Introduction: The Deadly Breath of the War
Among all controversial issues that the humankind conceal sin the folds of time, the history of was must be the most biased one. Caused by certain political issues and demanding enormous blood-shedding to satisfy its thirst for cruelty, war is the most despicable and disgusting invention of the humankind.
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Nevertheless, a part and parcel of evolution, wars do occur even in the most advanced countries on a variety of premises, not to mention the clash of cultures and the resulting conflict that occurs as two countries of different stages of development are at war.
Because of the complexity of the political, economical and personal issues that mixed in the course of the notorious Vietnam War, the latter can be posed not only as a conflict between the two states, but as a conflict between the two cultures, political forces and the visions of the reality, both political and civil one, which requires thorough considerations.
Providing sufficient food for thoughts, the events of the Vietnam War are quite hard to analyze from the bird’s-eye view of the present days, yet offer an enticing material for exploration that allows to learn more about the political affairs of the USA, the motivations of the 1967-68 Congress and the President and make certain conclusions about the policy of the United States.
Analyzing the viewpoints of an ordinary soldier and a civil citizen who witnessed the Vietnam War, one can demonstrate the differences in the visions of the two and offer reasonable explanations for the phenomenon.
The Matter of Honor and Courage: In the Eye of a Soldier
There can be no possible doubt that, to realize what the war is, one has to see the horrors and the destruction of the armed conflict with his/her own eyes, which the author of the book, Frederick Downs, demonstrates quite well. With the help of the most realistic descriptions and the vivid pictures of woes that soldiers had to take in the course of the battles, the author makes the people sink into the mind of the man with the gun.
It is quite important that the author portrays both the elements of the relatively calm and peaceful environment – if anything in the front line can be calm and peaceful – and invites the reader into the mind of his own – the place where ideas and morals are set loose, and the only wish that is left is taking the revenge on those who destroyed his life – not the vengeance inspired by raging fury, but the revenge of a cool-blooded mind, the man who knows what he is doing and why.
Showing the readers that war literally kills the remnants of humanity left within, Frederick portrays himself as a man motivated by the wish to kill: “The American strategy was to draw them into a fight so we could use our superior firepower to destroy them. To win a battle, we had to kill them. For them to win, all they had to do was survive.”
On the battlefield
Whenever Downs refers to the descriptions of the battles, he emphasizes that the fights that take place here are far from what the civils imagine as they hear the word “battle.” Making it clear that there is no room for compassion when the war is going on, Downs draws the line between a soldier and the people left in the rear. Whenever the author mentions civils, there is a slight tint of scorn in his words:
‘Not everyone doing the fighting is in the newspapers. You’ll never ever see a reporter up there. It’s too rough for them.’ He looked at my youth. ‘You’ll get a belly full of fighting up there, son, if that’s what you want.’
Thus, the author clearly showed that the Vietnamese war, like any other one in the history of the universe did, split the nation into two parts, the still living one and the ones who have their life on credit. In the vision of a soldier who is partaking in the Vietnamese War, there is no yesterday or tomorrow, there is only the current moment, the blissful “now,” which means that the death is not here yet: “Chu Lai was a free-fire zone.
I was instructed to shoot at everything not American, ROK, or ARVN. The brutal war of the highlands had come to the flat farm ground of the South China Sea coast.” When the war has broken out, there can be no compassion, otherwise, the soldier will go mad.
The political controversy
Of all the issues concerning the Vietnamese War and the decisions undertaken by the government, the issue concerning the way the war went and the way the government wanted to portray it to an average citizen were strikingly different, which Downs does not hesitate to expose. At this point, the interception of the soldier’s life and the life of a civil citizen can be traced to point at the obvious diversities in the perception of the two and point at the main difference between a soldier and a civil.
It was obvious that the Congress was trying to lift the spirits of the country and not let people become depressed about the tragic event once again, which resulted the striking contrast of the attitudes towards the war in the front and in the rear. While the latter were perfectly sure that the situation is fully under control and that the victory is just around the corner, the soldiers were supposed not merely to observe the opposite, but to fight it with their efforts doubled.
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Perhaps, it is even not the cruelty of the tragedies that occurred in the course of the war, but the cool, emotionless reports of Downs that sends shivers down the reader’s spine: “Two women survived long enough to cross the bridge and enter one of the hootches. Three of my men crossed over the bridge and threw grenades in the hootches.” It is worth mentioning, though, that the lead character is not portrayed as a machine for murdering enemies either.
Though the battles and the numerous deaths that he has seen made him coarse and emotionless, there is still the remaining of his old self, and he still feels pity when mentioning that the war is spreading like cancer all over the place: “Chu Lai was a free-fire zone. I was instructed to shoot at everything not American, ROK, or ARVN. The brutal war of the highlands had come to the flat farm ground of the South China Sea coast.”
Serving on the home front: An average citizen’s position
In contrast to the soldiers in the front, the people in the rear were under the delusion that the Vietnamese with their attempts at defeating the American troops are doomed to a failure. Considering the letters to the New York Times Editor, one can see the way the enemies were portrayed: “the intense and futile commitment in Vietnam is deepening the sense of resentment…”
However, it must be taken into account that the New York Times editors were aiming rather at keeping people optimistic, forgetting what kind of road good intentions pave, depicting the Vietnamese patriotism as “not quite bright” instead of “rather dangerous.”
Playing a game of chess
However, it is essential to add that the vision of war that an average citizen had in the USA in 1967-68 was half-optimistic, half-frightened. Some journalists conveyed in their articles the ideas that there were instances of corruption and treachery in the USA Army, which dropped the rates of optimism among the citizen.
Still, compared to the miseries and injustice depicted by Downs, these were the minor issues that called to people’s patriotic feelings and the willingness to protect the country, while the soldiers were already deprived of any hope. Portraying Presidents “rejection of dissent on war,” journalists made attempts to stir the public, yet they did not reveal what happened in the front.
Here is the newsflash
Offering the citizens snatches of essential information, journalists contributed to the shaping of people’s idea of war. For most of the citizens, war was the gas used on crowd and the short notes on the success of military actions. On the one hand, such inspiring ideas did contribute to the shaping of patriotic feeling.
On the other hand, people were unable to see that was going on in the front, which made people think of the war as of some faraway monster that will obviously be defeated. With his incredibly gloomy and truthful story, Downs bursts the bubbles of the public, yet he is unfortunately late.
Conclusion: Counting the Losses
Hence, it can be concluded that Vietnam War was rather versatile issue in the distant 1967-68 for a civilian and a soldier, which can be explained by a number of reasons.
Due to the different settings and environment, the two could not envision the war any different way; serving on the home front and learning about the events on the battlefield from the newspaper articles and short reports that could not deliver the grief and pain, though journalists did attempt to, citizens could not conceive the terror and pain of being in the heat of the battle and, thus, considered the war as the event that will help to restore justice in the USA if only the army pulls itself together.
Meanwhile, soldiers were facing the terror and agony of pain, coming one step closer to peril every single say and narrowing the article of death with every step that they made.
Therefore, it can be claimed that Downs’s book served as an eye-opener for millions of people. Obviously, the two viewpoints considered above are diametrically opposite to each other, the vision of a civil citizen being mist optimistic, and the world of a soldier collapsing in front of him. However, comprising the two, one will be able to obtain the ultimate truth – the real story of what happened in the course of the Vietnam War, the painful experience that was inevitable yet almost unbearable for the two nations.
Carr, A. Z. (1967). Our Vietnam policy. New York Times, p. 46.
Downs, F. (2007). The killing zone: My life in Vietnam War. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Friedman, R., & Saltzman, E. (1967). Use of gas on crowds. New York Times, p. 46.
Letter to the Editor of The Times (1967, Sep. 8). War opposed. New York Times, p. 38.
Meacham, S. (1967, November 6). Despair over war. New York Times, p. 6.
Micou, R. (1967, Sept. 29). President’s rejection of dissent on war. New York Times, p. 46.
Rosenberg, J., et al. (1967, Dec. 13). Opposition to war in armed forces. New York Times, p. 46.
The Patriotism of Dissent (1967, Nov. 15). New York Times, p. 46.
- See Downs, 2007.
- See Downs, 2007, p. 108.
- See Downs, 2007, p. 17.
- See Downs, 2007, p. 188.
- See Downs, 2007, p. 216.
- See Downs, 2007, p. 211.
- See Letter to the Editor of The Times, 1967.
- See The Patriotism of Dissent, 1967, p. 46
- See Rosenberg, 1967.
- See Carr, 1967, p. 46.
- See Friedman & Saltzman, 1967.
- See Meacham, 1967.
- See Micou, 1967.