The Vietnam War was a challenging event, that changed the way that the United States populace viewed and conceptualized warfare. This was an issue that directly demonstrated the changing nature of war, as thousands of young Americans were shipped off to a foreign land through the draft process under the obligation to serve their country. Technology provided a new medium for the American population to see the realities of war, creating an intense environment and a backlash against the government allowing this war to be viewed as unpopular. For veterans, they were often the symbolic representation of American government and were forced to endure unethical treatment and not talk about their traumatic experiences. This created a cyclical pattern of repression, that created further damage that had a negative influence on the psychological health of veterans. It was a war that unfortunately left many veterans alone to deal with these experiences on their own, causing immense psychological frustration. The evaluation of poetry provides insight into these unseen psychological scars, and the frustration that these veterans dealt with. The Vietnam War brought to life the scars of war for returning veterans, demonstrating the challenges of war that the American populace as never seen before
The direct evaluation of poetry plays a significant role in demonstrating the unforeseen damage that returning veterans were forced to endure. The two poems that are being evaluated are ‘Facing It’ by Yusef Komunyakaa from the class text and “Young Men” written by Vietnam veteran Curt Bennett. These authors played a significant role in terms of directly identifying the ways that veterans dealt with challenging treatment, and poetry became an effective medium in which to express their internal thought processes. The poems are representative of various forms of posttraumatic stress disorder, that many returning veterans dealt with. Psychological trauma is often difficult to conceptualize immediately, which makes it an ongoing process that can take many years (Hodges, 2015). These poems are representative of the subjective interpretation of trauma, societies attempt to cope with this trauma, the veterans attempt to conceptualize the events that were occurring, and the various challenges that historically were associated with war.
The first poem from the class text ‘Facing It’ by Yusef Komunyakaa was directly representative of these various themes. The poem discusses the interaction that occurs between a veteran and his conceptualization of the Vietnam War as he stands in front of the Vietnam Memorial. There is an interesting psychological theme within this poem, as the author discusses subjective experiences versus the cold etching of the names on the Vietnam Memorial. It is as if the narrator who stands in front of the Vietnam Memorial struggles to deal with firsthand experiences versus the symbolic representation of a name on the wall. He brings to life some of these names that were etched on the Memorial and tells of subjective experiences that one may not immediately recognize by simply standing in front of the black surface of the memorial. He discusses the challenges and personal scars of war such as a boy losing his arm, and a mother longing for a son.
Paradoxically, the names seem to represent a source of coldness and frustration that the public could never recognize. This becomes a representation of the challenges of war and the disconnect that veterans often feel as the public is not able to relate to their experiences. In the Vietnam War, returning soldiers were often ostracized and their subjective experiences were marginalized as they were shunned by society (Lee, 2015). As the veteran stands in front of the memorial he discusses how he expects to see his own name, representing a sense of guilt for surviving comparative to some of his comrades. He finds one of the names of a soldier that he fought with, and experiences immediately flashed back to him where he recalls the smell of flesh and the booby-trap that killed his friend. The poem is representative of how symbolic memorials mean different things to different people, reinforcing the thesis that the American population was not able to objectively deal with the scars of war and properly support returning veterans.
This same dualistic perspective is also evident in the poem ‘ Young Men’ written by Curt Bennett. The author discusses how these young men went into combat and fought for honor despite challenging external circumstances. This poem provides insight into the psychological conflict that these young soldiers faced in Vietnam, as the author discusses the ‘façade of wary acceptance’. This poem represents the psychological conflict of the soldiers as they were consistently forced to deal with angst, being forced to reconcile expectations of honor versus their own psychological health and fear. These were challenging events that these young men were forced to power through, and the fear of being a coward drove many of them to fight for honor creating internal conflict. The poem discusses how these young soldiers fought to live up to the reputation of a solider and put up psychological defenses to cope with the paralyzing fear and challenges of war.
This poem is interesting because it is a direct representation of psychological repression, which could trigger anxiety and depression for many years to come. The subconscious creates psychological defense mechanisms to repress trauma, which allows individuals to carry on in the face of adversity (Aleman, 2013). The issue that the American public did not understand, is that psychological repression can only occur for a specified period. Inevitably, emotional turmoil that these young soldiers dealt with came to the forefront of the thought process manifested through psychological and emotional problems. This poem reinforces the thesis of the psychological scars of war being carried on for a lifetime, as the Vietnam War had an immense influence on cognition and mental health for these young men throughout their lives representing unseen scars of war.
Each of these poems play a significant role in terms of identifying the various challenges that these veterans are forced to adhere to. They are interesting because they provide a multidimensional perspective where one of the poems is focused on the direct reflection of these traumatic events as the veteran stands in front of the Vietnam Memorial, and the other poem focuses on a narrative of a young soldier repressing fear and the perception of these challenging events. When these two poems are viewed from a collectivistic perspective, it allows the reader to understand the causes of the psychological trauma that the veteran faces as he stands in front of the Vietnam Memorial. The poem ‘ Young Men’ provides the reader insight into the reasons why psychological repression took place, and the poem ‘facing it’ by Yusef Komunyakaa, demonstrates the lifelong challenges the veterans faced because of the psychological repression. When each poem is viewed collectively, it provides the reader a timeline which shows causality of how the scars of war are created.
The evaluation of these two poems demonstrate the challenging aspects of war, and the disconnect that occurs between societal perception and experiences of the soldier. It is interesting to evaluate this topic through the collective evaluation of two primary documents, which were based on the subjective experiences of veterans. Each of these poems when viewed together create a collective holistic perspective, that allows the reader to see why many veterans deal with various forms of psychological trauma. These poems are also representative of the disconnect that occurs between society and experience, as the Vietnam Memorial for instance is societies attempt to honor the names of those that passed away. When evaluating the memorial from the veteran’s perspective, it becomes apparent that there are entirely different dynamics that the outsider would not understand.
This lack of understanding demonstrates how the Vietnam War brought to life the scars of war for returning veterans, demonstrating the challenges of war to the American populace as never seen before within society. Each of these poems are representative of the challenges veterans face, as it is difficult to relate to the unique experiences of combat. It is not something that could be relatable through a Memorial, external social perception, and historical reference, but only through the experiences of the soldiers. These poems become a direct representation of the necessity of speaking to veterans and providing them with psychological support because the scars of war are unique. The Vietnam War was especially problematic because of its unpopularity, and thus unfairly placed burden on returning veterans who were forced to keep the scars of war to themselves. It is imperative that the lessons from this war are learned, and veterans are given the support needed within society regardless of the popularity of the war. A failure to do so, creates immense psychological distress as was made evident within these two poems.
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