Is it more important to focus on the bigger picture in War?
Doing so would be to neglect the 58,000 soldiers who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War is often seen as an unclear part of our history in the United States. This conflict in some Americans minds was a war of ethics, a war of right and wrong. The United States entered the war in order to try to prevent the continuous slaughter of Southern Vietnamese people. What we can learn is what lies in the stories of the different people who were involved in the war.
The killing of the Southern Vietnamese posed an ethical problem for the United States. The U. S. saw it necessary to become involved. The masses involved male or female were sons, daughters, parents, spouses, and friends to others. What is important in this war is for us is to understand the experiences of the opposing citizens and soldiers involved. We more often than not overlook the personal experiences and aspects of the people involved in the war. In John McCain’s Faith of My Fathers and Nguyen Qui Duc’s La Fin d’un Cauchemar we are able to see the experiences of an American (McCain) and a Vietnamese family.
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Understanding these people’s points of view can be the most important lesson learned. Ones perception of the Vietnam War is often and easily skewed by outside sources such as media and movies. The personal accounts of the people who were actually involved in the war allow us the right to a better understanding. The two opposing perspectives in these narratives help their readers appreciate the gravity of the circumstances for the people involved. The torture, violence, and separation that these narratives revisit help us better understand the Vietnam War.
In the excerpt from Faith of Our Fathers, John McCain retells his account of the Vietnam War while he was a prisoner of war. McCain’s narrative shows its audience a different side of the war. John McCain was a naval aviator in the Vietnam War. He flew in bombing missions over North Vietnam. Preceding his twenty-third mission he was shot down, captured, and was tortured as a prisoner of war for five and a half years. (Kennedy, 2002, p. 249) Throughout the course of these years he was brutalized and beaten physically and mentally.
Senator McCain’s experience under the insurgence of his captors cultivated his opinion of the unjust implications of torture. “Vietnam ignored its obligations to mistreat the Americans they held prisoner, claiming that we were engaged in an unlawful war against them and thus not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. ” (McCain, 1999, p. 376) McCain’s narrative told from his first person point view provides its audience with a soldier’s perspective. In Faith of Our Fathers personalizes the Vietnam War with his experiences as a POW.
The soldiers in McCain’s narrative act as a model example of a United States Soldier in Vietnam. “I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free…” (McCain, 1999, p. 376) John McCain exemplified these traits from the United States Code of Conduct for American Prisoners of War. His story stands as a representation of the courage that the soldiers carried during the war. The horrifying description of torture dealt to both McCain and his fellow compatriots’ shows the inhumanity that went on.
The account of Lance Sijan, a Captain in the Air Force, is particularly compelling to the audience. He was shot down in Vietnam sustaining several injuries. Shortly after, he was captured by Viet Cong. “Interrogated several times, he refused to say anything. He was savagely beaten for his silence…and struck with a bamboo club. ” (McCain, 1999, p. 383) Despite the continued abuse that was placed on Sijan he refused to surrender his loyalty to his country. The way he and many other soldiers conducted themselves in spite of these conditions shows a different side of the war.
A side that varies from the common perception of a Vietnam soldier as being abnormal and deranged. These soldiers were dedicated to their purpose and their country. John McCain’s atypical narrative stems a better understanding of the Vietnam War for our generation. Much like and much different than Faith of Our Fathers, La Fin d’un Cauchemar by Nguyen Qui Duc shows a different side of the Vietnam War that generates a different respect and understanding for the war itself.
In La Fin d’un Cauchemar tells the story of a Vietnamese family, more importantly, the Vietnamese father and how his imprisonment in North Vietnam has an affect on the family. Duc’s father was imprisoned for over 12 years. During this period of time Nguyen’s family struggled in the communist lead society. La Fin d’un Cauchemar shows the experiences of a Vietnamese family in the light of what was going on around them. The Duc family stands representative of struggling Vietnamese families during the Vietnam War. Nguyen’s family was burdened with oppression, illness, and an imprisoned father.
After two years of not knowing the well-being or whereabouts of her father, Nguyen’s mother received a letter with the information that her husband was alive and imprisoned in a North Vietnamese POW camp. Nguyen’s mother “…fought for two months to get a permit to visit [her] father, and then wait just as long to get train tickets on the black market. ” (Duc, 1994, p. 419) The communist government of Vietnam dictated her family’s every move. The Vietnamese were severely oppressed. Following Nguyen’s mothers visitation of her father, the family was weighed down by illness and discontent.
Nguyen’s mother spent time and money visiting her father and in doing so injured herself. Nguyen’s mothers’ ankle injury became infected and at the same time her sister was dieing of kidney failure. Nguyen’s family was encumbered with problems. Nguyen Qui Duc’s narrative shows us an alternative side to the war. One that didn’t deal with soldiers or battle. Duc’s rarely narrated point of view places the reader in the perspective of the Vietnamese civilian. Our opinions are often distorted by outside sources. Outlets like movies skew our understanding of issues like the Vietnam War.
Michael Medved (2005) a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, author of 10 books, and film critic says that “It is far more common in contemporary war films, regardless of the conflict being depicted, for the three elements of the classic war movie to be turned on their heads. U. S. troops are more likely than not to be portrayed as sick, warped, and demented-in any case, very different from normal Americans. ” (Medved, 2005, p. 53) Movies, a major source for our generation’s knowledge and familiarity of the Vietnam War, lack credibility and prove to be inconsistent. Duc’s story is one not even touched upon in movies.
Most often movies are filmed through the eyes of the American soldiers. The perspective of the Vietnamese people is never witnessed. Individual first person accounts provide us with a concrete perspective of insiders that movies cannot. These two Vietnam narratives display different perspectives of the Vietnam War. One being the point of view of an American soldier and the other being a Vietnamese family. The personal experiences of these characters help us to understand the war itself. Our generation can learn from these experiences by reading and acknowledging the first hand retellings of Vietnam.
These narratives offer a real perspective of the Vietnam War, much different from that of the twisted and glamorized Hollywood angle. First person Vietnam narratives are the most insightful and dignified pieces of historical context we can obtain. While is necessary to recognize the bigger scheme of things it is important to understand the perspectives of the individuals involved on both sides, in order to put the Vietnam War itself in perspective.
- Kennedy, C (2002). Profiles in Courage for Our Time. New York: Hyperion Books.
- McCain J. & Salter M. 2006) Preface from Faith of My Fathers. In K. Ratcliffe (Ed. ), Critical Literacies (3rd ed. , p 374-387) Boston: Pearson Custom. (Reprinted from Faith of My Fathers, (1999), Random House, Inc. Copyright 1999 by John McCain. )
- Medved, M. , (2005). They don’t make war movies like they used to. USA Today, 134, 52-55.
- Nguyen Qui Du’c. (2006). La Fin d’un Cauchemar. In K. Ratcliffe (Ed. ), Critical Literacies (3rd ed. , p 418-425) Boston: Pearson Custom. (Reprinted from Where the Ashes are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family (1994), by Permission of the Author)
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