Reaching Out Needs Compassion
by Sarah Terzo
We consistent life ethic supporters can become frustrated with those who commit acts of violence. But we must reach out to them with compassion. Harsh words only further entrench them. Here are two examples.
The Trauma of a Soldier
One example is that of a veteran named Don, who was interviewed in Plough Publishing’s book Bloody Hell.
At the time of the interview, Don was on death row in Pennsylvania. Interviewer Dan Hallock doesn’t give details about Don’s crime, but it might have been instigated by the PTSD symptoms Don suffered from his time in Vietnam.
Don describes seeing a soldier die for the first time:
I saw my first dead person, my first dead human being. I watched him die…He was running past my hole. A mortar round went off and he dropped right there, right in front of me, no more than two feet away. He looked at me and asked if I would help him… I said sure, I’d help him – he’d be fine. And then he just died…And I guess I felt something inside me die with him.
His name was Billy Boy. He was 19 years old. From the waist down he had no body left. Barely enough for his family to bury. 1
Don describes laughing with other soldiers while watching jets drop napalm on a grazing cow – and on innocent civilians.
He describes the aftermath of the attack:
An hour later we landed for a pickup and got to see the survivors. They were carrying their belongings and they had no place to go. It was like a parade across the rice paddy – a string of 75 or 100 peasants carrying burned and screaming babies, women, old men, some badly cut up with shrapnel wounds. 2
That night, Don got drunk for the first time in his life. Throughout his time in Vietnam, he used drugs and alcohol to cope.
The napalm attack was not the only atrocity Don witnessed or participated in. He describes how soldiers invaded villages and executed villagers:
[T]he villagers were all shot, their hands tied behind their backs, and the bodies were thrown into the Mekong.
We followed this pattern of destroying villages for the next three days… [T]he Mekong River was clogged with swollen bodies floating downstream. The water was the color of rust. 3
As traumatizing as these experiences were, Don began to feel that “only heavy combat and killing could make me feel so alive.”
He became reckless, and explains why:
[S]lowly I came to understand that I didn’t enjoy [combat], I’d only convinced myself that I did – to justify killing other humans. It was a way of denying the guilt I felt – that I hated myself for what I was doing. I eagerly went into those deathtrap situations because I was trying to kill myself – to end the anguish. 4
Eventually, Don was sent to an award ceremony where he was slated to receive the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. He describes being angered by the brigade commander’s “words of glory and praise and how war is hell but necessary” and says, “I hated him because he sent young boys into steamy jungles to die while he relaxed in the comfort of his plush, air-conditioned office.”5
Don expressed his contempt by urinating on stage, aiming for the commander’s leg. He left without his medal.
Sent home from Vietnam
When he got back to his platoon, he started to cry and couldn’t stop. He says:
For two days I wept continuously… All I could think about were the people I had killed, about the good men I saw die, about my buddy – and I kept crying until our company doctor sedated me. 5
He was sent to see a psychiatrist and told the doctor about everything he’d seen and done during his time in Vietnam. According to Don, “All he did was put me on 60 mg of Valium a day and lock me in a room for two weeks.” 6
Finally, Don “fell apart – complete emotional collapse” and they sent him home. He believes they dismissed him “Not because I fell apart, but because I had nothing left. I was of no use to them anymore.” 6
They had sucked everything out of me – all I had – my strength, my humanity, my youth – I had nothing left, so they sent me home. Okay, we’re done with you – you can go now.
So, they sedated me and took me to 3rd Field Surg in Saigon. A doctor wrote in the record: suffering physical and emotional exhaustion, malaria, and drug addiction; subject weighs a mere 118 pounds; recommend release from combat status.7
The military gave him no help with his emotional trauma. He says, “They didn’t fix me or help me or anything – they just pumped me full of Valium and dumped me in the middle of Main Street, USA.” 8
Reenlisting after verbal abuse
At first, he was happy to be back home. But then, he was treated cruelly by antiwar activists. Their anger and rejection caused him to turn around and go right back into the military:
I thought, “Wow. Unbelievable. I’m home, really back home.” But then people started yelling at us. Someone spit at me. They were calling us murderers, trying to pin the whole thing on us as if we were personally responsible for the war.
I just couldn’t take that kind of a reception, so I hopped right back onto the next plane for Nam. I knew there were guys who understood me back there. We understood one another . . . 9
The antiwar activists were on the right side. They were opposing violence and atrocities overseas. But the cruel treatment they gave Don caused him to go back to the war, despite how much it had traumatized him.
An Abortion Worker Acknowledges She is Killing
Judith Fetrow worked in an abortion facility. Like Don, she was also emotionally traumatized by her job.
She was in charge of disposing of aborted babies and says, “I did not particularly want this job. However, I did not want to see the babies treated disrespectfully. I did not want to hear Janice callously say she was taking the kids and putting them into daycare.”
Fetrow knew abortion killed children. When pro-lifers outside the facility mistook her for a patient, she taunted them: “When someone begged me not to kill my baby, I’d look at them and say, “oh, I’m not here to kill my baby. I’m here to kill other people’s babies.”
When they asked her when she thought life begins, she would answer, “Life begins at conception and what I do is murder.”
While many abortion providers deny that abortion is the taking of a life, a surprising number have admitted publicly that abortion kills babies.
Harm to workers and women
Fetrow describes the emotional trauma workers experienced:
[I] saw two types of women working at the clinic. One group were women who had found some way to deal with the emotional and spiritual toll of working with abortion. The second group were women who had closed themselves off emotionally… You could look in their eyes and see that they were emotionally dead. Unavailable for themselves, or for anyone else.10
She also witnessed harm to women:
I watched Dr. William P— perforate [puncture] a woman’s uterus and then lie about the severity of the perforation.
The most horrifying complication that I witnessed was a woman who stopped breathing during the abortion. Dr. Michael S— just walked out of the room when he was finished.
Despite my telling him that our client was not breathing, he left me alone with her. When Dr. S— was forced to return we didn’t even follow emergency protocol for that situation. It was a miracle that this woman didn’t die.
She began having doubts about what she was doing, saying, “I began to wonder if we were really caring for these women, or if we were just working for another corporation whose only interest was the bottom line.”
Leaving the clinic – only to return
One day, Fetrow was so upset she decided to quit. But on the way out of the abortion facility for what she intended to be the last time, pro-lifers started shouting at her, “Murderer! The blood is on your hands!” She felt as though “someone had kicked me in the stomach,” and returned to the abortion facility.
Fetrow did eventually leave her job and went on to oppose abortion. Pivotal in her conversion was the patience and compassion of a pro-lifer who befriended her.
Judith and Don’s stories illustrate the need to reach out to people on “the other side” with compassion. While Fetrow eventually found her way out, Don never did. Could his story have ended differently if activists had reached out to him with compassion?
- Dan Hallock Bloody Hell (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House, 1999) 46
- Ibid., 50 – 51
- Ibid., 52
- Ibid., 53
- Ibid., 47
- Ibid., 53-54
- Ibid., 54
- “Is Abortion Good for Women?” Rachel MacNair, Angela Kennedy. Swimming Against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion(Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1997) 82
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