As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, I have always been interested in the Vietnam War and the results of “the longest war in America.” Therefore, when I was given the freedom to choose any topic, I decided to further research the Vietnam War. After doing a minimum amount of research, I realized that there were many different elements of the war, such as the history of the war, the combat during the war, and the aftermath of the war. The most interesting aspect of the entire Vietnam experience is the aftermath, and the way that veterans were viewed. In doing research, I have discovered an undeniable shift in society’s attitudes toward the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. Therefore, I have decided to examine the social attitudes toward Vietnam veterans.
Since I feel so passionately about the way that Vietnam veterans are viewed, the purpose of my paper is to inform others about the way that the veterans have been criticized and misrepresented. Personally, I hope to gain a further understanding of the attitudes and views towards Vietnam veterans, especially since my father is a veteran. After reading my paper, I hope that my audience will walk away with more respect and reverence for those that fought in the Vietnam War and gave their lives for their country. My audience will consist of my peers, my professor, and any other person interested in learning more about the sentiment towards Vietnam veterans.
My research has involved searching the Internet, going to the Syracuse University Bird Library and looking through books, and even interviewing my father, who fought in the Vietnam War. I have also examined the lyrics to Billy Joel’s ballad, “Goodnight Saigon.” Thus far, the most valuable sources have been a few books I took out from the library. These books include information about the history of the Vietnam War as well as about the aftermath. In addition, several of these books include powerful pictures and images from wartime to the present time.
After examining the lyrics to Billy Joel’s song, “Goodnight Saigon,” I realized that it does not directly relate to my topic about the sentiment towards Vietnam veterans. However, it does provide a clear insight into the way the soldiers felt while they were fighting in Vietnam. At first I was unsure about the lyrics since Joel did not fight in the war; however, after speaking to my father and reading about the war, I realized that the song has strong ethos since many lines in the ballad are factual. For example, many of the soldiers did meet “on Parris Island” for training and often “passed the hash pipe and played [their] Doors tapes” while in Southeast Asia. Although this ballad may not be the most appropriate source for my paper, it was still beneficial to examine since it brought out strong emotions in me about the Vietnam War and has made me even more interested in the subject.
An interesting book I discovered in the library, which is appropriate in regards to this class, is titled American Rhetoric and the Vietnam War. The author writes that Vietnam was America’s longest and most controversial war. Thus he adds, “Public controversy gives rise to public rhetoric as surely as the sparks fly upward, and this may help to explain why the Vietnam War was the stimulus for so much rhetoric, with so much passion, by so many people, for so many years” (Gustainis xv). The author has devoted sections of the book to rhetoric in support of the war, rhetoric opposed to the war, and some portrayals of the war that were presented to the nation through the mass media.
Another book that I have discovered is from a different viewpoint and is perhaps more effective. The book, Homecoming, is a history, in the veterans’ own words, of what it was like to return to the United States after the most controversial war in the nation’s history. This book embodies both ethos and pathos since it does not only evoke emotions, but it also conveys the attitudes and beliefs of many veterans. The stories included in this book are first-hand accounts of Vietnam veterans’ homecomings and are therefore extremely credible. Homecoming is divided into several sections in which the tones of the veterans’ voices vary. For example, in the first section, the tone is one of bitterness, anger, and continuing shock. However, in another section, there are stories about American civilians who welcomed the veterans with the warmth that returning soldiers have traditionally been offered. After reading several different accounts, an array of emotions were aroused inside of me, including feelings of sadness and anger at the way some veterans were treated as well as feelings of pride at the way some Americans showed reverence for the men and women that served for their country.
The Aftermath is one book in a series called The Vietnam Experience. This book uses all three elements of rhetoric, including ethos, pathos and logos, to tell the story of the happenings after the Vietnam War. As in most of the books I have referred to, the use of pathos in this source evokes a range of emotions in its readers. Since the editors and authors are all graduates of Harvard University and they conferred with historical consultants while working on this book, this proves to be a credible source. Using logos, the authors of this book convey important and factual information in regards to the aftermath of the Vietnam War, including the effects of it in Vietnam as well as in the United States.
Of all the research materials I have looked at for this topic, the book, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, written by Michael Katakis, is perhaps most poignant. Although it has the fewest number of words and the greatest number of illustrations, it is the most effective in the sense that it arouses an array of passionate emotions. Pathos is fervently alive throughout this book filled of quotations and illustrations, ranging from a veteran kneeling in front of the memorial to pay his respects to his comrades to combat boots left at the memorial with an American flag. The quotations next to the black and white photographs enable the reader to remember, to grieve, and even to heal. One Vietnam veteran asked himself, “Why did it happen? What was it for? When I came home it was not the place I had left. I was lost in my own country” (Katakis 45). On the page opposite a photograph of a veteran seated in a wheelchair, another veteran said, “If they gave me back my legs I’d go back again” (Katakis 22). It was quotations such as these that almost brought tears to my eyes.
In order to further diversify my sources, I also plan to look at several different movies. After doing much research, it is evident that the media has greatly affected the perceptions of the Vietnam veteran. Television and motion picture industries have influenced how Americans, especially young Americans, view the war. I plan to examine several different movies, particularly Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), which are both discussed in several of the books I am using. I have viewed both of these films before, and I am able to recollect the strong use of ethos, pathos, and logos. Platoon is perhaps the most realistic movie produced about the war, using logos to show the factual accounts of the war and pathos to show the emotional hardships faced by the young soldiers. Born on the Fourth of July is an adaptation of the autobiography by paralyzed anti-war veteran, Ron Kovic, and is therefore an extremely credible source that evokes much pity for the main character who is faced with paralysis in a country that sees him as a branded outcast. Along with references to several other sources, I hope to show that the media continues to strongly influence society about the Vietnam War through television, movies, literature, and songs.
After looking at my research materials, I have realized that many of the authors as well as the readers of these various sources are part of a discourse community of Vietnam veterans. There is common language among this community, including such war lingo as “Charlie,” the GI slang from “Victor Charlie,” the U.S. military term for Vietcong (Doyle 192). Other terms included “hawks,” people who wanted to increase the war effort, and “doves,” people who wanted to decrease U.S. commitment in the Vietnam War (Gustainis 46). Most of my sources are targeted for supporters of the war or at least supporters of the veterans. Many of these sources try to embody Vietnam veterans as heroes and give them the recognition or commemoration for their services and sacrifices that they never received. While these sources are not particularly targeted at people opposed to the war, they can help to provide these people with an understanding of the war and of the soldiers who fought in it.
Looking back, I realize that I had a successful research process and that I am anxious to being working on the next assignment. I have gathered many useful sources that provide adequate information to support my beliefs about the changing social attitudes toward Vietnam veterans. As the writing process continues, I plan to gather more research materials such as new books and articles. The social attitudes towards Vietnam veterans has proven to be an extremely interesting subject to me and I hope that through my discussion of these views, my audience will gain a new understanding of some of the bravest and most heroic men of the century.
Doyle, Edward, et al. The Aftermath. The Vietnam Experience. Boston: Boston Publishing
Greene, Bob. Homecoming. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989.
Gustainis, J. Justin. American Rhetoric and the Vietnam War. Westport: Praeger Publishers,
Joel, Billy. “Goodnight Saigon. “ The Nylon Curtain. 1982.
Katakis, Michael. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988.