by Miranda Smith, November 15, 2019
It is not without reason that some therapists recommend patients suffering from emotional trauma to express their thoughts and feelings in the form of writing. Some of the most expressive, creative and thought provoking ideas in history are documented in writing. This is one of the main ways we are able to look back and understand events in history. It’s incredibly important to consider the meaning of written words. When a person sits down with nothing more than their thoughts and a means of logging these ideas, incredible concepts and reflections are recorded.
With this said, a closer look is taken at some of the thoughts recorded on the subject of Vietnam. During this time span from the 1950’s to the 70’s, those involved in or affected by the war often channeled their pain and frustration with the devastation of war into incredibly powerful documentations. From music, art and poetry to letter writing, the importance of understanding the need for peace lies within the personal encounters and stories of those who have lived in times of trauma, gunfire and devastation.
When reading letters written by troops to be sent back home, the words reveal ugly truths, first hand encounters and personal trauma in relation to the war. In addition to this, descriptions of everyday troop life gives us an insight on how it must feel to live in these conditions. When a troop reveals: “I carry nothing but a razor and a bar of soap for comfort” (Letters Home 2), we begin to understand that these men truly live a life of only necessity, continuing only for the sole sake of survival. These young men are being sent out into this new lifestyle by force and with little consideration for factors such as these.
These boys are dying, and the conditions they are facing on a day to day basis is punishment just as treacherous as we are trying to impose on the enemy. “Try to imagine grass possessing razor-sharp edges eight to 15′ high, so thick as to cut visibility to one yard. Then try to imagine walking through it while all around you are men possessing the latest automatic weapons who desperately want to kill you” (Letters Home 3).
This is a description of a nightmarish scene; however, it’s merely the harsh reality of the Vietnam war. Not only are soldiers suffering tremendously, so are those back home. All fifty-eight thousand plus lives lost to the Vietnam war belonged to a human being, someone with a name, a story and loved ones who were left to weep after their lives were lost. It is by receiving these letters and hearing the news of another soldier lost that families begin to change their perspectives on the war. One mother of a soldier lost expresses her mourning with the following words: “Shouldn’t Casey’s name be inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall along with my own, because a part of me ended when he died and that ember almost blew out” (Letters to the Wall). The power of these words portray just how hard it is to live after losing a loved one, let alone for the entirely unfair and wrongful reasons of combat.
Many who were left home or who returned from the battlefield took further action to voice their opinions and spread awareness for the need to end the Vietnam war. In addition to expression via means such as letters, many expressed their concerns through the arts. It was during the Vietnam war timeframe that some of the most powerful songs and poems arose out of tension and heartache. One poet, Bruce Weigl, a Vietnam veteran, writes: “still, I close my eyes and see the girl/ running from her village, napalm/ stuck to her dress like jelly, /Her hands reaching for the no one/ who waits in waves of heat for her.”
It is through the release of these thoughts into such art forms that the reader’s attention is grabbed. By describing the horrid truths inflicted on all those involved, especially children, the reader will understand the legitimate threat war poses on others and ourselves as a nation. When children are burning, suffocating and orphaned, something needs to stop. This war needs to stop, and that is exactly the point that echoes from such heart-wrenching words.
When recalling these expressions, these first hand reflections of those directly impacted that we can see a more personalized perspective of war. Wars are often presented to us in facts: body counts, casualties and endless measurements and statistics. What is often not shown to the public are the accounts of the people who lived it. Only then can war be seen in a new light. A new light that shines upon the dark, buried and forgotten dreaded truth; war is killing our nation.
One hope is that by recalling these words, the endless words cried by countless victims throughout history, we can learn from the devastation previously brought upon our own by the forceful power of military and war. Consider the soldiers, tired, dirty, miserable, injured and damaged. Consider the loved ones, weeping, screaming and overwhelmed by the news their son or brother has been killed. Consider the children, crying for their parents who will not return. Consider the nurses, the wives, the suicides of those who could not cope. Is this not enough to stop us from continuing to tear our world apart? These are human beings, our friends and family. Should they not be entitled to the same right to life as the white man sending them to their death? We all inhabit this world, all 7.7 billion of us, and that’s not changing anytime soon. Isn’t the first hand evidence enough to convince us that something needs to change? Cooperation must take place, love must be given to all, and the right to remain alive must be promised, never doubted.
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, Movie Script, The STANDS4 Network.
Veterans For Peace, “Memorial Day Event 2016 Letters to The Wall,” Viet Nam Full Disclosure.
Bruce Weigl, “Song of Napalm,” Poetry Foundation, 1999.