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U.S. Soldiers in Vietnam War through My Lai

The United States has always been involved in many wars and battles. It has set foot in different battlefields in many different continents and countries. In Asia, one of the very popular wars which happened in recent memory is the Vietnam War, an armed conflict involving the North Vietnam and South Vietnam. But they weren’t the only ones involved in this battle. The United States also participated in this war in lieu of its fight versus communisms fought the communist Viet Cong soldiers.

The US soldiers, upon return home, brought with them stories of their life personally and as part of the military unit in Vietnam. These stories of individuals and their experiences, both collective and individual, provide solid proof about soldiering, the impact of war on soldiers and the real experiences of soldiers in the battlefield which often contrasts in the image that other people want to create about war, especially supporters of war and those who glorify war who wanted to make the rest of the people believe that war is somewhere where glory and honor and genuine valor can be attained.

But the stories of survivors depicted through real and fictitious story illustrate about the real monstrosity and inhumane attributes of war. The experiences of the United States soldiers who participated in the Vietnam War are testament to this particular idea. The United States were torn because there were those who wanted the United States to stop meddling. They believe it is senseless to have American blood spilled in a foreign country especially when the public does not fully understand what the US has to gain from this very costly participation of the US military.

The other group consisted of supporters who believe that there is honor in defending the ideals of the country, even if it means sending young US soldiers in a far away South East Asian countries. During the course of the Vietnam War, many soldiers have died and were sent home in boxes and body bags. Upon the return of those who survived, they spoke of stories about their experiences during the war.

The most unforgettable stories are those about experiences of monstrous and inhumane actions that US soldiers undertake while in Vietnam, which included killing unarmed civilians and other acts that became larger than life and traumatized the soldiers. How does `The Things They Carried` and ` My Lai ` challenge the myth of personal valor and glory? The collection of literary works entitled “The Things They Carried” and the popular My Lai (where the My Lai Massacre happened) are two aspects which can help redefine the understanding of personal valor and glory among American soldiers fighting in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Without the consideration of what these two implicates, personal valor and glory among soldiers participating in the war can be simplistic. Personal valor maybe easily considered as something originating and emanating from other personal values like courage, patriotism and nationalism; while glory is something that these soldiers attain when they battle (and die) honorably in the battlefield, regardless of the fact that they either won or lost.

But in consideration to the tales of the lives of the American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War and the very personal tales and stories that they shared to the world about what happened to them inside and in between battles and skirmishes while fighting the war, and the stories about the things that they did in the name of and for the sake of war, the idea of personal valor and glory somewhat changes.

It becomes askew and distorted and has changed on a person to person basis; My Lai and The Things They Carried proves this. For example, during the investigation of the My Lai massacre, soldiers who undertook the execution of the unarmed Vietnamese reduced the ideas of personal valor and glory into a more simplistic and brute bullying (for personal valor) and simple obeying of task (for the supposed feeling of glory felt after the victory of military units from an engagement with the enemy).

In this perspective, the common idea of valor and glory that is used as important moral linchpins of movies that justifies the act of war and the sacrifice of human lives becomes non existent. When that happens, the experiences of the soldiers become bereft of honor and are characterized only by the presence of brutality, monstrosity and inhumane mass murder that is unacceptable in the consideration to the human values of the modern times. Does this really apply to the military personnel physically fighting the conflict?

The idealistic understanding of personal valor and glory and the realistic interpretation of these two notions both apply to the military personnel physically fighting the conflict, and to stress the point, more intensively to them compared to those who are actually far from the armed conflict, away from the proverbial belly of the beast, those military leaders who are leading the operation through the armchair because between the two kinds of the soldiers, it is the soldiers in the frontline for which these concepts apply.

This is because (1) these soldiers are the ones who are immersed in the idea of the idealistic personal valor and glory for them to be operational, useful and effective; (2) these soldiers are the ones who needs the idealistic interpretation of the idea of personal valor and glory because they need a moral foothold which they can use to justify their actions in combat and not make them feel guilty, remorseful, apologetic and in the long term, more combative ineffective and a risk to the operation and to the unit fighting on the ground; (3) and lastly, it is these soldiers who are more vulnerable to experiencing the true horrors of combat because these soldiers are mere followers who execute the orders of those in higher command. It is they who get their hands dirty and their feet deep in the mud – figuratively and literally.

In the My Lai massacre, the members of the helicopter crew, who saw the victims of the massacre and was shocked at the attitude of the soldiers on the ground who went on the killing rampage, represented the soldiers who went to war carrying with them the ideals of personal valor and glory. This is to show courage in the face of the enemy by doing what is honorably right; and that is to fight, die or retreat, or take the surrendering enemy soldiers, winning the feeling of glory after accomplishing something the soldier believes he or she has done honorably even during wartime. That was what Warrant Officer One Hugh Thompson Jr. was probably feeling since he was in a genuine state of shock about what just happened.

But for the case of soldiers like Captain Medina, the idea of personal valor may or may not be honorable at the same time. Glory was something they accomplished in ways which may not be honorable as well, like the massacre at My Lai (Olson 113). The ideal personal valor was also present in Norman Bowker in one of the stories of The Things They Carried since he went to war in the belief that he should use his courage to help the military win the war through little ways, including the act of saving his fellow soldiers. When he failed to do this, he was distraught, feeling that his personal valor was not enough to save a man’s life. And worse, there was no glory to be found in their expedition in Vietnam.

He felt that the rest of the country had a grim picture of what really happened in Vietnam due to the stories from soldiers that surfaced and was made known to the public (O’Brien 13). All of this points to the fact that the soldiers who are physically present in the Vietnam War are the ones who, because of their experiences, extensively challenge the ideas of personal valor and glory and combat and re-shapes these ideals based from what they experience in the field. The strife found in the United States during the Vietnam conflict “The Vietnam War was a traumatic event for the US with a divided nation losing more than 48,000 dead and 300,000 wounded (Cameron 9). ” The participation of the United States and the presence of American soldiers in Vietnam during the Vietnam War created a social strife.

Aside from the individuals and entities that support the idea of sending US troops there, there are also those who oppose this move by the government. The opposition was largely connected to the earlier arguments. Those who oppose challenge the morality and sense of honor that should have been present among those who take part in wars and battles and armed conflicts. In this case, many believe that the US had none; and in the battlefield, it was no different and proof of which are the stories of the soldiers. Those who participated in the My Lai massacre became unfeeling and unremorseful; while those who witnessed it were shocked that their fellow US soldiers can do such a thing like former soldier stationed in Vietnam Ronald Ridenhour who, after being informed by Pfc (Olson, Roberts 1).

“He hoped that they would just tell him that Gruver had been drunk or had exaggerated or had just plain lied (Olson, Roberts 2). ” But when he finally established that the horrible story was true, he was a changed soldier from that point on. In The Things They Carried, the soldiers told different stories but the main idea is the same. The US soldiers being there does not seem right. As a result, everything that happens to them (i. e. the loss of their loved ones back home, the loss of their friends in the frontline, their predicament inside Vietnam while fighting and a lot of other things) does not feel right as well. Soldiers who were there were thinking of something else.

While in the war soldiers like Jimmy Cross were consumed by other things, like the times when he “imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire (O’Brien 1). ” There are those who’d rather be somewhere else because they cannot find glory or valor or other virtues in their being there. Because of the Vietnam conflict, people were split into two beliefs. The beliefs about the ideals on war which young, previously inexperienced soldiers brought with them to Vietnam were, upon their return to the US, were also split because they cannot fully negotiate what happened in Vietnam, what they did there and what the ideal morals of soldiering and honorable fighting dictates.

The strife, therefore, is found not just among groups opposing or supporting the war but also inside every soldier who was torn psychologically and emotionally. Did the news media create a new story or has war always created the scars from horror, fear, and personnel trauma that average citizens do not want to be exposed to? Today, there are many works of fiction which are set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Movies, short stories, as well as television shows, etc. , are made in the effort to depict the lives of the soldiers during the Vietnam War. While the creators claim they are work of fiction, it cannot be denied that much of the inspirations for these works of fiction are real life stories by soldiers.

They experienced it because, while participating inside the war, the process of being in a war, like the Vietnam War, is a process that gives soldiers scars of horror, fear and personal trauma they still carry (Johnson, Parrent 34) that average citizens do not want to be exposed to or can never be exposed to because these things are experienced only inside war. The collection The Things They Carried featured soldiers with scars of horror, fear and personal trauma. Bob Kiley got too much of war and nearly lost his sanity; Bowker was haunted by his failure to save Kiowa; Henry Dobbins appreciated the gift of serenity and silence and wanted to be a monk after serving in Vietnam War because of the effects of the war itself on his consciousness. In the My Lai massacre, soldiers still find it disturbing and haunting everytime they come face to face with the images of what they did in the place codenamed by US as Pinksville.

The news media did not create any of it; but they allowed these stories to reach the consciousness of the Americans who were not in Vietnam during the war and did not participated in the armed conflict. These are serious, haunting and disturbing images and snippets of life integrated to the psyche of individuals whose lives are forever completely changed because of the war. For example, the reporting of the BBC news about the carnage was not borne out of the imagination of BBC but was a recounting of what has happened there. The burning house, the dead people most of which were women and children, the raped women, the destroyed livestock (BBC 1) – all of these were reported by BBC through a descriptive narrative retelling that created a larger than life story that is both terrifying and shocking.

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