Vietnam War in Literature

A vast body of literature has been dedicated to the Vietnam War (1954-75), including scientific research volumes, fiction stories, autobiographical accounts and poetry. This literature, although dealing mostly with the participation of the United States in the war and the consequences of this, is not solely of American origin. In fact, some of the early works on the Vietnam War are by non-American authors, who wrote about the subject on ethical grounds.

The American intervention in Vietnam sparked a global anti-war movement, with poetry reflecting the angry mood against the military campaign. English poet Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008) wrote the poem To Whom It May Concern (1965) as a protest against the war and the version of events in Vietnam propagated by Washington. Common subjects of the poetical works include atrocities and mass violence, as well as the emotional experiences of soldiers. Other poems, like William Daniel Ehrhart's (b.1948) The Generals' War, juxtapose "paper orders" and their execution in the battlefield. Another common topic for poetry is the emotional experience of Vietnam veterans upon their return home. Bruce Weigl's (b.1949) Song of Napalm tells of a veteran's wartime memories. The work of American writer Joan Didion (b.1934) entitled Democracy (1984) depicted the lives of politicians who played a role in the Vietnam War.

Fiction literature has also brought in many works concerning the Vietnam War. Among them is Henry Graham Greene's (1904-1991) The Quiet American (1955), which deals with the American presence in Vietnam before the arrival of troops. Robert (Robin) Moore's (1925-2008) The Green Berets (1965) can be distinguished as one of the few works presenting the American involvement in Vietnam in a positive light. An important book on the war combing fiction and the personal experience of the author is Tim O'Brien's (b.1946) Going after Cacciato (1978). It tells the story of Cacciato, the main character, who decides to escape from the battlefields by walking from Vietnam to Paris. His fellow soldiers tried to prevent his escape and the book depicts the journey of Cacciato. O'Brien has also shown his talent of mixing personal memories with fiction in The Things They Carried (1986), a story of a division of American troops in Vietnam and the loss of a soldier. The book is told from the perspective of the soldiers.

Many of the literary works on the Vietnam War are accurate accounts of the events by the soldiers who participated in combat. Such an account is Born on the Fourth of July (1976), by marine corps sergeant Ron Kovic (b.1946). Kovic depicts the fate of a generation of men raised on stories of heroism and the adventure of World War II (1939-45), promised glory in battle. John Del Vecchio's (b.1947) The 13th Valley (1982) offers a naturalistic account of the fate of a single patrol. Another autobiographical work is Philip Caputo's (b.1941) A Rumor of War (1977), while Michael Herr (b.1940) presents a journalist's report from Vietnamese battlefields in Dispatches (1977).

Other works, like Bobbie Ann Mason's (b.1940) In Country (1984) and Larry Heinemann's (b.1944) Paco's Story (1986), are dedicated to the attempts of veterans to adjust to civilian life. The Vietnam War has also been a theme of playwrights. One example is David Rabe's (b.1940) The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1968), which tells the story of the main character's search for identity within the structures of the military.

Another group of books, mostly written by women authors, aimed to show Vietnam from a different perspective by providing accounts of culture and spirituality. These works include Denise Levertov's (1923-1997) Glimpses of Vietnamese Life, Susan Sontag's (b.1933) Trip to Hanoi (1968), Robin Morgan's (b.1941) Four Visions on Vietnam (1972) and Frances Fitzgerald's (b.1940) first book Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972).

Some of the literature dedicated to the Vietnam War has come under public and scholarly criticism. For example, Fallen Angels (1988) by Walter Dean Myers (b.1937), was criticized by both teachers and students at American high schools for its "foul"language. Further criticism has come from writers such as Susan Jeffords, who in The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War (1989), argues that all literature representing the Vietnam War revives the "projects of patriarchy."

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Fighting and Writing the Vietnam War
Don Ringnalda.
University Press of Mississippi, 1994
Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War
William J. Searle.
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988
Warring Fictions: American Literary Culture and the Vietnam War Narrative
Jim Neilson.
University Press of Mississippi, 1998
The Lessons of Vietnam: Using Literature to Introduce Students to the Vietnam War
Kirkwood-Tucker, Toni Fuss; Benton, Janet E.
Social Education, Vol. 66, No. 6, October 2002
Teaching Hearts and Minds: College Students Reflect on the Vietnam War in Literature
Barry M. Kroll.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1992
Vietnam, We've All Been There: Interviews with American Writers
Eric James Schroeder.
Praeger Publishers, 1992
Vietnam War Stories: Innocence Lost
Tobey C. Herzog.
Routledge, 1992
The Viet Nam War/The American War: Images and Representations in Euro-American and Vietnamese Exile Narratives
Renny Christopher.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1995
Connecting Times: The Sixties in Afro-American Fiction
Norman Harris.
University Press of Mississippi, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Part I "Novels of the Vietnam War"
MIA: African American Autobiography of the Vietnam War
Loeb, Jeff.
African American Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring 1997
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Vietnam and the Southern Imagination
Owen W. Gilman Jr.
University Press of Mississippi, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "The Southern Poet's Vietnam"
Friendly Fire: American Images of the Vietnam War
Katherine Kinney.
Oxford University Press, 2000
Carrying the Darkness: The Poetry of the Vietnam War
W. D. Ehrhart.
Texas Tech University Press, 1989
The Vietnam Experience: A Concise Encyclopedia of American Literature, Songs, and Films
Kevin Hillstrom; Laurie Collier Hillstrom.
Greenwood Press, 1998
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