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Asia and the World in the Age of Empire. Ninh’s The Sorrow of War Essay

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Updated: Oct 8th, 2021

Discussion

Bao Ninh was a member of the Glorious Youth Brigade that fought the U.S army during the Vietnam War. He was among the only ten soldiers who survived the Vietnam War. In his book ‘The sorrows of War’ he depicts the social environment of Vietnam before, during the period of the war, and after the war. The writer depicts himself in the character of Kien, a young soldier from North Vietnam. The whole narration centers on the life of Kien before joining the army, his service in the army during war period, and after the victory. The writer recollects the past memory of Kien about his youth, his comrades in the army, his family, his community, and even his enemies. This paper explores memory as central to Kien’s experiences of the war, his understanding of what happened to him during the war as inseparable from his experiences of what happened to him and the rest of the Vietnamese society after the war. It also tries to the questions as to how and why this was the case.

The Sorrows of War is a narration that tells a story of a soldier in the North Vietnamese regular army. The story commences with this soldier, Kien, collecting bodies of those who died in action. This mission made Kien return to most territories where he battled his enemies and lost many of his fellow soldiers and many individuals both men and women that meant much to him. This triggers many memories for Kien. These memories bring out the horrors and sorrows of the war. It shares the horrific experiences Kien had and tries to attain insight of understanding of the war and how it affected the people of Vietnam. Kien’s nightmares portray horrendous scenes of deaths, killings, rape, and dying that afflicted the Vietnamese society. The memories take him back through the years of battle and the years of searching those who were missing in action.

Kien fought for the North Vietnamese army for ten years. This is a very long time in the battle field which affected him greatly. The long war had enormous effects on his psychological and emotional well being. We see him being haunted by nightmares, being unable to establish healthy relationships with women and friends, and unable to maintain his studies at the University.

The war fought in Vietnam drugged on for 30 years completely destroying the valued systems of the Vietnamese culture. Kien remembers how the people of Vietnam attached family life as very important in their culture. The Vietnamese people accorded much respect to ancestors, relatives who are still alive, and the future ones yet to be born. The sons among Vietnamese families had great respect to their fathers. Those who died were accorded maximum respect by everybody in this society by according them proper burials when they died. The integrity and survival of any of Vietnamese family was believed to depend on adherence to this valued norms. Kien saw all these cultural values dissipate through the course of the war. His own father and many others were not properly respected when they died during the war. They were not appropriately buried and were in some instances forgotten. When the war came to an end, Kien took much time trying to go retrace these values and reflecting too much on the sins that happened.

Vietnamese culture commands sons to respect their fathers. It is understood that Kien never understood his father in the beginning. This is depicted when he reflected on the reasons as to why his mother left his father and taught it wise to live with another man (Ninh p.59). In view of the great culture of the people of Vietnam of sons respecting their fathers, it seems Kien does not respect his father. In the same breadth, Kien provides his life experience with his father before the war outbreak where we learn that he respects his father despite of the fact that he does not understand him. ‘His heart always ached with compassion whenever he visited his father’s attic studio’ (Ninh p.124). Kien may not have close attachment to his father but we see that he takes care of him as expected of sons in the Vietnamese cultural society. Kien did not understand his father until after the war when he was trying to organize his chaotic life (Ninh p.124).

The prevailing circumstances during the war did not enable the Vietnamese soldiers to conduct the required burial rituals for those who died during the course of the long war. Accordingly, Kien is haunted by the screaming souls in the jungle of the restless who are searching for peace (Ninh p.7). Kien also recounts vividly his memories of war, the horrific deaths, and the unattended burial ceremonies. He is also haunted by the memory of a soldier who was wounded during the battle, who begs to be shot, later blows himself up with a grenade. As Kien was leaving the scene, the soldier’s crazed laughter followed him. The implication here is that the soldier is not buried properly and is believed to haunt the land. The spirits of those who had died were believed to be restless because proper burials were not conducted. At the end of the war, Kien and his comrades established an altar and prayed before it in order to appease those who passed away and their souls were still wondering in the jungle (Ninh p.7).

In essence, the writer seems to indict the Vietnam War, as it portrays its destructive effects on the people of Vietnam, nature, and each individual in person. The war completely brought about changes to personal lives of those who survived. It destroyed their personal hopes and dreams of the future through separation, sorrow and great despair. Although the state of Vietnam celebrated victory at the end of the war, the story challenges these perceived victory. It suggests that each individual, family, and person did not win the war because they could not gain back what they once possessed prior to the war. They lost many members of their families and everything that makes life meaningful. The war also had serious psychological effects on each individual. The level of the psychological influences determines whether or not the individual is able to forget the past, deal with the present and face the future. For Kien, the side effects of the war were too much to bear. Memories of the war kept on haunting him like a ghost. All the events in his life are determined by the war, for instance, his happiness, the sorrows, hatred, unhappiness and other (Ninh 75). Kien also lost many of his friends, family, and even the love of his life. He felt that there was nothing which could have returned him to his former happy state as it was before the war.

Cited Works

Ninh, Palmo, Hao. The Sorrows of War. London: Secker & Warburg Publishers.

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