What I know about the truth of war is that it was concerned with protecting the country and fighting against enemies. It is something which I believe attracted honor and a positive meaning, because I always heard it from my grandfather’s war experience. However, this perspective about war changed after getting more information on the topic from Chris Hedges and Tim O’Brien. The two are journalists who wrote about the Vietnam War. After reading their articles, I was able to change my understanding on the concept of the truth of war. Learning more about Hedges and O’Brien helped me to see my grandfather’s story in a deeper way and value his experience.
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During my childhood I did not care about war, because I had no idea about what it was. I only heard about war from my grandfather, and the information was limited because he only said what he wanted to share with me (Hedges 22). My grandfather is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and he was awarded five medals during that time he was in the army. What I know about soldiers, veterans and war is mystery, heroic power, and adventure. I grew up listening to my Grandpa’s marvelous experience in the Vietnam War and felt honored that my family had a veteran Grandfather. At that time, I only heard about what Chris Hedges calls the “mythic reality” about war in his book War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. The Vietnam War was a war between North Vietnam, which was supported by communist allies, and South Vietnam, which was supported by the United States and other anti-communist countries. The main battlefield took place between 1961 and 1973 in Southern Vietnam. As a result, American troops were sent to Vietnam to take part in the war. During this war, many people, especially soldiers, were affected physically, psychologically, financially and socially (Hedges 20). These negative effects are what Chris Hedges and Tim O’Brien try to communicate to their audiences about their perception of war. This is what helped me learn how to analyze and study the truth of war from different aspects.
From the excerpt “Speaking of Courage” in The Things They Carry, written by O’Brien, I could understand why my grandfather only mentioned his achievements and credits (O'Brien). People regard him as a hero, and he did not want to destroy this kind of perception we had of him. Norman Bowker in “Speaking of Courage” is also a veteran of the Vietnam War, and he was not willing to tell his family and friends what he had experienced during the war except that he had got seven medals. He was afraid that the other people neither cared nor understood about the killings and death, but he needed someone to talk to. According to O’Brien, Bowker felt embarrassed when he realized it was the smell that stopped him from pulling his friend out of the field full of excrements (O'Brien 152). Bowker, an outstanding soldier who got seven medals, was supposed to be a hero. In fact, when he was standing in a field full of excrements, the smell stopped him from saving his friend’s life, which was not a heroic act.
Try to imagine that you are in the middle of a field; you will probably put yourself forward and rescue your friend, because that is how people are taught to do. However, sometimes it can be challenging as it is seen how even an excellent soldier such as Bowker chose to abandon his friend (O'Brien 152). The flying bullets and the smell represent the sensory reality that is always ignored or showed under the mythic reality. Bowker as well as my grandfather do not want to feel embarrassed in front of other people. Therefore, they opted for a “mythic reality” instead. Hedges notes that, “It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters.” He uses a story to tell us that the truth of war is not heroic.
The war is not only about cruel massacre, it also leads to after-war problems which ruin heroes’ lives. I have interviewed a veteran Michael McClure, who had fought in Vietnam War for 4 years from 1963 to 1967 since he was 19 years old. As a teenager, McClure was eager to make a contribution to his homeland and protect his country. This heroic dream provoked Mcclure to join the army and fight against Vietnam. After McClure came back from Vietnam, his war experience made his readjustment to American society very difficult. In wartime, sensory reality describes the events for what they are (Hedges 21).
Let us explore more about what veterans’ lives are and how difficult their lives have become. Many veterans were disabled at that time; however, they did not get suitable and overall assistance. Without proper abilities, most disabled veterans were discriminated in workplaces and in public. McClure said, “The bar that I usually went to also rejected me to get into it. I think the main reason is that I have a pretty scarred look with one eye.” In addition, during the four years that he spent in the army, he learned how to defeat the enemies, but forgot his academic knowledge, which became the biggest obstacle to find a regular job to support his daily life after he came back from Vietnam. Furthermore, the government did not provide Medicaid to veterans as they initially promised. With just a little financial subsidies and no Medicaid, McClure’s life became tough, because he had no money to buy enough food and medicines. Also, the brutal and inhuman killing of Vietnamese civilians also directly left a troubled mark in his mind. According to McClure, “Not only other soldiers were killed, but there were lots of kids and women also killed by us.” This particular war experience even further led to his later anti-war stance. And McClure’s personal experiences reminded us of the lack of social attention during the post-Vietnam War period to Veterans.
As McClure’s story demonstrates to us, the Vietnam War left a troubled legacy on American soldiers. The lack of proper compensation, social attention and care essentially turned these solders into actual victims of the war, too. Many teenagers had fought the Vietnam War for almost ten years; they could hardly do anything after they came back to America (O'Brien10 ). These veterans had neither money nor jobs; they could not adjust to the new society; they could not also cure mental injuries. This experience admonishes us that waging a war is not about mythic truth nor honorable behavior, but instead on how to take care of the domestic aftermath of the war. This idea should be seriously considered by any government who required their countrymen to devote their youthful lives for the national interest.
Studying from Hedges and O’Brien’s as well as my grandfather’s experience, I realized how they went through hard time. In the true battlefield, there is no honor or mythical manner; what is left in the battlefield are bodies and lives. After interviewing McClure, I probably know what my grandfather had gone through after war time (Hedges 21). I felt upset to find out the horrible experience that my grandfather underwent. In addition, he did not tell us about his other experiences, because he was afraid that we would worry about him as his family. Fortunately, my grandfather is a lucky person, because he has a family that stands by him and supports him. If we knew more about veterans, maybe we would have more sympathy for them. They are not always as we see them as heroes. They also need more care, because they experienced really unimaginable ordeals.