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PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT OF WAR ON SOLDIER

Failure is a hard word, and no matter how you analyze the Vietnam War, that is
exactly what it was. The War was a personal failure on a national scale. From its
covert beginnings, through the bloodiest, darkest days and finally to the bitter end,
this ten-year period of American history is a national disgrace. Some may believe
that the only lesson that will ever be learned is a personal one. Do you know
someone that died in a muddy jungle there? Did you have a friend or classmate or
a member of your family caught up in this nightmare? Even if you were not
affected on that level, what a waste of time, taxes, resources and the precious lives
of young Americans.
Fifty-eight thousand were killed, two thousand captured, and three hundred fifty
thousand; maimed and wounded, almost everyone in this country still feels the effects of this
conflict. Today, the young people of this country cringe in response to the senselessness and
waste of this struggle. A new generation of college students, workers and young parents
bring a unique perspective to the analysis of the consequences of this particular war. These
are the sons and daughters of the men that fought to their death in the jungles of South East
Asia.
This research paper will deal with some of the more interesting aspects and effects of
this war. Since the Vietnam conflict made absolutely no sense politically, militarily or
economically, the value of analysis must come on the individual level. The individual
soldiers that survived this war are now laced throughout society on every level. They are
waiting and have been patiently biding their time. Not waiting to protest or draw attention
but waiting for the questions they know will come. Not from a busy country or politicians or
the government but from their own children. They've had nearly 30 years to think about it and
decide what really happened. They've also had that time to raise those children, and now we
want to know.
The Vietnam War will be analyzed in this paper through three different sources of
information. The first will be research involving psychological studies and cases. The second will be
through the media, most specifically through films. The third is a one-on-one interview with a
Vietnam veteran. The tying factors throughout each of these sections will be the seven separate topics
on which we focus this research, including: Before the war: 1) soldiers reasons for going to the
Vietnam War. During the War: 2) Soldiers reactions and adjustments to the war. 3) Soldiers' feelings
toward the Vietnamese. 4) Drug and alcohol use. 5) Media effects. After the war: 6) How exposure to
the war affected soldiers physically and mentally. 7) Veteran attitudes toward Americans once home
(Government, protestors, family, society).

This paper will thoroughly discuss the psychological effects of the Vietnam War using the
three different areas of research stated above. Each area has been researched individually with the
intentions of learning how the information will compare across the lines.

The Psychological Point of View

For many Americans, the Vietnam War is over and long forgotten. Among those still
suffering are several veterans who have felt forgotten, unappreciated, and even discriminated
against. For some of them ' the trauma of their battle experiences or their physical disabilities have
shattered their lives. For even more, adjustment to civilian life has not been easy. "Imagine if you
had just graduated out of high school and were sent to a guerrilla warfare far away from your
home. During the war, you were exposed to a lot of stress, confusion, anxiety, pain, and hatred. Then
you were sent back home with no readjustment to the lifestyle in the states, no deprogramming of
what you learned from the military, and no "welcome home" parades. You are portrayed to the public
as a crazed psychopathic killer with no morals or control over your aggression. You find that there's
nobody you can talk to or who can understand what you've been through, not even your family. As

you re-emerge into civilization, you struggle to establish a personal identity or a place in
society because you lack the proper education and job skills. In addition, there are no
supportive groups to help you find your way, which makes you feel even more isolated,
unappreciated, and exploited for serving your country."1 This scenario is similar to what
many Vietnam veterans have felt in their transition from battle to home.
War has always had a profound effect on those who engage in combat. The Vietnam
War, however, was different in many ways. First, it was the unpopular war as viewed by
most people today. Vietnam veterans were the first to fight in an American war that could not
be recalled with pride. Second, it was the first to be reported in full detail by the media,
historians, and scientists. And third, the Vietnam War became a metaphor for American
society that connoted distrust in the government, and the sacrifice of American lives for
poorly understood and deeply divided values and principles. Upon the veterans' return to the
states, many exhibited significant psychiatric symptoms. These ranged from difficulty
sleeping to vivid flashbacks, and are now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD).
PTSD is a development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically
distressing event. "It begins with an event in which the individual is threatened with his or
her own death or the destruction of a body part, to such humiliation that their personal

identity may be lost."2Vietnam veterans who experience PTSD have a feeling of helplessness,
worthlessness, dejection, anger, depression, insomnia, and a tendency to react to tense
situations by using survival tactics. Combat experience remains the variable most often
linked to PTSD among Vietnam veterans. The frequency of PTSD was a lot higher among
those with high levels of exposure to combat compared to the noncombatants. PTSD was not
taken seriously until the 1980's when many Vietnam veterans were complaining of similar
symptoms. These symptoms had been noticed after previous wars but there were only a
couple of cases. In some cases, veterans did not experience their symptoms until a year after
they returned. Thus, it was very easy for the government to ignore the effects of PTSD
because it had such a delayed reaction.
This first section of the paper is a narrative of the way psychologists; physicians,
historians, and scientists portrayed the effects of the Vietnam War on American soldiers
according to the seven topics, which have been previously discussed.
Before the war, there were many reasons why men wanted to participate. Some felt
that it was their duty to fight for their country and for freedom. The majority of them were
drafted without a prior notice, while others escaped the drafting process and remained at
home. Most of the books cited in this paper gloss over the reasons for going to war simply
because there is nothing to analyze. Either they got drafted or they volunteered.
During the war, the main factor that affected the adjustments made by American
soldiers and their attitudes was the DEROS system (date of expected return from
overseas). Every individual serving in Vietnam knew before leaving the U.S. when he was
scheduled to return. An individual's rotation lasted twelve to thirteen months. Thus, for the
individual American soldier, the main attribute affecting combat motivation in the war was
the operation of the rotation system. The soldier's primary concern was focused on reaching
his personal DEROS instead of preparing and fighting in battle. Upon arrival to his unit and
the first weeks thereafter, the soldier was excited to be in the war zone and may even have
looked forward to engaging with the enemy. "However, after the first serious encounter, he
lost his enthusiasm for combat. As he began to approach the end of his tour, the soldier
noticeably began to give up; he became reluctant to engage in offensive combat
operations."3 Thus, as soldiers came closer to their expected departure, they either withdrew
themselves from battle or just became more careful in order to survive and return home
safely.
From interviews and studies conducted on Vietnam veterans, the overall consensus is
that American soldiers despised as well as feared the Vietnamese. Race was a critical factor
affecting both the military and social experiences of American troops in

Vietnam. Psychologists believe that there were two types of war. The first was considered
the "good" war which took place from 1964-1968. The second was the "bad" war which
occurred from 1968-1972. The earlier war was very conventional and traditional in that it
involved the usual confrontation between opposing armies. "From the American G.l.'s point
of view, the enemy was the North Vietnamese army whose members could be easily
recognized and thus killed legally. The G.l.'s could relate easily to Vietnamese villagers, talk
to them, and eat with them. The later war involved the confrontation between American
troops and Vietnamese guerrillas as well as civilians who sometimes shielded the troops. The
guerrilla warfare had booby traps and mines planted by an invisible enemy, or it seemed like
to the Americans."4 These traps caused a lot of casualties among the American troops. At this
stage of the war, Americans began to view all Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as the enemy
and as racially inferior. Since the initial contact in Vietnam occurred in customary warfare
activity, American's race awareness was hidden, practically dormant. However, when the
enemy went into civilian villages and countryside to fight a guerrilla war, consisting of
ambushes, mines, and booby traps, this resulted in closer contact with the Vietnamese people
blurring the distinction between soldier and civilian. With the transformation of the war from
"good" to "bad", American troops came to intensify their racial conceptions.
In a "good" war, armies meet on a battlefield where there are set rules and
boundaries. It is a very formal situation. On the other hand, in guerrilla warfare there is no
formalities, rules, or boundaries; there is no way of telling who was friend or foe. This
unpredictable environment posed to be dangerous to the Americans because they were not
accustomed to this type of battle. So when contacts between the Americans and Vietnamese
came closer and more common, the G.l.'s became more prejudiced because it was their way
of distinguishing between themselves and the Vietnamese. At the start of the war, it was the
North Vietnamese army and the Vietcong who were considered gooks". South Vietnamese
and civilians were friends to the American troops, they were not viewed as "gooks". "But
when the war began to go bad, the American troops began to respect and de-racialize the
North Vietnamese army and the Vietcong because they saw how dedicated they were as
fighters and how well they defended their homeland. At the same time, South Vietnamese
and civilians became more racially inferior to the American troops because they got in the
way of the war and thus were to blame for most of the casualties. There were many instances
where woman and children would confront a group of Americans and have a grenade planted
on their body ready to blow up. They didn't seem to realize that the Americans were there to
help them, thus they were not trusted and were considered more racially inferior than the
Vietnamese troops. All Vietnamese were initially viewed by Americans as members of a
racially inferior group. However, the nature and conditions of their contact, that is as the war
shifted from good to bad, changed how they viewed the Vietnamese.
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Drugs and alcohol played a major role in the lives of the American soldiers during the
Vietnam war. In the beginning of the war, marijuana was the main drug of choice. However,
news that American soldiers were using drugs came back to the U.S., which resulted in
immediate action by the military to suppress drugs, especially marijuana. After marijuana
was banned, many soldiers turned to heroin in order to get their "high". Many soldiers
enjoyed heroin better than marijuana because it sped up the perception of time, whereas
marijuana slowed it down. Because marijuana, heroin, and alcohol were so abundant and
inexpensive in Vietnam, veterans used them to ease the stress and sometimes to forget what
they saw on the battlefield. As they returned to the states, drugs were not as easy to
obtain. Some of the veterans were too young to legally buy alcohol. Other veterans actually
stopped using drugs and alcohol, because it was hurting their marriage or relationships with
others. These were usually the men who had left a stable home and were a little
older. However, those young men who came back between the age of 19 and 23 had a much
harder time adjusting to society. One of the tragic effects of the Vietnam drug situation was
that some men were refused employment because they had served in Vietnam and employers
considered this evidence of drug addiction. Since veterans had many problems adjusting to
society, some continued to drink alcohol and do drugs not only to forget what they saw in
Vietnam but to cope with the frustration and anguish of not being accepted into society.
The media had an immense effect on many individuals during the war. The public
were informed about the war's progress through the media, television, and
newspapers. Consequently, much of their opinions and beliefs about war and American
soldiers were shaped by how the media viewed the war. Photographers were very influential
in forming, changing, and molding public opinion. Some photographers were interested in
showing the suffering and anguish of the soldier, whereas others wanted to emphasize the
dignity, strength, and fearlessness of the American soldier. Those at home had no experience
of how the soldier lived or what he had to deal with during the war. The media built up a
stereotype of the soldier's life. These stereotypes are formed, directed, and censored for
military and political reasons, which were designed to build up morale at home or show that
there was progression and production of the war. When the soldier returned home, he was
confused and annoyed to have seen that his family and friends did not understand what he
had experienced and how he had changed. What the people at home had learned and
discovered about the war, they had seen mostly through the media. Thus, whatever the media
portrayed was what the public believed, but this didn't necessarily agree with what the soldier
actually experienced. Psychologists found that it was important not only to prepare the
veteran for the necessary process of adjustment, but it was also important to prepare the
people at home. "They have to learn through the media, that the man whom they await will
be somebody different from what they imagined him to be."6 In order to have facilitated the

process of re-adjustment for the veteran, the public should have been told the truth as to what
these men endured.
Many veterans were profoundly affected by the Vietnam war after they left. It
changed their sense of identity and perspective of society. The various social, moral, and
psychological conflicts that they encountered in battle changed their lives. Upon returning
home, the veteran felt a sense of uncertainty and alienation from himself and society. He
found that he was questioning himself pertaining to his sense of identity and his
existence. After many cases of PTSD had arisen, psychologists engaged themselves in
extensive studies that analyzed the process of identity formation and integration. They
concluded that identity formation begins at birth and progresses until death. "As one grows
up, there is a constant relationship, almost tug of war, between genetically based aspects of
personality and the cultural influences that shape the personality and motivation of a
person."7 As a child reaches adolescence or their teens, there seems to be a pressure on the
formation of identity in order to integrate with the rest of society. This is the time when
teens think they're responsible and they feel a sense of freedom and liberation from their
parents. As the individual goes through this critical process of growing up, there must be
some set of beliefs or values that will help them in forming a personal identity. This allows
them to feel a sense of integration and acceptance within society.
Typically, the Vietnam soldier was between the ages of 17-25 years old. The fact
that they were either drafted or volunteered for war had a big effect on their identity
formation, depending on the kind and quality of their experiences in Vietnam. If, for
example, these kids had good role models and a good sense of purpose and commitment
while they were in Vietnam, then it would have been easier for them to cope with the
horrifying events that took place there. Unfortunately, there was no commitment to the war,
most of the soldiers had no idea why they were fighting, and there was a lot of controversy
and confusion over the U.S. involvement in Vietnam that got widespread anti-war protests within the
U.S. Thus, in Vietnam, due to a lack of a strong moral and political avocation for the war in addition
to the guerrilla warfare, it was difficult for the soldier to control and predict the events occurring
around him. During the war, the soldier often felt that all was hopeless, and nothing or nobody
could be counted on to provide a sense of continuity necessary to a feeling of integration or
connectedness.
After they returned home, in the process of establishing a personal identity and constructing
new values, most veterans had to deal with rejections and criticisms by a non-accepting
society. Many individuals struggled in trying to achieve self-unity which led to PTSD. The returning
veteran needed social support, affection, and a positive welcoming from his community in order to
work through the war experiences while establishing his sense of identity. Because he was unable to

share his war experience with his family and friends, this led to loneliness and alienation and
sometimes complete hatred of oneself.

There was a general feeling of hostility from the veterans towards the
government, anti-war protesters, and even towards family and friends. The
veterans were forgotten by the government and PTSD was swept under the
bed. Unfortunately, PTSD had a delayed stress reaction so most veterans did not
experience their symptoms until a year after they were discharged. There was a
time limit of one year after which the Veterans Administration would not recognize
neuropsychiatric problems as service connected. Thus the veteran couldn't get any
disability compensation after one year, a time when they needed it the most. This
provoked depression and temper problems. In general, there was a loss of faith in
political leaders, political processes and trust in the worthiness of authority and
institutions. When veterans came back to the states they were despised by
protesters, isolated from their family and friends, and dejected by society. They
were the victims of the worst injustice because they had given everything for their
country, physically and emotionally, and received nothing, not even welcome home
parades. It came to a point that veterans were in rage and felt used. They hated
many people, but mainly those in the government. "They hated their peers who
somehow escaped military service and now live a wonderful life. They hated
profiteers and politicians because while soldiers were dying, they were getting rich
and making capital of campaigns that cost the lives of many. To veterans,
politicians and government officials were hated the most because all they did was
talk about ideals and morals, and how to fight for them, when they had no idea of
the process of enforcing these ideals meant in terms of pain, starvation, fear, and
death."8 It seemed as though the federal government wanted to place veterans at a
disadvantage to those that did not go to war as administrations cut off veterans'
preferences in the civil service, and the educational benefits given to them
contained less than half of the benefits of the GI bill of WWII. Some veterans had
been exposed to Agent Orange, one of the first chemical warfare devices used, and
wanted some sort of compensation, but the government didn't want to acknowledge
that they had caused it. It was common for veterans to feel hostility towards their
own government who allowed them to die off while those who survived were
forgotten.
The Vietnam war was very different from any other previous war fought. Vietnam veterans
were the first to fight in an American war that could not be recalled with pride. There were many
more cases of PTSD among Vietnam veterans than any other war. "In the Korean war, if there were
individual psychological breakdowns, there were clinicians which provided immediate treatment
onsite so that the soldiers could go back into combat thereafter." 9 In Vietnam, psychological
breakdown was very low compared to the Korean war and WWII. Thus, it was decided that these
preventive measures used in Korea had solved the problem of psychological breakdown in
combat. However, the pattern of neuropsychiatric disorder for soldiers in WWII and Korea was a lot

different for Vietnam. For WWII and Korea, the occurrence of neuropsychiatric disorder increased as
the intensity of the wars increased, and as wars settled down, so did the frequency of
disorders. However, in Vietnam, as the war progressed in intensity, there was no increase in
neuropsychiatric disorders. Not until the war was ending did the disorders begin.
Some Vietnam veterans and psychologists believe that PTSD was so common after Vietnam
and not after Korea or WWII because following the previous wars soldiers were brought home on
boats which took them a longer time to get home, thus they had more time to reflect on their
experiences. By the time they arrived at home, they had already talked to fellow war buddies about
the horrors that they experienced. They were able to talk about their feelings with somebody before
they got home, which is what Vietnam veterans lacked. Instead, Vietnam veterans took a relatively
short airplane ride home by themselves and really didn't get a chance to talk with anyone who
understood what they had been through. By the time they arrived at home, they didn't feel
comfortable talking to their families about their war experiences because they wouldn't understand
and would probably think less of him.
Another reason why Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD more than Korean veterans was
because of systems used to decide when to bring back the soldiers. In Korea, they used the point
system. After an individual accumulated a certain amount of points, he was rotated home no matter at
what stage of the war. In Vietnam, they used the DEROS system in which an individual was rotated
home on a specific date. The absence of a warm welcome home parade can be attributed to this
rotational system because it returned veterans from the war in an individual and isolated
manner. Thus, the Vietnam war became an individualized event for each man. His war began the day
he arrived and ended the day he left. Because of this individualism, unit integration suffered because
complete strangers were sometimes transferred into units whenever an individual's rotation was
completed. In past wars, unit cohesion acted like a buffer for the individual against the stresses of
combat.
What has distinguished Vietnam veterans from most of their predecessors is that the public's
detestation of the war seemed to be directed onto them, as if it was their fault. Thus they did not
return as heroes, but as men suspected in participating in shocking cruelty and wickedness or feared to
be drug addicts. The combination of society rejecting them, the government ignoring them, and their
families not understanding to them, caused Vietnam veterans to self-destruct both mentally and
sometimes physically.

The Vietnam War as Portrayed by Popular Film

This section of the paper focuses on the way film has portrayed the Vietnam War. Six films
have been chosen to serve this purpose. They include Apocalypse Now, Born on The 4t" of July,
Forrest Gump, Full Metal Jacket Good Morning Vietnam, and Platoon. The basis used to decide on
these particular films to analyze was simple. They were chosen because they cover and portray
various aspects of the Vietnam War, and because these six films were the films remembered by the
most people over the course of the first three EDGE sections including eight people. In other words,
to get the best view of what audiences are seeing portrayed about the Vietnam War in films, it is
crucial to view those films which would have had the greatest impact on society, namely, the popular
and well known films. This was the criteria used in choosing these six Vietnam War films, because
they appear to have been viewed the most and thus have had the best opportunity to influence and
affect the attitudes of today's society.
This section of the paper will focus on the way in which these six films have portrayed the
Vietnam War according to the seven topics which have been previously discussed. Interestingly, the
main character of each film narrates all six films. Every film often used this technique because it
allows the character to express his inner thoughts and feelings to the audience. The Vietnam War was
an emotional roller coaster for most of its participants; therefore knowing what they thought and felt
is therefore crucial when attempting to understand the War. Also, every film's main character and
point of view was from that of a low ranking soldier in either the army or the marines.

Before War

Reasons for going to the Vietnam War

Of the films that addressed this topic, the majority seemed to suggest that young men
volunteered for the War out of a sense of duty and loyalty to their great country. One soldier said, "I
just want to live up to what grandpa did in the first war and what dad did in the second. I just want to
do my share for my country" (Platoon). Born on the 4th of July really seemed to emphasize how the
main character wanted to serve his country "like a man"; he looked forward to defending and fighting
for freedom. In Full Metal Jacket, the main character indicates that he joined the marines "to become
a killing machine." By volunteering to serve, young men were doing what was right and
honorable. They would fight for the freedom that America believed in, instead of letting communist-

rule spread to Vietnam. Volunteering to go to Vietnam meant you were making your family and
nation proud.
Some of the films, however, did not directly address why the soldiers had gone to the Vietnam
War. In Apocalypse Now, the main character reveals his anxiousness to return to the War, but it is not
until he is called upon to run an undercover mission that he gets his chance. Both in Good
Morning Vietnamand Forrest Gump, the men were simply at war, no reason was given as to why they
had joined or, if drafted, how they felt about being at war. In Platoon however, two soldiers ridicule
and call the main character crazy when he reveals that he volunteered to serve; in their eyes it was
unfortunate to have been drafted and have to serve.
Although not everyone willfully volunteered to patriotically serve, the overall message from
the films was that the young men who went to the War felt they were doing something right and, in
the least, were doing nothing that they could later be ashamed of.
During War

Soldier's Reactions and Adjustments to the War

Most of the films portrayed the soldiers as maturing and evolving as the war
progressed. The soldiers' initial reactions to the war environment were very different from the
soldiers' make-up and outlook at the end of each film.
The soldiers new to the War were portrayed as ignorant and immature when it came to the
ins and outs of war. In every film, the hierarchy of ranks between those who give orders and
punishment and those who receive the orders and punishment is made painfully obvious. Those
who do not take orders well are weeded out, scolded, and punished until an adjustment is made. For
example, Forrest Gump is immediately scolded upon arriving in the field after he salutes his
commanding officer; the Vietcong could have been watching. Another example is the beating of a
marine who is slow to adjust in Full MetalJacket gets beaten by his entire unit. They claimed he
needed help with his motivation.
In most of the movies, the soldiers in the unit became closer as time passes. The only
antagonist to the group is usually the unit leader when he is yelling or punishing the disobedient
unit. However, Platoon takes the problems within the unit to another level. Not only is there
disputes between the leader and the soldiers, but there was also constant bickering and fighting

among the U.S. soldiers. The main character remarked, "I can't believe we're fighting ourselves
when we should be fighting them."
As time passed and the soldiers gained experience and exposure to the War, they began to
transform. At first, the inexperienced soldiers were timid, frightened, and sensitive to the stresses
and casualties of the battlefield. They hesitated during combat and came close to getting
killed. They saw many of their friends right next to them being slaughtered and blown apart. The
only thing that got them through to the next day despite their intense sense of fear was the animal
instinct to survive. And as the War wore on, it seemed that the fear and anxiety built up to a point
were they could no longer

tolerate it. The soldiers grew tired of worrying about death and became desensitized to the
thought of dying. In Apocalypse Now, the soldiers travel down a river which is symbolic of
their exposure to the War. The farther they travel down that river (i.e. the more combat they
see), the more desensitized and animalistic they become. It seemed as though the soldiers
who saw heavy combat realized that being scared to die and being hesitant in war
accomplishes nothing. "I am so happy to be alive," says the main character of Full Metal
Jacket. "I am in a world of shit-yes. And I am not afraid." Instead of fretting over the next
encounter with the Vietcong, they became more and more brave and careless and actually
began to enjoy killing. As the main character of Platoon shoots down Vietnamese soldiers in
a killing frenzy towards the end of the film, he exhilaratedly screams, "This is fuckin'
beautiful."

Soldiers' feelings toward the Vietnamese

A constant throughout all of these movies is the derogatory manner used to speak of
the Vietnamese. The terms "Vietcong" or "civilians" were seldom used to describe the
Vietnamese people. Most often they were just labeled and referred to as "gooks" among the
U.S. soldiers. This suggests that the soldiers had little respect for Vietnamese people in
general.

Another issue conveyed through most of the films was the trust factor. The U.S.
soldiers knew they had come to protect the Vietnamese people, yet the enemy, the Vietcong
or "Charlie," was also made up of Vietnamese people. The soldiers did not know who to
shoot and who to protect. Who could they trust for sure? For example, the soldiers in Platoon
walk into a civilian village and are frustrated because they cannot tell the difference between
innocent civilians and the Vietcong. Out of fear and frustration, they begin to shoot some of
the villagers. A soldier looking at a little old Vietnamese woman remarks, "I wonder if
grandma runs the whole fuckin' show," referring to her being part of the Vietcong. The U.S.
soldiers wanted to believe they could trust some Vietnamese people, but every time another
one of their close friends in their unit died at the hands of a Vietnamese soldier, the U.S.
soldiers seemed to care less about killing them and became quicker to pull the trigger.
Some of the films portrayed the U.S. soldiers treating the Vietnamese as less than
human. Killing these people meant nothing to the soldiers. They are the enemy, and even if
they are just civilians, they are still "gooks" from which the enemy forces are born. In these
films, the soldiers have no sensitivity or expression of emotion when they kill someone from
the other side. For example, the unit leader in Apocalypse Now small talks about surfing as
he walks through a battlefield of freshly killed Vietnamese soldiers. This type of portrayal
trivializes the lives of the Vietnamese and is meant to show us that the U.S. soldiers felt no
remorse when killing them.
Other films portrayed the U.S. soldiers' mixed emotions and feelings toward the
Vietnamese. These films illustrated how the duty of war and the soldiers' fears and
frustrations forced them to kill like any soldier would. Yet the killing is at least accorded a
second thought. These films did not portray the U.S. soldiers as guiltless killing machines,
but rather as soldiers who are emotional and sensitive to the human beings on the other
side. In one scene of Platoon, the main character is shooting at Vietnamese people in
frustration. Yet the very next scene he is protecting a Vietnamese girl from getting
raped. Contrasting these acts evokes the audience the range of feelings the U.S. soldiers felt
toward the Vietnamese people. In Born on the 4'h of July, the main character struggles
psychologically with his memories of accidentally killing an innocent Vietnamese
family. Yet another example is how the main character of Good Morning Vietnam becomes a
friend to many Vietnamese civilians throughout the movie. These kinds of images and
portrayals suggest that the U.S. soldiers viewed the Vietnamese as people, and not just a
distant, unknowable enemy.

Alcohol and Drug Use

Drugs and alcohol were consumed in every single film. Most of the films had multiple scenes
in which either the soldiers were smoking pot or drinking beer or hard liquor. Consuming the alcohol
or doing the drugs was not portrayed as out of the ordinary; no one seemed to have a problem with
it. In fact, it was portrayed to be widely accepted and practiced by all of the main characters in every
movie, except for Forrest Gump. Even the unit leaders in Platoon were smoking pot with the
troops. In Apocalypse Now, the unit leader declares to one of his soldiers, "Nice shot. I'll get you a
case of beer for that one." Alcohol and drugs (mainly marijuana, and in one case acid) seemed to be
readily available to anyone who wanted them. They were portrayed as one of the few pleasures or
rewards soldiers received during the Vietnam War for a hard day's work.
The drugs and alcohol usually seemed to be consumed for one of two reasons always. The
soldiers were either using them casually in their leisure time for pleasure, or are more actively
employing them to drown their sorrows and stresses from the war. Alcohol was consumed in every
movie by at least one soldier for this latter reason. In Platoon for instance, many soldiers in the unit
would retire to what they called "the underworld," a tent where the soldiers could drink and smoke to
relax and forget about the madness of the day's battle. In Apocalypse Now, Born on the 4 th of July,
and Forrest Gum , the soldiers also abuse alcohol after they have left the War in their attempts to come
to grips with what happened to them in the Vietnam War. Regardless of the various reasons drugs and
alcohol were employed in the movies, the scenes in which they were used are portrayed as one of the
few times during the War that the soldiers were ever smiling and getting along with one another as a
group.

Media Effects

Surprisingly, many of the films portrayed how the media played a part in shaping the War and
how the media had its own agenda. Some of the movies actually had film crews on the battlefields
taking pictures and rolling live footage. In Good Morning Vietnam, the main character is a popular
Vietnam radio disc jockey with thousands of soldiers as everyday listeners. In Full Metal Jacket the
main character is both a soldier and also a journalist for a newspaper.
The films illustrate how media is as a tool to shape how the War was portrayed for both the
soldiers and civilians back in the U.S. These portrayals of the War could either be in favor of the War
and American involvement, or against our soldiers and the War. For example, a film crew in Full
Metal Jacket interviews the soldiers for a program to show to the public back in the States. They ask

the soldiers, "Does America belong in Vietnam?" A soldier responds, "I don't know." By showing this
type of answer to society back at home, people would feel that even the soldiers are uncertain as to
why they are at war. It would promote people to be against American involvement. The newspaper
editor in Full Metal Jacket acknowledged how the War was being portrayed back at home. "This is
not a popular war." He then explained to his journalists that their job was to try and portray the War as
positive as possible. He said, "We run only two kinds of stories here: Stories which win the hearts
and minds of society, and combat action that results in a kill-winning the war." Good Morning
Vietnam also portrayed this concept of the media selectively picking and choosing which news it
wants to report. Before the disc jockey is permitted to read the news over the air and inform the
soldiers in Vietnam of the latest developments, he had to first give it to radio officials who checked its
content. The officials would censor negative events out of the report, thus shaping the truth about
what was really happening in the War.
Though films are media in themselves, these Vietnam War movies seem to feel felt that, in
order to give the most accurate portrayal, they should illustrate how the media at that time effected the
way in which the War was viewed and accepted.

After the War


How Exposure to the Vietnam War Affected Soldiers Mentally and Physically

The films all suggested that the War had lasting effects on the soldiers who participated in
it. All of the main characters were exposed to war, and all of them came close to being killed. Three
were actually shot, and two were left without legs as a result of their participation in the War.
Besides the obvious physical effects of participating in the Vietnam War, most of the films
portrayed how exposure to the War left lasting psychological effects in most of the soldiers. Many
factors during the Vietnam War combined to affect the soldiers' thoughts, emotions, and minds. They
felt they could not trust any of the Vietnamese, which made them paranoid most of the time. They
constantly feared death and were deeply traumatized as they saw their comrades being shredded to
pieces by bullets and mines. They were also frustrated and confused, not knowing exactly where they
were going or how America was going to win the War. In the end, they all realized that their blood,
sweat, and tears accomplished nothing; we lost the War. These films illustrated how all of these
factors contributed to the psychological effects of the Vietnam War.

Some of the films portrayed soldiers who were being affected mentally even before they had
left the battlefields. After a great degree of exposure to war and towards the end of the film, the main
character of Platoon states, "Day by day, I struggle not only to maintain my strength, but my sanity."
Many of the films portrayed how the psychological effects of war remained with the soldiers
well beyond their stay in Vietnam. The veterans struggle to forget the painful memories and traumatic
experiences. The main characters of both Apocalypse Now and Born on the 4th of July have vivid
flashbacks. These flashbacks would then remind them of the War's stress, confusion, and frustration,
thus affecting their lives and families well after the War had ended. "Every time I wake up I always
think I'm in the jungle, but then I realize there is nothing. I've divorced my wife. All I can think of is
getting back to the jungle. Every minute I sit in this room I get weaker, and Charlie is getting
stronger" (Apocalypse Now). One experienced soldier concludes, "You must make horror your
friend."

The traumatic experiences of the Vietnam War seemed to be too painful and
intense to ever forgive or forget. The films illustrated how the stresses and ills of
the War impacted its participants in such a way that they never could have the
power to just let it go. The War had changed them forever. The main character of
Platoon perhaps summed it up best when he said, "The War is over for me now, but
it will be in me for the rest of my days."

Veteran Attitudes toward life at Home

Only three of the films depicted the life of a soldier after he had returned home. Born on the
4t" of July contributed the most information, with the majority of the movie being devoted to this
particular topic. The other films concentrated on the lives of soldiers during their participation in the
War.
When it is portrayed, the post-war period for Vietnam veterans is portrayed
negatively. Both Forrest Gump and Born on the 4th of July illustrate how soldiers came home to antiwar protests and protesters. The veteran in Born on the 4th of July responds to this saying, "Love it or
leave it you fuckin' bastards." Even the families of the veterans are divided as to whom they
support. They want to support their sons and brothers, yet seeing how they return from the War with
permanent physical and psychological effects, the families tended to regret that American soldiers
were ever involved in Vietnam.

The Vietnam War altered the soldiers' views and perspectives in a way that only other
veterans could relate to. They return home with sentiments such as, "Everything looks so different."
It seemed to the soldiers that "Home did not exist anymore" (Apocalypse Now). They cannot relate to
normal life anymore, especially when no one can relate or understand what they have been
through. Instead of being proud of their bravery and honor, civilians they encounter at home tell the
veteran to "take your Vietnam War and shove it up your ass" (Born on the 4th of July). An old friend
who went to college instead of the War tells the main character of Born on the 4 th of July how he and
many other civilians at home felt after the War. He says: "People here, they don't give a shit about the
War. To them it was just a million miles away. We got the shit kicked out of us-and for what? For
bullshit lies?"
Coming home to views such as these, veterans did not know how to react, what to think, or
how to feel. All they knew is that they had risked their lives for their country and no one appreciated
their efforts and courage. Instead of being glorified, their actions and contributions were protested in
their faces. The initial response of the main character in Born on the 4t" of July is to stand strong to
his beliefs in honor, loyalty, and pride. He was not ashamed of losing his legs for such a noble cause,
and he feels that the protesters of the War are simply ignorant and wrong. It seemed as though all he
wanted to receive from those back at home was a pat on the back for his efforts in Vietnam. Yet that
pat on the back never came. Frustrated with the lack of respect he receives, he cries out, "I just want
to be treated like a human being. I fought for my country. I am a Vietnam War veteran! "
Constantly surrounded by civilians who cannot relate to what soldiers went through or how
they now feel, the Vietnam veterans began to succumb to the beliefs and views of those who did not
go to the War. Instead of remaining proud of what they believe in and what they had fought for, the
veterans in Born on the 4th of July to gradually deteriorate and weaken in their stance. They begin to
hate the War as well. The main character admits that he would trade in the morals and beliefs that he
had fought for to have his body back whole again. As time passes, he complains more and more
openly about the problems the Vietnam War has caused him.
Not knowing who to blame for the sorrows they feel now, the veterans in Born on the 4th of
July begin to believe it is the governments fault. The film ends with the main character and many
other veterans as anti-war protestors themselves, declaring statements such as: "They told us to go,
we'd fight communism." "This country lied to me, it told me to fight against the Vietnamese." "We
love America, but it stops with the government. The government is corrupt. They are killing our
brothers in Vietnam."
All three films that depicted life after the War showed how the veterans had problems not
only physically and psychologically, but also socially. Born on the 4th of July was a film devoted to
these problems, illustrating how Vietnam veterans were at first self-assured and proud but over time

became confused and bitter. The veterans are extremely desperate to make sense of it all. Perhaps the
best example of this is when the main character woefully asked another veteran, "Do you remember
things we could care about before we all got so lost?"

Personal Interview

C.I.B.

Today, most people in the United States do not even know what a "C.I.B." is. It is a small,
simple, blue badge worn by the members of a very exclusive fraternity. This fraternity isn't academic
or athletic or dedicated to making money. Yet, the admission standard was very strict. Not all the
members of this fraternity wanted to join, but every single member paid the same dues. The cost of
membership was easy to understand. To belong, you had to be willing to kill other human beings and
the only way out of this club was to die or go insane. The school was the University of South
Vietnam and graduation was a bitch.
The United States Army awards the "Combat Infantryman's Badge" to infantry soldiers who
served in a combat unit, line crew, fire team, or in some other combat capacity during a time of
war. Maybe it isn't the most famous medal or award but it is the most honored. Only the "Medal of
Honor" is worn above this beautiful, hard symbol. For the men that display this badge, the world is a
different place and their perception of life and other human beings is a closely kept secret. Only their
fraternity brothers know the truth or would understand the meaning. They witness life through
different eyes now and their personal perspective is forever tinted with blood and pain and terror. Not
everyone survived the initiation.
The ones that did survive eventually filtered back to their homes and began life again. Trying
to forget, trying to remember, these soldiers will always be haunted by the intensity, desperation and
camaraderie of their tour of duty. Some were welcomed home with open arms and others spit upon,
but all were changed. Tens of thousands died, hundreds of thousands were wounded or captured
while their friends and family sat each night and calmly watched this nightmare unfold on TV. A dark
time for this country that in some strange way defines us as a nation now. Because of these men and
this violent time in our history we are, as a nation, even more decisive and aggressive when there are
American lives at stake.

Truly, this will be the only reward for this brotherhood of warriors and a lesson well
learned. Time is a blessed healer for these fighters but it is also a teacher for the country that asked of
them more than should have been asked. Assimilated and made to disappear after the Vietnam war,
this group of men are finally getting the chance to speak out and answer questions about their
experiences. Dispersed throughout society, these aging combat soldiers now have sons the same age
they were during the fighting. Sons and daughters that would judge for themselves the effects of war
and peace on men and society.

The following is an interview done with one of these soldiers. My father, Eddy L. Stevenson,
was drafted into the U.S. Army in February, 1969. Working and going to college part time, he did not
meet the criteria of the draft deferment laws during this time and so found himself in basic Army
training at Ft. Bliss, Texas. Since he had been a full time college student for the three previous years,
he was one of the older draftees. He was almost 21 years old.
After basic training he was shipped straight into infantry training at Ft. Ord, California. There
on the beautiful Monterey peninsula he was given instruction in the deadly art of mortal combat. The
instruction was a gruesome eight weeks of physical abuse, emotional intimidation and weapons
training given by experienced combat veterans. His platoon sergeant (having served two tours in
Vietnam) was 21 years old and his company commander (also two tours) was 23 years old. The
company's first sergeant was an "old" man at 29 years old. In their offices hung many pictures and
trophies (don't ask me to describe these trophies) of their tours of duty in South East Asia. They were
"stone killers", combined these three men had 70 confirmed combat kills. The training in the white
sand of Monterey Bay was very hard and very serious.
The rewards for graduation from infantry school were a promotion to Private First Class
($315.00/month), a fourteen day leave, and orders to Vietnam. A fast trip home only to say "goodbye" and "I love you", he saw the terror in his family's eyes as he left. Two weeks and a few days
later he stepped off a shaky Huey helicopter as a jungle warrior replacement. Every life has its
darkest days and this was the beginning of an uninterrupted nightmare that lasted almost four
months. His memories are somewhat faded now, out of sequence and softened, but still important, if
for no other reason than to document a dark place where humans should not go.
Like all places, the jungles of Vietnam also had many names, " boonies", "bush", "Indian
country", "he field". And, like any other society it had a language of its own: ambush, search and
destroy, trip flare, claymore, C4, CA, RPG, LAW, 16, 60, det chord, C's, LRP rations, frags, dinks,
gooks, NVA. Some remembered phrases and words still provoke strong feelings for some of these
men. The worst word was "contact". Contact with the enemy, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA),

almost always meant that human beings were going to die. From small skirmishes to battalion size
battles the killing was done with hatred and done wantonly. "Yea, as I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death I will fear no evil for I am the baddest son-of-a-bitch in the valley."
Can you imagine a tired, dirty, scared infantry company made up of twenty-year old draftees
armed to the teeth and in a bad mood? These were not the strike troops of the first years. These were
not privileged sons, they were poor and middle class youngsters that could not avoid the draft. There
were no volunteers in these combat units and the only thing that kept them in the field and together
was fear and personal pride. They would rather have died than be called a coward and that is exactly
what they did, die by the thousands. The conditions and quality of the American effort by this time
are more than evidenced by one statistic. 30% of all the casualties during this period came from
friendly fire. If you walked out of the perimeter to do your latrine business you better make danm
sure that you could get back in because a certain percentage of the kids on guard were most likely
stoned, drunk or flat-out terrified. How's that for a nightmare?
With this scenario in mind I interviewed my father about his tour of duty. His response, while
carefully considered, is certainly subjective and in no way represents the thoughts or feelings of all
other veterans. In June of 1969 he received orders to report to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry of the
11th Brigade of the Americal Division in the I Corps of South Vietnam. He was assigned to Company
D, 1st platoon, 1st squad and there began his tour of duty with eighty-eight other lost souls. As he
stepped off the re-supply chopper he was directed to where his fire team was digging their fox hole
for the night. There he met the "men" he would try to stay alive with for the next year: Sal, Birdman,
Woody, Wolfman and the Cowboy. Some seemed very young, others very old, but all were stone
killers.
My father describes it as a trip through the Twilight Zone, a Freddy Cruggar (Friday the 13th)
movie and Disneyland all rolled into one. His three months in the field were spent during the dry

season in the central highlands patrolling in a "free fire zone." It was during this time that the
American Army sustained the heaviest casualties of the war and saw the worst
fighting. Entire infantry companies were being over-run by sizable forces of NVA
soldiers. This intense experience came to a very sudden end three months later. He was
wounded in action on August 28th, 1969. Delta Company was caught in an ambush and he
was hit with rocket fire in both legs, right hip and left arm. Within the span of a very bad
three hours, Delta company went from eight-eight soldiers down to twenty-one. He spent the
next eighteen months in three different Army hospitals.
Eighteen months, five operations and thirty pieces of rocket shrapnel later he was
debriefed, discharged and sent back to Texas to begin his life again. In the short debriefing
he was asked only one question by the Army psychiatrist. The question was "I see from your

file that you have confirmed kills, does this experience make you want to kill other people?"
When he said "no" the Army psychiatrist said only "Good, that is all I wanted to hear, you're
dismissed." Back to the world, back on the street and back to the society that asked of him
more than should have been asked.
I knew the answer to the first question of the interview but I wanted to confirm it
anyway. To the question, why did you participate in the war, he answered, "I had no choice, I
was drafted." He told me his thoughts about the war before he was drafted. "I was a typical
college student. I didn't really even know where Vietnam was or why we were there. All I
definitely knew was that friends, relatives and classmates were dying. I did not want to go
and from what I saw and heard it was nothing but a political mess that for some unknown
reason, continued endlessly. Although, once I was involved in the fighting it became
personal. All I cared about was survival and I could have cared less about right or wrong,
good or bad. Now, its a different story. I've had 30 years to evaluate and educate myself as to
what really happened. Now, I know the truth. It sucked, it was wrong and all that will ever
come of it is an expensive lesson in how politicians and government officials must be
monitored and controlled."
Nine out of ten soldiers in Vietnam never saw combat or any violence. They were support
troops, supplying rations, munitions, transportation, and etc. to the troops in the field. As a combat
soldier, I wanted to know what his first reactions to the bloodshed and violence were. "Some of my
first and strongest memories were of dead bodies, lined up nice and straight, waiting to be taken who
knows where. Mostly they were black clad Viet Cong or NVA soldiers but some were Gl's. My
reaction, like everyone else's was, oh shit, this is not good! How did I let this happen to myself and
how am I going to get out of this! After the first few days passed, I realized I wasn't going to get out
of it. My reaction then was to adapt, whatever that meant, depressed, sad, scared to death, I wanted
my mommie."
"Yes, my reactions to the violence evolved greatly while I was there. Exactly like everyone
else, I adapted to my situation. I very quickly found a peer group and followed their lead. It just so
happened that my peer group was a fire team of six, 19-21 year old boys that happened to be stone
killers. I adapted. Just like you would, just like we all did, I slowly learned the art of hatred and
wanton killing of the enemy. I very quickly learned to hate dinks and gooks with every fiber of my
being and relished the effort of killing as many as I could. They were trying desperately to kill me
too. They hated us more than we hated them."
The intensity of the these feelings is a little hard to look at but I wanted to know if this extreme level
of emotion and violence still affected his life today, so I asked him if the war effected him mentally or
physically. "No" is all he said. "If it does, it is so complicated that I don't know how to verbalize it."

He had much more to say when I asked how he felt about the Vietnamese people while he was
there. "My feelings about the Viet Cong and NVA soldiers transcended hate. I would have murdered
them happily. My feelings about the civilian population bordered on venomous. Not only did I feel
superior to them, the burning hatred in their eyes scared me. Soon after my arrival in Vietnam the
truth was obvious. Even the South Vietnamese civilians hated Gl's and the American Army. We'd
bombed their cities, villages and country flat. We killed, wounded and maimed members of

their families and raped their culture. I often wondered how I would feel toward them if they
had invaded the US and done to our country what we'd done to theirs. We invaded their land
and took control of it and for years there was an army of 500,000 twenty year old fighters,
armed to the teeth, in a bad mood, roaming all over their country. When you ask the
Americans for help you better be careful what you ask for."
"The only emotions I still harbor about my experiences with the Vietnamese people
are the feelings of discomfort I experience around all Orientals now. It took me a little while
to sort through those feelings but now I believe that my discomfort comes from the real
hatred I saw on the faces of so many of the Vietnamese. I am still uneasy when I find myself
exposed to a group made up of this race of people. This may seem strange to say but I
definitely am more tolerant of other races, religions and ideologies because of my time in
Vietnam. I saw first hand that all people are the same. They all need and want the same
things and will definitely kill other humans to defend their homes, families and
interests. Culture, religion, ideas and theories may be different but none of that makes any
difference anyway. All that counts is love of family, loyalty to quality behavior and
protection of individual rights and freedoms. All people, American or Vietnamese, react the
same to these simple truths. While I was in Vietnam I definitely 'did not' see the quality in
tolerant behavior and respect for other cultures, just the opposite. What I learned then was
'might is right' and whoever could bring the most fire power to bear was the superior
race. Although, once I was safe and back to the world, the lesson was different. The lesson I
carried for the rest of my life is never, never underestimate any other human being. No
matter how small, ignorant or uneducated they are, they are all capable of magnificent feats
of sacrifice, bravery and indescribable violence."
A common topic of discussion about the Vietnam War is the role drugs and alcohol
played. Was it as prevalent as is commonly believed? Why and how were they abused so
badly by some of the troops in Vietnam? This was another topic about which Dad had solid
thoughts. "Drugs and alcohol were cheap, readily available and legal. Not only that, but
these twenty-year old men were going on seventy. What I mean is, that these child soldiers
were making and enforcing life and death decisions daily and had given their very lives over
to the fact that probably they weren't going to make it home alive anyway. They gave a damn
about legal or ethical or right. All they cared about was survival, peer group loyalties,

friendship and then escape from the reality of this unending nightmare. Our time in Vietnam
was probably unique in the history of warfare. These boys were conscripted and sent to hell
by the most organized, legalized, controlled, powerful government to ever exist. There was
no way out except to die in Vietnam, go to prison, or be branded a coward by your family and
community. How dare anyone even ask a question about what was the right thing or wrong
thing for these soldiers do. These were college kids, young workers and young fathers forced
to police and kill other humans. Whether to get stoned or drunk was a very minor issue to
these men. Their lives and welfare, during this time, hinged on much more important issues
than smoking marijuana or drinking Jack Daniel's or prostitutes, these were trivial
pursuits. These were issues never thought of or cared about by combat troops. Discipline
and order regarding these things was an internal matter and taken care of internally. What the
world knew or approved of was invisible to these men. Only half the troops were heads (a
slang term soldiers used to describe people who used drugs or alcohol), the other half were
very straight."
"There was a problem though after all the heads returned home. In Vietnam these
powerful men were making individual decisions based only on what they needed and wanted
at the time. Back in the world they found that their status was significantly less meaningful
and much less valuable than it had been in the bush. This country tolerated and condoned
their actions in the line of duty but back here it was outlawed. One reward we were given for
the risk we faced there was individual freedom. When the risk ended so too did the right to
react freely. When they returned home, their experiments in freedom of choice were forced
underground, but we all knew it was for the best. It was just going to take a while to get
ourselves straight and back into the flow of our society. It is weird that many hardened combat
vets could die from an OD on some dirty street somewhere in their own country. Again, only half the
troops were heads, the other half were straight."
The media, especially TV, was a significant player in the Vietnam War. Even today most of
the information and history of this conflict is documented by film, video and news broadcasts of the
day. I ask my Dad what he remembered of the media coverage before, during and after he was
there. "Before I went, it was the only readily available source of information I had and it was
intensive coverage. As I look back now I realize that there were so many reports and stories coming
into our home that the truth was fairly apparent years before I went. Maybe in the first years the press
waved the flag and distorted the truth but not in the last years. I think the American public knew full
well what was going on by the end and it was the massive amount of information shown by the media
that finally brought the war to its end. The media had no effect on the line crews or any of the troops
in Vietnam while they were there. Incoming information was censored anyway. The strangest thing
about all the media coverage was how callused the American people became to seeing the death toll
statistics each day. Even as a child I wondered about it. What a nightmare it must have been for the

parents and loved ones of the soldiers to see those numbers each evening on the TV news. I
remember thinking to myself that for each casualty there was a mother and father somewhere. How
much grief can one country bear each day? Or, maybe the only reason I even noticed was because I
knew there was a good chance that I would have to participate in the fighting."
We've all seen and heard about the stereotypical combat vet that returns home and because of
his deeply violent experiences can not find a normal life. Episodes of nightmares and emotional
problems are commonly reported and documented among returning fighters. Yet, this can't be the
norm or describe the feelings of the greatest majority of them. Most of them came home and resumed
normal lives. My father went back to the job he left and the life he'd begun as a young man. I asked
him how his exposure to life and death combat situations changed him as a person. "It was a little
strange when I first got home. To be in a civilized environment, so far from all that bloodshed was a
little confusing. I mean, it was hard to decide which world was real. Both were a part of my reality
but now neither seemed steady or confident to me. Once bitten, twice shy. After the intensity of
Vietnam, all I knew was I did not want to go back there but I also knew that the world I'd come home
to was a fake. I knew then and I still know today that safety and security are an abstract illusion. The
citizens of this country take peace and prosperity for granted every second of their lives. Instead of
causing nightmares and emotional problems the war changed my attitude and perception. The same
boy that left Texas did not return. The violence and desperation of that experience taught me the
essence of what happiness, physical safety and individual freedom truly is. Now, I would endure it all
over again to protect my family and their happiness, physical safety and individual freedom."
"Killing other humans is easy, it's the dying that's hard. Not fighting back was never an
option where I was. The infantry company I was with worked in a 'free fire zone.' A legally
designated area in which anything or anyone (man, woman or child) we found there was either enemy
or enemy property. This area was well marked and the purpose was clear. These free fire zones were
set up to stop the flow of munitions and troops into the more populated areas down south. Anything
in a free fire zone was to be killed or destroyed and there were supposed to be no civilians in these
areas. In these places there was no quarter given and none asked. They (NVA) didn't take prisoners
here and neither did we. The short term effects of this reality were unbelievable. Again, that trapped
feeling (panic) of how did I get here and how the hell can I get out of here stayed with me. Another
short term effect was utterly human: adapt or die. Again, I adapted and before too long began to find
some calmness and a measure of comfort. I was surprised at how my fear began to subside. I must
say the initial fear was overwhelming though and during an engagement the fear steadily grew
worse. Mostly, other members of my company went home, some died. I desperately wanted the
former and at the same time I was terrified it would be the latter."
"To evaluate the long term effects of killing another human being must be done in a strict
context. The long term effects of 'kill or be killed' are completely subjective. Nothing that is justified

is destructive emotionally. Obviously, all the killing in Vietnam wasn't justifiable, some was murder,
some was accidental but all of the killing on both sides shared one commonalty. Whatever the reason
and no matter what the situation, whom ever the killer was, he was definitely glad and relieved it
wasn't him that was being killed. After the killing is done there is no going back. After the shaking
stops, the breathing becomes normal and the intense panic subsides, the doubts and questions about
the moral dilemma you just faced come to the surface. Who know show combat vets answer these
questions about justifiable homicide. Some try to answer these questions their entire lives. One thing
is for certain though, we are all glad it wasn't us that died. The question should not be, how did the
soldiers deal with these moral dilemmas? It should be, how did their country deal with these
returning soldiers? If the violence they committed and witnessed can not be justified in some context
it makes them sick."
My fathers' return to this country was different than the average homecoming. Arriving on a
hospital ship, he was carried through the crowd on a stretcher. He was flown into Oakland where
most of the anti-war protests were staged. He did witness a large protest when he arrived. What must
that have been like to see crowds of college students and other protesters denouncing what he'd done,
singing, smoking pot, in total disdain for anyone that hadn't deserted or dropped out before they were
forced into battle for the establishment. This was in late 1969, less than a year from when this dream
began. I asked him how he felt when he returned. "They had already warned us about the
protesters. They also body searched us for weapons because there had been incidents of violence
between protesters and returning vets. If those protesters could have heard what the returning
combatants said about them they would have left instantly and never returned, grateful to live to see
one more minute of life. What they did, what this country allowed them to do, was the absolute
darkest moment of American history. This time, this instant, this act will be recorded as the worst
display of character, integrity and low quality this country will ever know. It signals and

exemplifies for all humans how not to be. This was the highest treason against this country
and should have been punishable by (???). Right or wrong, justified or not these young men
were tortured to death for this country and politics don't mean shit, economy don't mean shit,
and philosophy don't mean shit! Unforgivable! The height of ignorance that transcends
intelligent behavior, these were animals. The damage they did is uncalculatable. I hated
them all then and I still do. I would have hurt them if I could have."
"I did have a secret though. Something the politicians, the government, the shitty
protesters and all the people of this country didn't know. The secret was, I survived. Not
only did I survive but I was going to be alright despite all of them. Never again would I be
like them or participate in their country or their system, or their abstract laws that made them
all my equals. Not only would I never be trapped like that again but I would see to it that
none of my children were either. This idiot country is nothing but an idiot system and never
again would I let other humans control my destiny. Never again would I be drafted, coerced,

threatened or conscripted by anyone. Funny as this sounds, Conan the Barbarian said it best,
if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger. The bottom line is this stupid country, in all its
fake, ignorant, shallow behavior did do something great for me. It forced me to get tough or
die, now I'm ready. Just as if it were yesterday, I'm ready.

CONCLUSION

Having researched each section individually, we will now compare and contrast our
findings. We want to point out that any similarities found among the three sources of
information are not the result of collective collaboration prior to conducting our
research. Rather, the findings we common to all three sections are just simply what we found
to be in common after individually gathering our information. In other words, we did not
biasedly set our to find information we felt ahead of time would be common to each
source. We had no expectations on what similarities and differences we would find. Because
of this, we feel our findings can be concluded to be that much more accurate and credible, as
they arose from not just one but three different genres of information. Besides our findings,
we also offer our insights and reasons as to why these similarities and differences between the
accounts occur.
The first section was the reasons for going Vietnam. Both the psychological study
and the one-on-one interview found that the majority of people that went to Vietnam were
drafted. Interestingly, the majority of the films portrayed the main character as volunteering
for their duty. We feel this difference occurs because films want to simply make a good
story. When someone volunteers with patriotic and noble aspirations to serve their great
country it is easier to show more of a change in their own beliefs and ideals. This is a much
more interesting scenario that a simple draftee that was forced to go against his will.
Our next section researched was soldiers' reactions and adjustments to the war. All
three sections did find that soldiers adapted and reacted like they had to in order to
survive. However, the psychological study section found that as soldiers were nearing their
departure date from Vietnam, they became more reluctant to put their lives on the line,
whereas the other two sections portrayed the soldiers as becoming less emotional killing
machines. We feel that the psychological study is more accurate and thorough in this
topic. The films simply left this detail out. We feelthe films traded in accuracy for a more
climatic ending. The films, trying to make money, left out the soldiers' reluctance to go into

battle at the end of their tours in order to end each film with more excitement and emotionsoldiers as killing machines rather than hesitant cowards.
This leads into our next section which was soldiers' feeling about the Vietnamese
people. The overall portrayal was one of distaste for the Vietnamese, "bordering on
venomous" as the Vietnam veteran proclaimed in the personal one-on-one interview. The
majority of these feelings arose from the general distrust and fear of the Vietnamese
people. However, some films did suggest that not all soldiers were simply mindless killing
machines, but rather that some did have sympathy for the Vietnamese people. We, feel that
some of the films were able to portray this due to the fact that not all of the soldiers in the
movies were psychologically effected in a negative way, whereas in the psychological study,
the information concentrated solely on these types of soldiers. We believe there is a
correlation between those who were psychologically effected and those who feared and
distrusted the Vietnamese the most--i.e. those who had the least amount of sympathy for the
Vietnamese.
The fourth section we covered was the alcohol and drug use that occurred throughout
the duration of the war. All three sections found that drugs and alcohol were all readily
available, cheap, and used to temporarily escape the hell in which the soldiers were living on
a day to day basis. We feel that alcohol was discussed in every section based on the simple
fact that it was readily available and highly used. Thus, any accurate portrayal of the War
should include a discussion of alcohol and drug use.
We then looked at media effects. The only general theme we all had in common was
that there were times in which the media would censor information to portray the war how
they wanted to. We feel that the media purposely set their own agenda of the War. In other
words, the media intentionally put emphasis on either the positive or negative aspects of the
War (depending on its particular stance -for or against the War) in order to shape how people
accepted and understood what was going one in Vietnam. This agenda-setting effected how
both the soldiers and civilians at home viewed the Vietnam war.
Our next section covered how exposure the war affected soldiers physically and
mentally. The psychological study focused more on the soldiers who were negatively
effected by the war. Along these same lines, the films studied also portrayed soldiers who
were negatively effected due to their bias towards portraying characters which evolved and
changed as they were exposed to war. The personal account revealed that not all veterans are
psychologically effected to the degree that the psychological study and films suggest. We
feel these latter sections were biased toward discussing/portraying those soldiers that had
been negatively affected.

The final section researched was veterans' attitudes toward Americans once home
including the Government, protestors, family, and society. For the most part all three sections
portrayed a hostility toward the government and anti-war protestors. The inability to
understand and the lack of respect given to the veterans angered and frustrated the soldiers
upon their arrival home. However, one film did portray that over a long period of time, some
veterans reversed their views and become anti-war protestors themselves. We feel that this
particular film's agenda and message was to show the changing beliefs and feelings of a
veteran and therefore wanted to portray how some of the veterans did in fact completely
change their views over time.
In conclusion, this paper thoroughly shows some angles of the psychological effects
of the Vietnam War. Overall, throughout the three sections, the majority of topics were
similar in their depiction of the effects of war. However, differences did exist. To a great
degree, these differences can be accounted for due to the biases that exist within each
separate source. The psychological study obviously sought out information pertaining solely
to accounts of soldiers who had been psychologically (negatively) affected by the
War. Media is also biased. The films obviously portrayed characters and events that would
develop into the most interesting story line (attracting larger audiences and thus greater
profits). Also realize that the films will be biased by the film maker's own personal point of
view or agenda on how to portray the Vietnam War. Finally, even though the personal
account is I 00% accurate, it is only I 00% accurate to that person. With each of these biases,
gathering information from just one of these sources would be less thorough and valid than
what our combined research adds up to. Despite these biases, we feel the similar findings
among all three sources of information are accurate and strong.

1 Thompson, Kenrick. "Photographic imagery and the Vietnam War: an


unexamined perspective."
2 Howell-Koehler, Nancy. "Vietnam: The Battle comes home." New Trauma of
War: Stress and Recovery in Vietnam Veterans. (Washington, D.C.: American
Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1985), p. 147.
3 Kaylor, Jeffrey A. et al. "psychological effects of military service in Vietnam: A
meta-analysis."
4 Laufer, Robert S. et al. "War stress and trauma: The Vietnam veteran
experience."

5 Laufer, Robert S. et al.


6 Lau, Richard. "Self-interest and Civilian Attitude toward the Vietnam War."
7 Barrett, Drue H. et al. "Combat exposure and adult psychosocial adjustment
among U.S. Army veterans serving in Vietnam, 1965-197 I."
8 Howell-Koehler, Nancy, pp. 172-173.
9 Thompson, Kenrick.

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