.  So many of the veterans were incandescent with rage then, just as many of the veterans freshly returned from war are today.  I also soon realized that I myself had some of the symptoms of PTSD, although not enough of them to be diagnosed with PTSD.  I told myself that God had let me have just enough symptoms myself so that I would be able to understand and help the veterans who had PTSD.  In about 1984 I began writing a novel based on some of my experiences in Vietnam.  Writing the novel was very emotional for me.

In Vietnam I had been an advisor, living and working with the Vietnamese.  In my novel I wanted to help people to understand PTSD, and I also wanted to depict the war from all sides—South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, and Americans.  Over the years I revised the novel many times.  Toward the end of my career as a psychologist I began to realize I had been around violence all my life.  My father was violent and associated with violent people, and others in my family did the same.  My childhood response to that was to avoid conflict and retreat into the world of reading novels!  In high school I thought the “tough guys” were just children compared to my family.  In Vietnam I lived on a Vietnamese compound where one never knew for sure who was the enemy, because the compound was of course infiltrated by enemy agents and sympathizers.  Would my throat be cut at night?  And of course all of the military operations were with the Vietnamese, not Americans.  After graduate school I began to work for the VA.  I enjoyed and liked veterans, but at the same time I was also around many enraged and violent people on a regular basis, and the hypervigilance I had learned at an early age became well engrained into my character.  There were many times that I could have been killed if I had said or done the wrong thing.  My peers tended to refer dangerous patients to me because I was big and seemed calm under pressure.  Thanks a lot!  Eventually I had to admit that after a lifetime of being around violence I had PTSD myself.  I had my own episodes of incandescent rage.

Recently, after twenty-seven years since I wrote the first draft, I published my novel on Kindle.  It is A Dream of Heaven, written under my pen name, Michael FitzGordon.  I hope that people will read it and enjoy it.  Bob Kerrey read an earlier draft and wrote that it was “a compelling portrait of the destructive force of hatred, the ravaged psyches of those who have experienced war, and the enduring power of faith and love.”  I hope that people will gain a greater understanding of how one can develop PTSD.  The main characters are both American and Vietnamese, and I hope that readers will see war from both sides, see the folly of war, and work harder to avoid war.

Mike Muller

*MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff I briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  I was in Vietnam for one tour.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, we can supply you with a list of available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.

Writers and PTSD

Mike Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years.  He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon. 

I was thinking about all the writers who may have had PTSD:  Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Erich Maria ReMarque, C. S. Lewis, Kurt Vonnegut, James Jones, J. D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway.  PTSD can be very socially isolating.  One of my great- great grandfathers, who lost an eye in the Civil War, lived out the end of his life in a cabin in the woods.  Why do so many people with PTSD tend to become reclusive?  Is it because they have lost their trust in people, and so tend to be nervous and jumpy around them?  If you expect good things from people, then you will derive feelings of security, love, and companionship with them.  Or perhaps those with PTSD just get tired of the people around them not being able to understand or empathize with their point of view.  So those with PTSD often tend to become isolated.

It seems to me that writing can fit well with this syndrome.  Writing is most often a solitary profession.  Writers need to be able to tolerate and even enjoy long periods of solitude.  Writing is also a way of trying to sort out and understand the meaning of what happened to you, and the meaning of what is going on in the world.  Therefore, I do not think it would be at all surprising if we discovered that quite a few writers were people with PTSD who were trying to sort out the meaning of what happened to them and the meaning of human nature in this world.

I was recently viewing an old film of an interview with James Jones, and he was talking about writers as observers of society who were thus doomed to be outsiders.  This resonated with my own feeling of being an outsider.  Yet he clearly had PTSD, and had the cynicism and anger and protectiveness that so often accompany PTSD, and I wonder if his feeling like an outsider was as much or more from his PTSD than his work in life as a writer.  Perhaps it was the tsunami of war and PTSD that propelled him toward being a writer.

But each writer is different.  When I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina  I do not have a sense that he had PTSD.  He apparently served in a war zone, but he was from the upper classes, and I wonder if he served as an officer who was insulated from the action.  He writes beautifully, but there is no sense of inner devastation that comes with PTSD.  He unquestionably shows a profound sensitivity to social nuances and the psychology of the upper classes.  He describes with clarity and finesse the psychology of Anna leading up to her throwing herself under a train.  Why then is there not that same clarity and finesse in describing the psychology of men in combat?

I think J. D. Salinger clearly had PTSD, although he never wrote directly about his war experiences, which were horrific.  I think the cynicism and alienation of his young character, Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye, is actually the cynicism and alienation of a man with PTSD.  Salinger became quite reclusive, and drove around his property in a Jeep wearing a military jacket.

I’m very curious about C. S. Lewis.  When I was younger I liked science fiction.  But I tried several times to read Lewis’s science fiction trilogy: Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength.  It was so stuffy, dry, and British that I always lost interest.  A few years ago I listened to a series of lectures about his life and work.  This led me to read Mere Christianity, in which he gives a lively, far from stuffy, non-denominational defense of Christianity.  In his earlier life he had forsaken Christianity and become an atheist who was very adept at debating and defending his atheistic point of view among the academics at Oxford University.   He was raised as a Christian, but his mother died when he was nine years old.  His father sent him and his brother off to a boarding school that had a hazing system in which the older boys tormented the younger ones.  Furthermore, the headmaster was apparently an overbearing man who was subsequently hospitalized for mental problems.  The young Lewis was miserable.  He had lost his mother and been sent away from his home and his father to live in a cold and hostile environment.  These kinds of experiences in childhood tend to make one more vulnerable to later traumatic experiences.  I wonder if these traumatic experiences led to him forsaking his belief in God.  He also served in WWI, and was wounded.  He referred briefly to the horrors of the trench warfare, but never wrote about it in detail.  He and his good friend had a pact that if one of them was killed, the other would care for the dead man’s family.  His friend was killed, and Lewis suffered another loss to death.  He kept his pact and took care of his friend’s mother for the rest of her life, bringing her to live in his home, and even calling her his mother.  Some have wondered whether he actually had a romantic relationship with this woman, while others have observed that she was difficult, and that there was probably no romantic relationship.  Yet there was no other romantic relationship during that period of his life!  After she died he fell in love with Joy Gresham, but she died of cancer a few years later.

Given this pattern of experiences in Lewis’s life I would not be surprised at all if had PTSD.  But as far as I know he never wrote directly about his war experiences.  He did write about his devastating grief.  He couldn’t seem to catch a break.  He experienced one death after another.  His mother, his friend in the war, his friend’s mother, and finally his beloved wife.  He had met and married his wife late in life, and was “surprised by joy,” but after only a few years she too died.  He developed a torturous relationship with God, and wrote about his attempts to try to understand why God had taken away
so many of his loved ones.

One of the patterns of PTSD is that of delayed onset.  A person in combat keeps a stiff upper lip, and dissociates from his fear and anger in order to function effectively and survive in combat.  After the war he continues to dissociate and function effectively.  “It didn’t bother me.  Those guys who get PTSD or become ‘nervous in the service’ are weak.”  Then, years later, the person is overwhelmed by the symptoms of PTSD and is forced to admit that in retrospect he can see that he’s had the symptoms all along, but has suppressed or hidden them, either consciously or unconsciously.  He thought it was normal, for example, to be so hypervigilant.  Then in later life he
had a brush with death or some other traumatic event that brought it all out.  I think we see this with C. S. Lewis.  In his late life he was devastated by the loss of his wife.  Was it just an excessive grief?  I don’t think so.  I think he was devastated in a way that was consistent with PTSD.  He was questioning God and wanting to know why this could be such a world as this.  Here is this man with latent PTSD writing so many books and providing so many answers for so many of the important questions in life, and suddenly in his late life he feels devastated, like a fool with none of the answers.  I’d be willing to bet that he had PTSD.

Other Related Posts by Mike:

Mike Muller:  MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970.  Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971.  In addition to briefing the staff I briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army.  I was in Vietnam for one tour.

Disclaimer: If you are needing more extensive assistance or counseling, we can supply you with a list of available agencies to assist you. No blogs are ever meant to substitute a person seeking help through professional counseling.

A Woman Inventor the Veteran Administration Ignored

Bessie Blount was an African American woman who led a life that was dedicated to helping those in need. She was a physical therapist and an inventor of apparatus that was designed to help the amputees that suffered permanent injuries in World War II. Bessie Blount has been called a "savior of the handicapped" for her invention that allowed World War II disabled veterans to feed themselves, and for her unique method of teaching them to write again.
Honoring Bessie Blount. She died on December 30, 2009 in Newfield, New Jersey. Via

Here is a woman everyone should know about especially American Veterans. Her name is Bessie Blout and she was a highly accomplished woman. She was born in Virginia and moved to New Jersey to pursue becoming  a physical therapist. Later she finished her training in Chicago.

After graduating she taught Physical Therapy at a hospital in New York, but also became an inventor of devices that were instrumental in helping soldiers who were injured (World War Two) to  become independent and feed themselves.

The device was used for a soldier in a wheelchair or a bed. Each time the soldier would bite down on the tube, it would transport food one bite at a time. She later invented a smaller portable device (Portable receptacle  support) that could be worn around the neck (see image below).

Drawing and Description of Bessie Blount's Invention: Drawing of Invention - Bessie Blount Honoring Black American Inventor
Bessie Blount’s patent was filed in 1951 under her married name of Bessie Griffin. Photo Credit: USPTO

The United States Veteran’s Administration did not support either of her devices. She then sold them to France and gave them the patent rights in 1952. They used them for their war veterans. She wanted to show, “that a Black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind.”

She created another helpful device that the VA also rejected and never used in their hospitals. It was the invention of a disposable cardboard emesis basin.  Her item was also never patented in America so she sold it to Belgium where the basins are still being used throughout their country.  American hospitals continue to use the old standard basins of 1913.

In 1969, Bessie began a career in forensic science with law enforcement, and became a chief document examiner.

In 1977, she became the first Black woman to train and work at Scotland Yard, after J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director, turned down her application.

Bessie was named as one of many notable Virginia women in history in 2005

Learn about some other Inspirational women