Term Paper: America's Wars Have Historically

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[. . .] Most women joined through Ho Chi Minh's Volunteer Youth Brigade, that was essential in the effectiveness of the Ho Chi Minh trail, which connected forces, supplies, food and munitions between North and South Vietnam. Requirements for joining this group stipulated that women be seventeen years of age in order to serve. But the implicit motivations driving both the women involved, and the recruitment agencies handling them, guaranteed that this rule would not be strictly admonished. As such, the ranks of the youth organization included girls as young as thirteen who were eager to act on familial obligations of revenge or national commitments to patriotic integrity. So women learned to fire weapons and prepare trapping devices. They were snipers and guards, as well as political activists.

The highly integrated involvement of women on the side of the North Vietnamese was not a coincidence though. And it was dependent upon far more than the length and magnitude of the war, though those were certainly affecting factors. Rather, the new philosophy of communism acted as a release for women from the traditionalist and patriarchal values of Confucianism that had previously determined the cultural outlook of Vietnam. To many of the women involved, the promise of communist influence also promised to be a great step for women's liberation. In the end, the communist victory, they believed, would grant women equal regard in the eyes of their government, whose gender-blind policies would soon be in place.

This served the North Vietnamese well. The involvement of women in particular was troublesome to the gender stereotypes that American soldiers brought with them. For some time, the threat of a female aggressor seemed unrealistic to the western perspective that was heavily steeped in its own sexism. This, combined with the cultural stigma surrounding male physical aggression toward women, granted the North Vietnamese women a considerable advantage. Frequently employed methods of deception and subterfuge were aided by this American perspective on gender politics that the fighting women of the NVA and Vietcong willfully exploited.

In spite of this, and the seeming promise that Vietnam would not foster the universal tendency of male-helmed nations to subjugate women and diminish their accomplishments, the women who helped North Vietnam to victory now languish unrecognized by their government. The heroics and ferocity of these women in support of northern forces hasn't even earned them direct address as veterans. As the Vietnamese government was embattled by unnumbered postwar adversities of economic and social proportions, it left its women to fend unacknowledged with those same realities. Somehow, in the shuffle thereafter, their contributions were lost. But they suffer the same after-effects that plague the men. They are haunted by lost families and lost limbs too. They too were forced to endure the daily hardships of an economically devastated country. The damages of war left the women who served to tolerate malnutrition and widespread disease. And the chemical damage of Agent Orange lingers in the illnesses that women have suffered as well as men. Psychologically, these women have been no better off. In Vietnam, the society as a whole was dealt an emotional scar that knows no traditional means of healing. And the carnage that the war brought into the lives of towns and families left its women with a particularly bitter memory. Because even as the treachery of war robbed them of their innocence and femininity, their own government denied them its empowerment.

America's treatment of its women is equally impeachable. Our cultural understanding of Vietnam does not seem to include a population of women who, ranging predominantly from the ages of 21 to 25, gave a sizable portion of their emotional and physical lives to the cause of the war. And many found reentry into society just as difficult as did the men with whom they served. Women came home with injuries and addictions that had been thrust upon them in this foreign land, and many were unable to shed the fears and nightmares that had planted their seeds amid the rockets and shells of Vietnam. Some of the most chilling accounts of the Vietnam experience are those imparted by the nurses who spent all their waking hours in the hopeless pursuit of medical repair. Women of limited medical experience and, in many cases, no military experience, came face-to-face, on a daily basis with sights and injuries that would weaken even the strongest resolve. And they committed to do so throughout the war in the interests of saving lives and, in many cases, serving as emotional support to young men in dire need of warmth. Nurses found themselves acting as surrogate mothers to boys on the verge of death and soldiers recently relieved of their legs. And the emotional wounds of these experiences were inescapable. Long after the conclusion of the war, nurses in reminiscence of their tours, bore the same psychological afflictions of the soldiers who had seen far too much death. And nurses' descriptions of the experience, such as the following by a volunteer in Vietnam, unmistakably mirror those disclosed by the fighting men, leaving little doubt that women left the war with the same capacity for emotional damage; "Over at the Air Force hospital, we heard the choppers thundering through the sky and over the hospital Quonsets. They were so loaded down with wounded that, as they landed, sparks flew from their skids. I remember the crews screaming at us to get the casualties off faster so they could fly back to get more. It was the middle of the night, and the floodlights made the chopper landing area look like that awful scene in GONE WITH THE WIND -- burned and bleeding kids on stretchers everywhere. Some cried out for their moms. Crisp black skin hung from burned bodies; and like charred meat on a barbecue pit, it just peeled off. The air stunk of blood, burned hair, and melted flesh." (Youngstrom-Diebolt). That being the case, it seems clear that the American government has been far to reticent about the accomplishments and efforts of women in Vietnam. Soldiers came home to find themselves spit on and abhorred by their own country. But in later years, when the politics of the war were separated from the young men who were made to serve, memorials and honors found their rightful place in America's memory of its soldiers. When the nurses came home, they were more simply ignored. And such a trend stands in practice today, when honorable mention is failed to be bestowed upon the thousands of women who served, saved and suffered for America.

The United States also has a responsibility to the unnumbered Southern Vietnamese women who were, in some faculty or another, casualties of the war. When North Vietnam took hold of the south and established Vietnamese unification, the communist government sent southern fighters to "reeducation," where they were held, however euphemistically, as political prisoners. These prisoners were beaten, tortured and killed for their support of America and their disposition against communism. In effect, this program was part of a sweeping nullification of the South Vietnamese culture and history. And lost in this process were memories of the service of women to the war effort. Only recently has America begun to praise the assistance of the South Vietnamese, and to lament the annihilation of their story. This places the responsibility squarely on the U.S., who benefited so directly from the aid of South Vietnamese women, to illuminate their accomplishments.

And so too is there a responsibility that must be shouldered by the whole world to acknowledge that war is not a terror experienced only by men. The Vietnam War did its part to change the historical face of both nations. America underwent its first defeat, thus inciting it to reexamine its international policies, the relationship between its government and its people and its overall propensity toward war. Vietnam was a country in the midst of re-calibration, now saddled with the prodigious expense of recovering from a war of massive financial, geological and human loss. In the storm of new challenges now standing before both nations, the two, dominated governmentally by men, disregarded the bravery and necessity of their women. Records will show, and veteran accounts will buttress, that women were there and that they were significant.

Bibliographies:

1. Borton, Lady. Sensing the Enemy: An American Woman Among the Boat People of Vietnam. Garden City, N.Y.: Dial, 1984.

2. Evans, Barbara. Caduceus in Saigon: A Medical Mission to South Viet-Nam. London: Hutchinson, 1968.

3. Youngstrom-Diebolt, Jean. Keynote Address. Women's Memorial. Austin, TX. 1993.

4. Wilson, Captain… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"America's Wars Have Historically."  Essaytown.com.  May 19, 2002.  Accessed July 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/america-wars-historically-been/9842075.