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The Vietnam War was the bloodiest conflict that the United States participated in since World War II. It changed how the country looked at military operations for years to come, and it is hard to overstate how important the outcome of this war was to the American state and society. Widely considered to be the United States’ most shameful and embarrassing campaign, the war led to the reformation of the U.S. military – after Vietnam, conscription was abolished, and professional soldiers stepped in to replace drafted conscripts. The war also traumatized many of the soldiers who participated in it; those who returned alive were crippled both physically and psychologically.
Many were and continue to be diagnosed with PTSD and other mental disorders caused by days and nights of fighting in a jungle against a deadly and elusive foe. To make a tragic situation worse, the veterans of the Vietnam War were stigmatized by the nation. Unlike the esteemed veterans of World War II, those who fought in Vietnam were considered to be dishonorable and dangerous, and many of them suffer even today. Although numerous books and articles contain memories of those who lived to tell the tale, the best way to learn about the Vietnam War—and to understand how war changes people—is to talk to the veterans who participated in it. This paper is dedicated to analyzing and comparing the experiences of John Gutierrez and Carl Ferguson, two veterans of the Vietnam War.
John Gutierrez’s Story
In the video, John Gutierrez appears as a tall man in glasses. He looks a little shaken, and he does not exude confidence. His story about the Vietnam War is filled with recollections of the many horrors he faced in battle. His experiences seem to have a very deep emotional impact on him still; he requests the audience to read the article about an ambush for him because it is difficult for him to do so on his own. He shares certain details that did not find their way into history books – for example, he describes how some of his fellow soldiers kept count of their kills by cutting off the ears of their fallen foes (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”).
It seems unbelievable that someone could act like this in the 21st century, yet there is no reason to doubt his words – some of the crimes committed by American troops in Vietnam were far worse than a mere desecration of the dead. As he tells his story, he switches back and forth between the past and the present. He recalls the depression he experienced and the difficulties he had fitting in because his family did not want him when he returned home. He had no job, and the nightmares kept plaguing him (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”). John’s war with himself is still not over – some of the issues he brought home with him from Vietnam may follow him to his grave.
Carl Ferguson’s story
Carl Ferguson presents himself as a relatively cheerful and upbeat man. Despite the topic of the story being highly personal, he does not shy away from the truth or lament about personal grievances. Perhaps his role in the Vietnam War had something to contribute to his emotional stability – the man was a radar operator (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”). Although he saw his share of action and danger, Carl was not actively sent out into the danger zone; instead, he and his crew operated a radar dish that nobody believed worked at the time.
Carl acknowledges that serving in the army helped him realize his own sexual preferences, explaining that he is gay and that the army helped him “come out of the closet” (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”). While he does not approve of what happened in Vietnam, he views it from a philosophical perspective, saying that war is the natural state for all living beings, from nations and societies to the tiniest microorganisms. Carl considers many of the Allied interventions, including the wars in Korea and Bosnia, to be failures. Still, he believes that such conflicts are inevitable and that peace is a rare and precious thing in the 21st century.
Compare and Contrast Analysis
When watching the videos, it is clear that the Vietnam War greatly affected both veterans just from listening to how they talk. It is obvious that Vietnam hit John harder than Carl. It must be noted that John is not a weakling or a coward – his medals and awards prove that fact. However, he was more exposed to the hostile nature of the combat environment, which resulted in the PTSD and other psychological disorders he expresses up to this day. Carl, on the other hand, never had to directly kill anybody – he says so himself in the interview. Although he contemplates that knowing exactly how much suffering he caused may bring him peace, this seems very unlikely (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”).
Carl is much more open about his service than John. His story has a better flow and is more informative than John’s. He tells the audience about his wartime worries and routines and explains how he and his platoon contributed to the war effort during the Tet Offensive. John’s memories are much more visceral, so instead of telling about them, he asks volunteers to read articles that best represent his side of the story. John came home with plenty of psychological issues, while Carl hardly mentioned even one. The audience only knows that he was ambiguously gay before the war and that his time in the army helped him discover his true sexual orientation (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”).
Both veterans are reluctant and upset about the war. While John never explicitly states that the United States was wrong in invading Vietnam, he expresses great remorse for what he did. He even loathes his medals and says he earned them for killing people, not for courage or valor. Carl is more outspoken on the subject of American intervention, stating that not only Vietnam but also the wars in Bosnia and Korea were pointless and self-defeating (Solheim, “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson”).
The topic of the Vietnam War has been studied in America for many decades, and these two veterans do not tell the audience anything they do not already know or have at least heard of before. However, it is their perspectives that count. To hear the same story told by a veteran is a lot different than reading about it in a history book. In this case, the non-verbal message is more important than the verbal one. John serves as a prime example of what war can do to people – a strong, brave, and confident young man turned jittery and easily startled. He had to face the same demons every day during and for many years after the war. The stories of these veterans serve as a reminder to people that wars are a terrible thing and should not be fought over nothing.
Solheim, Bruce. “John Gutierrez; Carl Ferguson.” Archive.com, uploaded by Solheim, Bruce, 2016, Web.