Exploring the various links for this assignment was not only insightful but, more importantly, enlightening. There were the webpages concerning the history of the Vietnam War, including the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the page providing details on the various American aircraft was very engaging. But, no matter how interesting these pages seemed to be, the most compelling are the ones that are written by the people who were there during the time. The link titled “Reflections” provides several essays written by such people. For example, “The Volunteer” was written from the perspective of a former Marine Corps enlistee named W. D. Ehrhart, who joined the military in 1966 at the age of 17 due to his belief that he’d be protecting the free world from communism. He held on to the belief since the age of nine, when the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit thus conjuring fears concerning the ability of the Soviets to launch atomic weaponry from space (Ehrhart par. 3). Ehrhart harbored such concerns throughout his childhood until deciding to put off college to join the Marines.
His decision was not something his parents had hoped he would make, and they would spend a great deal of time arguing the benefits of going to college in lieu of joining the military to fight in the war. Ehrhart stated his parents weren’t so much against the war as they were more in favor of college; of course, he relented and in January, 1967 he was sent to Vietnam where he would remain for 13 months. Ehrhart may have also been a victim of his imagination when it came to war and the capabilities of American fighting forces, where a child who was raised on John Wayne war movies and the fear of nuclear annihilation may have compelled many young men to foolishly join the service. But, he doesn’t say if this was the case. But at the end of this essay he mentions that once arriving in Vietnam it all changed for him, “where everything I thought I knew about the war in particular, and the world in general, came head-on smack up against reality” (Ehrhart par. 8).
In his essay titled “The Vietnam War: Remember in Order to Forget,” Vietnamese poet and writer Pham Tien Duat writes at great length about loss. While he too fought in the war, he doesn’t mention whether he fought with the Viet Cong or against them. This hardly seems important in the face of the concerns he voices in his essay, because he seems to be expressing concerns that both the American and Vietnamese people are now forgetting about the war and the true costs to each side, “Perhaps in order to really forget something, we first have to know fully what it is that we want to forget. And it is a difficult thing: there is a limit to how much we can remember” (Tien Duat par. 7). Early in his essay, Pham Tien Duat writes about meeting a group of Buddhist nuns during a 1997 visit to a province close to Hanoi. All of the nuns—30 total—had fought as members of the North Vietnamese army during the war, or were part of the Vanguard Youth who guarded the Ho Chi Minh Trail for a ten-year period beginning in 1965 (Tien Duat par. 2). After the war, they had chosen to become nuns either because their wounds were severe or they felt that they were too old to finally marry. While the author admits that meeting the nuns was quite revelatory, he also noted that they too wished to forget the horrors that left hundreds of thousands of wives and children without their husbands and fathers. This is an important point but in America we may rarely consider the effects of war that occur against our so-called enemies and that they too live with similar tragic consequences. As for the nuns, Tien Duat writes something that clearly articulates something that perhaps many here who had fought in the war can relate to, “Before, there was a war, and the war took place on the battlefield; now there is still a war, and it smoulders at the feet of Buddha” (Tien Duat par. 3).
The page titled “Re: Vietnam Stories Since the War” provides a great deal of insight on the perspectives of people who had fought in the war or were impacted by it. For example, Hoaithi P. Nguyen was a young refugee who fled his country with his family and has since become a citizen and a lawyer. He too writes about the loss of family members and the impact leaving his home country had on the family. Nguyen wishes to make the point that the effects of the war weren’t limited to lives lost due to the fighting, but is also felt by those who were displaced and now feel as if they no longer have a history or heritage. Patrick Overton, who fought in the war as a Navy seaman, stated that he and his father, a Navy veteran of World War II, were not particularly close and they shared little in common except for golf and their war experiences. Occasionally, they would get together for a round of golf and on one such day they had decided to eat breakfast prior to teeing off. During their meal they got in a heated debate about which of their generations were luckier and for some reason Overton intimated that his father’s generation of fighters were more fortunate because of the way American society treated them after the war. He stated that his father rebutted every point his son made until Overton raised that one, thorny issue, and his father agreed. It was then that they both began to cry. It would seem only reasonable that if more people read these stories, and others like them, they might begin to reconsider their views concerning war.
- Ehrhart, W. D. “The Volunteer.” American Experience, PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, 29 Mar. 2005, www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/reflect/ehrhart.html. Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.
- P.O.V. Interactive. “Re: Vietnam: Stories Since the War.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/pov/stories/index.html. Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.
- Tien Duat, Pham. “Reflections on a War.” American Experience, PBS: Public Broadcasting Service, 29 Mar. 2005, www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/reflect/duat.html. Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.