War and Identity
The Vietnam War was one of the most difficult and prolonged military conflicts, in which the U.S.A. participated. During the first years, it became entirely unpopular among American citizens. However men were mobilized and had to fight even being disagree with the purposes of that U.S.A. in that conflict. The persons, who were involved in the hostilities in Vietnam, had to go through heavy trials and the roughening of their souls because of harsh circumstances of the war, fierce resistance of the enemy, and severe climatic conditions.
The U.S. Army had to fight in extremely complicated conditions in Vietnam. One of the complications, which American soldiers faced, was climate. Everyone knows that the most difficult acclimatization is in the equatorial climate of tropical rainforests. Vietnam belongs to that climate zone, so, the majority of American soldiers had to fill that process themselves. R. Ford in his article wrote about his arriving in Tan Son Nhut: “that heat that was coming from the ground hit me in the face. … the odor from the climate was so strong” . The terrain’s specialty was on the side of the Vietnamese Viet Cong. Jungles, tropics, swamps, the fever, and prolonged rainy season did not contribute to the success of the Americans. The swarms of mosquitoes transformed people’s bodies into “lumpy masses of insect bites”. And all these features together with aggression and obstinacy of the enemy greatly affected the army.
From the other hand, the terrain can deploy an effective partisan movement. Vietnamese set booby traps in the forest, digging tunnels, hiding in the trees that were unfamiliar to the American military. This invisible war of the local population against the Americans forced the infantry to be in constant tension. Everyone in Caputo’s platoon, while moving across the enemy’s territory, felt themselves “more like victims than soldiers” because of constant fear to be exploded. Being under the constant pressure, the military units were exhausted because of permanent forced marches and clashes with the partisans. P. Caputo mentioned, that the soldiers “were in a shaft, plunging daily from one level of fatigue to the next”. Moreover, each relatively large community of people has the kind of person who uses his power to satisfy his cruelty. For example, lieutenant Caputo described in his book captain Bligh. He was the energy vampire, who enjoyed harassing the subordinates despite the fact that all the nerves were on the edge. Those cases did not increase the peace of mind of the soldiers.
The fighting spirit was a huge problem for the whole army. Most of the soldiers, as they were not volunteers and were sent there without their agreement, did not want to fight in Vietnam. The U.S. Army had no morale to fight in a foreign country for alien ideals during the so long period. The soldiers did not understand why that war was conducted. They did not realize how such a small country could threaten the U.S.A. In general, all the people knew about the reasons of why the U.S. army was in Vietnam, were the following: “because we have a promise to keep” (the promise to support the people of South Vietnam), the Americans are “responsible for the defense of freedom”, “the battle would be renewed in one country and then another” and so on. However, those ideas were not enough for Americans to approve the death of such a huge number of their fellow citizens. Many soldiers, who were mobilized, before they were taken to the front lines, did not support this war at all. R. Ford thought that the war in Vietnam only concerned its citizens and the Americans “had no business in there”.
The other obsession settled in American soldiers’ minds. It was about the futility of their sacrifice. People had to fight the same enemy units, which after the total destruction filled up with the new recruits. It could be compared with the mythical hydra, who’s severed head causes the growing of the new one. The similar thing we can see in Caputo’s novel: “We wiped out that regiment at Chu Lai, now we’re fighting ’em again and we’ll probably wipe ’em out again …and again in a few months”. Over a very long period, winning in some territories one day, American army after some time had to come back and fight for them again. The villages were cleared numerous times, but the enemy almost immediately flooded them again. That fact forced U.S. soldiers to think that their fellows died and were injured in vain. G. Smith thought all the time, looking at the suffering of the soldiers that they were going to die “for nothing”.
The state of nervous tension of the soldiers usually was stronger before the fight. The fear of the fight enhances even more if the fight is postponed for a long time. In these moments people react differently. Spiritually weakened persons go through a nervous breakdown, as one mariner in Caputo’s novel. The stronger people begin the internal fight with that fear, which causes the keen tension, which the author compares with sexual. It is so painful, that the man only thinks about the moment, when he will stop that feeling. “Nothing matters except the final, critical instant when he leaps out into the violent catharsis he both seeks and dreads”.
There were many ways to deal with a weak fighting spirit of the soldiers. Even atheists began to believe in God and wore crosses to feel themselves more securely. R. Ford mentioned, that during the fight all men around him cried: “Oh, God, please help”. Some people wore sunglasses to look really bad and feel themselves more self-confident and unscarred. But the most horrible thing was that medics permitted drug use to improve mood in the army. So drug users among the Americans in Vietnam were the common thing. The memories of Gayle Smith, who was the nurse in Saigon in 1970-1971 confirm this fact: “I knew my patients were shooting up [injecting heroin]”.
The nervous shock of almost all Americans, who came to Vietnam, was so strong that it caused some serious and sometimes irreversible transformations. Some of the soldiers, who were in civil life quite peaceful and gentle people, on the battlefields turned into violent monsters, who did not know compassion and pity. It was often caused by a cruelty of the enemy, operating from the hidings, the desire to avenge for their fallen comrades, the strong moral fatigue, and nervous exhaustion. Explaining unwarranted cruelty during destroying HA NA, P. Caputo mentioned,that it was “a purging of months of fear, frustration, and tension”. The soldiers felt the strong emotional pain and shuffled it off “by inflicting it on others”. But when the fight finished, some soldiers “being human again”, as the lieutenant wrote, were extremely ashamed of those deals and wondered, that they had made those terrible things by themselves. The other ones could not throw off the mask of the monster, and continued to hate the Vietnamese. This hatred was probably caused by the nature of the war it – partisan. People could not see the enemy’s real face, could not guess, who the enemy is, and who is not. They lived in continuous fear and unbelief to the Vietnamese around them, and it caused the emergence of the hatred. R. Ford described his fellow, who named all the Vietnamese “gooks” and saved their golden teeth in the box. That guy once killed two civilian citizens, who were just having rest, because he decided, that they mined.
The other shining example of such kind of hatred was the filling of G. Smith, a nurse by vocation, who really appreciated someone’s life. After living in Saigon for some period, looking at those, who suffered from that hidden war, she began to hate them and dream about killing the Vietnamese. She wrote that the only thing, which stopped her from doing that, was the law, which forbade killing people. Of cause, no one can argue that all Americans in Vietnam had experienced absolutely justified hatred. Certainly, there could be those, who felt continuous hatred to everyone and was really cruel because of their illness or something else.
The other example of soul’s transformation was that fact that veterans of the Vietnam War after returning home could not feel themselves safe without weapon. They could not break the habit of being on the alert for a long period after the war. They could not wean from military habits, such as slipping on the ground. R. Ford the first night after the returning could not sleep calm and waking up in the midnight could not find his weapon and fellows. So he was really scared, that he was captured by the enemy.
The most important reason of Americans’ being involved in the military conflicts was the confidence in the fact that their destiny is to make the world a peaceful place and the belief that all means are good for this. But fierce and bloody hostilities with the guerrillas, the huge assertiveness and the endless recruiting in the enemy’s army led to the defeat in the war without loosing the battles. It shook the confidence of Americans in that fact, that they were able to success in improving the world. It caused the reforms in the army and conducting of the enhanced physical and moral training of the soldiers.
So, one can conclude that the heavy circumstances of the war change the persons, who were involved in it. The people had to adapt to the harsh climatic conditions. Being in continuous stress and tension, absolutely exhausted, they had to fight with numerous army that constantly refilled with new recruits. Without the support of local citizens, they felt the futility of their deaths, injuries and suffering. The soldiers also had to change because of the war. Some of those changes they could not cancel until their death.