I was disappointed with the ending of Wages of War. I understand that the Vietnam War was the war that most affected and impacted their lives but they devoted three chapters plus the epilogue to Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange. I thought that there was a lot of other things that they could have discussed instead of Agent Orange and Vietnam. I did like reading about the Iraq War veterans. I think it is important that we learn from our past mistakes and use them to treat veterans of the Iraq War with more respect. It is time for America to step up and take responsibility for its veterans. I did enjoy the Gambone reading. For much of his book he has seem to gloss over negative aspects and instead focus on the positive. In this section he seemed to discuss and acknowledge that life wasn’t easy for veterans. I enjoyed reading this and thought it was a good way to end the class.
I was shocked when I listened to NPR’s report on female Iraqi War veterans. Women in this war are closer to the the front lines then ever before. The reporter on NPR stated that women were fully integrated into the military for the first time in the Iraq War. Because of this they are facing a host of new problems. I was shocked when I heard that female soldiers were scared to go to the bathroom at night for fear that they would be attacked by their male counterparts. I never realized that this would be a problem for female soldiers. I have never heard of female soldiers being raped by male soldiers. It is so sad that female soldiers not only have to worry about the enemy, they also have to worry about their own troops.
Another problem female veterans face is returning home. This is similar to the problems male veterans have faced. However, female veterans still have to face a whole host of unique problems. They have problems returning home and regaining their authority over the household and family. They also have a hard time going from a fast paced career in the military and war time and returning home to a normal life. These problems show the many difficulties female veterans face.
Regina H. Schiffman served as a nurse in a MASH unit in the Korean War. She worked in very primitive conditions and struggled to provide the best care possible for her patients. She treated many wounded soldiers and worked in the neurosurgery unit. Her accounts of the terrible working conditions and the gruesome sights she encountered really illustrated the difficulties that she experienced. Although she did not experience any discrimination because of her gender during her service she still encountered many trials and had a very difficult time in Korea. Even though she was not placed in combat positions she still fully experienced the horrors of war.
Rhona Marie Knox Prescott is another example of a heroic woman veteran. She served as a nurse during the Vietnam War and experienced many horrific circumstances. Just like Regina, she worked in primitive conditions. Although Rhona did not experience combat she did undergo a particularly traumatic experience. Her close friend Eleanor took her place on a plane, and the plane ended up crashing and Eleanor died. Rhona struggled with this traumatic experience and her guilt for many years. She underwent severe PTSD and struggled for a long time with her traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War. Her experiences demonstrated the terrible experiences female veterans underwent and the difficulties they encountered in war and post war times.
Even veterans of less famous wars were mistreated by the American government. Veterans of the War of 1812 were also denied pensions, just as the American Revolution veterans had been. They were mistreated by the government and the public and they were denied compensation for their service. Veterans of the Mexican War were given slightly better treatment. Like Civil War veterans they were generally viewed positively by the public and therefore received better treatment. This treatment continues for awhile as veterans of the Spanish American War return home. These veterans had such massive public support due to the propaganda that was being sent out by the government. Therefore they received better treatment then past veterans. I would almost compare their treatment to the treatment of World War II veterans. Obviously there are major differences but they were both treated with gratitude by the public. However, this positive treatment of veterans ends in the Philippines. Support for this was low among the public so the government responded in kind and treated these veterans poorly.
Throughout these wars the government has denied veterans benefits, ignored their health problems, and mistreated them. This occurs whether the war is popular or one of the less well known American wars. Mistreatment by the public and the government just keeps occurring and there seems to be nothing veterans can do to escape it.
The thing that had the greatest impact on me in these chapters was the way the government treated soldiers who had been exposed to Agent Orange. The VA and other groups were supposed to protect and help the soldiers. Instead, they ignored them, called them liars, and refused to give them any sort of payment or health benefit except in rare cases. This is simply unacceptable. Vietnam veterans had to suffer from criticism by the public, they had to fight in a war that really had no purpose, they were among the first Americans to lose a war, and on top of all that their government poisoned them and then refused to acknowledge that it do so or help them in any way. This is simply unacceptable and it shows how much these people had to suffer and go through before they could get any recognition or respect from the public or from the government that sent them to fight in the first place.
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The last few chapters of this novel were the most powerful passages that I have read in this class. In the end Kovic finally reveals the war trauma that has been haunting him throughout the novel. He states that he murdered a fellow soldier and murdered several Vietnamese children in a village because he believed they were enemy combatants. These experiences are more traumatic to Kovic then his paralysis is. His experiences in Vietnam cause him to both wish for death, and yearn to fully experience life. At times he is furious over his injuries and at other times he seems to consider it his payment for his crimes. Although Kovic might not have full blown PTSD he is certainly severely affected by his experiences in Vietnam and they profoundly change who he is and how he views the world and the war.
Kovic’s disclosure of his war crimes greatly impacted me. This man admitted in his book that he killed a fellow soldier and murdered children. This is an incredibly difficult thing to admit to oneself let alone to millions of readers. However, this admission changes the novel. It shows the true horror of war and all the casualties and injuries that come along with it. He made no attempt to gloss over his atrocities or portray himself as a hero. He knows what he did and makes no excuses for it. This is profound because it provides such a complete and accurate portrayal of what veterans experience. Although Kovic reiterates many issues we have already discussed in class he takes it beyond the textbooks into real life. This is why Born On The 4th of July is the best book we have read so far.
This is one of the most intense and captivating books we have read. Kovic starts the book with the story of his injury and throughout the next chapters he jumps back and forth between his youth and childhood and his experiences in the army. This made me identify with Kovic more then any other author thus far. In class we seem to focus more on problems veterans have with unemployment, readjustment, or treatment by the government. Up until this point I had never really considered what life would be like for a veteran who was severely disabled by war.
Kovic shows the unique hardships and difficulties he faces because of his paralysis. When he was discussing mistreatment in the hospital and how it felt to be in a wheelchair at the height of his youth I really began to understand how difficult life is for many veterans. Not only does Kovic have all the problems stated above, he also has to learn how to live life from a wheelchair. He has to come to terms with the fact that he can never walk, or play sports, or even stand up again. This is obviously an incredibly difficult thing to do especially considering how young he is and how active he has been. This story really brought home what life is like for disabled veterans. However, it is important to understand the bias in the story.
This book is certainly biased by Kovic’s bitterness towards the government and the war he fought in. He obviously believes he was manipulated into joining the Army and fighting an unjust war. He is bitter about the fact that he was robbed of the use of his legs and his youth. It is important to understand his reasons for writing this book. However, despite this bias I find the book compelling and informative. In my opinion it is the best book so far and it has certainly opened up my eyes to important issues and difficulties veterans faced.
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Once you get past the corny 1950s dialogue and get over the fact that it was a three hour movie, The Best Years of Our Lives was a decent movie. It gave a fairly accurate portrayal of many of the difficulties veterans encountered when they returned home. Many vets returned to families they barely knew, wives who had moved on, severe disabilities, and unemployment. Although this movie had a cute Hollywood ending life was not that easy for many veterans. Some veterans struggled with these problems for the rest of their lives. Say what you will about the quality of the film, the acting, and the dialogue but The Best Years of Our Lives did do a decent job of showing the uncertainty of the times and the problems many veterans encountered on their return home.
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This reading exposed how badly women and minorities were treated both during and after their service. Despite the huge demand for nurses, doctors, soldiers, and other essential personal most branches of the armed service were unwilling to allow women to enlist. When they finally gave in and allowed women to enlist most military branches created separate branches for women to join. This caused most women to be denied the advantages of the GI Bill and to not be recognized for their service.
Minorities were also harshly treated. The VA did not take steps to defend and protect these veterans after the war and many veterans were terrorized and mistreated. Even minority veterans who preformed extraordinarily heroic acts received little attention and praise. Doris Miller was a cook on the battleship West Virginia stationed in Pearl Harbor. On December 7th he saved the life of his captain and shot down 4 Japanese warplanes despite having no battle training. In spite of his heroics he was not fully honored until the late 1970s (299, Wages of War). If a white soldier had committed the same heroic feat during this time I am certain he would of received immediate praise and recognition. Japanese veterans were also mistreated and harshly condemned after the war because of their ethnicity despite their service record. It seems that no matter how bravely the men served they could not escape their minority status.
One thing I found very interesting about this reading was the difference in the portrayal of Omar Bradley in The Greatest Generation Comes Home and Wages of War. In the first book Bradley is credited with saving the VA from the incompetence of past directors. He is shown as the savior of veterans who fights for their rights and revolutionizes healthcare for veterans. In the second book Severo and Milford portray Bradley as a well connected army official whose strict army attitude leaves many veterans lacking care. I think the difference in these two accounts are very interesting and highlight the bias and the viewpoints of each book. Severo and Milford are writing a book about the mistreatment of veterans throughout history. Therefore they tend to take a harsher, more pessimistic view and highlight every negative aspect. Gambone takes a very different approach. He is focusing on the success World War II veterans had rejoining society. Although he does mention the negative aspects and the difficulties some veterans encounter he downplays some of the harsher realities and focuses more on the successes of readjustment rather then the failures.
Paul Fussell’s book Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic is obviously biased. Fussell is attempting to explain to the reader how serving in World War II caused him to become disillusioned and skeptical. When he looks back on his experiences throughout the book he views them with bias against the government and the war. This causes him to be overly pessimistic and to slightly exaggerate about the experiences and ordeals he underwent. It is important for the reader to be aware of the bias present in this book and take an analytical approach while reading. However, despite the bias present Fussell makes a strong point and tells an excellent story.
The bias in The Greatest Generation Comes Home is less obvious but still present. In this novel Gambone focuses more on the positive impact veterans had on society especially the positive effects of the GI Bill. Although Gambone does discuss some of the difficulties veterans encounter, he paints a much brighter picture of the return home. Gambone is trying to show the positive effects returning veterans had on different aspects of American society and because of this he tends to gloss over some of the less positive aspects of the return home. However, for the most part this book is less biased then Fussell’s and is more of a scholarly account then a personal narrative. However, the reader should still be aware that this bias exists while reading.