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The Other Side of Grief

The Other Side of Grief: The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War

Maureen Ryan
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk6c5
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  • Book Info
    The Other Side of Grief
    Book Description:

    The lingering aftereffects of the Vietnam War resonate to this day throughout American society: in foreign policy, in attitudes about the military and war generally, and in the contemporary lives of members of the socalled baby boom generation who came of age during the 1960s and early 1970s. While the bestknown personal accounts of the war tend to center on the experience of combat, Maureen Ryan’s The Other Side of Grief examines the often overlooked narratives—novels, short stories, memoirs, and films—that document the war’s impact on the home front. In analyzing the accounts of Vietnam veterans, women as well as men, Ryan focuses on the process of readjustment, on how the war continued to insinuate itself into their lives, their families, and their communities long after they returned home. She looks at the writings of women whose husbands, lovers, brothers, and sons served in Vietnam and whose own lives were transformed as a result. She also appraises the experiences of the POWs who came to be embraced as the war’s only heroes; the ordeal of Vietnamese refugees who fled their “American War” to new lives in the United States; and the influential movement created by those who committed themselves to protesting the war. The end result of Ryan’s investigations is a cogent synthesis of the vast narrative literature generated by the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Together those stories powerfully demonstrate how deeply the legacies of the war penetrated American culture and continue to reverberate still.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-157-1
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The Vietnam War and Modern Memory
    (pp. 1-12)

    The cover story of the October 5, 2003,New York Times Book Review, a review ofAmerican Woman, Susan Choi’s novel based on the Patty Hearst kidnapping, begins with author Sven Birkerts’s assertion that “right now … we are awash in accounts of American radicals in the high season of the counterculture” (9). When he acknowledged early-twenty-first-century literary interest in the Vietnam era, Birkerts would not have known that that week’sBook Review(a generic issue with no planned thematic coherence) would cogently confirm—and amplify—his observation about the counterculture and its motley compatriots in their electrifying moment of...

  5. Chapter One MIA in America: Vietnam Aftermath Narratives
    (pp. 13-59)

    John Rambo has killed nine men and a couple of hunting dogs by the time that Special Forces colonel Sam Trautman arrives to rescue his “boy” from a small Kentucky town, two-thirds of the way through David Morrell’s 1972 novelFirst Blood. Trautman is surprised that Sheriff Will Teasle, himself a medaled hero of the Korean War, has failed to recognize the hirsute Rambo as a veteran of the more recent Vietnam War. “We forced him into it over there,” Trautman explains in defense of the unemployed, itinerant Green Beret, “and now he’s bringing it all back home” (194).

    In...

  6. Chapter Two The Other Side of Grief: American Women Writers and the Vietnam War
    (pp. 60-97)

    “Every book should have the opportunity to be published,” proclaims a disquietingNew York Times Book Reviewadvertisement for the online self-publishing company iUniverse that features Patti Massman and Susan Rosser’s 1999 Vietnam War–era novelA Matter of Betrayal. Massman and Rosser published their romance with iUniverse, the ad explains, when “conventional publishers said women wouldn’t read a serious love story about war, social upheaval, and its aftermath.” Amazon.com’s description ofThe Things We Do to Make It Homeintroduces Beverly Gologorsky’s 1999 novel about the troubled relationships of “three returned [Vietnam] veterans and the women who love them”...

  7. Chapter Three Years of Darkness: Narratives by and about American Prisoners of the Vietnam War
    (pp. 98-151)

    Republican partisans deployed a savvy strategic weapon against the Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign when they launched a “Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth” media blitz that lethally attacked the decorated Vietnam combat veteran–turned–antiwar activist. In television ads and a documentary film titledStolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, Vietnam veterans and prisoners of war—including such prominent POW heroes and memoirists as Robinson Risner and George Day—denounced Kerry’s 1971 testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his leadership of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. For these George W. Bush...

  8. Chapter Four The Fugitive’s Hour: The Counterculture and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement in American Fiction
    (pp. 152-205)

    In 1998, in one of the many celebrations of the coming millennium, the U.S. Postal Service invited American citizens to vote for representative American events and images of each decade of the twentieth century. Millions of ballots were cast, on the Postal Service website and at 40,000 post offices and 300,000 public school classrooms around the country. The resulting issues were colorful sheets of first-class stamps—fifteen for each decade—commemorating what average American citizens selected as “the most significant people, events, and accomplishments of the 20th century.” For the stamps of the “rebellious Sixties,” as the accompanying narrative labeled...

  9. Chapter Five Something Strange and Extravagant: Personal Histories by Vietnam Antiwar Movement Activists
    (pp. 206-251)

    Midway through his 1986 memoirPassing Time, Vietnam veteran and Swarthmore undergraduate W. D. (Bill) Ehrhart, his antiwar sentiments stimulated by the debacle at Kent State, wonders, in a 1970 speech to the local Rotary Club, “who will be the heroes of the Vietnam War? Men like me who fought there, or those who argue for an end to further killing and senseless destruction?”¹ (96). Fifteen years later, near the end ofFugitive Days, his memoir about his Vietnam-era activism, Weather Underground veteran Bill Ayers describes a visit to the Greenwich Village townhouse where his then girlfriend Diana Oughton and...

  10. Chapter Six People Singing a Sad Song: Vietnamese Exiles in American Literature
    (pp. 252-293)

    In the spring of 2007, Together Higher, a contemporary dance company from Hanoi, presented its showStories of Usin Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Manhattan. American audiences forStories of Us, which featured deaf and hearing-impaired performers, were primarily members of the deaf community, for “Vietnamese-Americans largely stayed home,” Claudia La Rocco reported in theNew York Times. The Vietnamese American communities’ lack of support for Together Higher, La Rocco notes, underscores the “protests and boycotts” that, in America, commonly greet artists from North Vietnam, whose work American Vietnamese—most of whom emigrated from South Vietnam—reject as “promot[ing] communism...

  11. Conclusion: We Were All There
    (pp. 294-300)

    In his early combat memoirA Rumor of War(1977), Philip Caputo recognized that the Vietnam War would be “the dominant event in the life of my generation” (xx). The powerful combat narratives that succeeded Caputo’s affirm his prescience, for the war in Vietnam, more than any other historical event, defined late-twentieth-century America. Complementing the diverse interpretations of the experience of Americans serving in Vietnam, similarly sundry, poignant cultural texts that at once create and illuminate the other sides of the war—the acrimonious home front during the long years of America’s presence in Vietnam and the postwar experiences of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 301-312)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 313-330)
  14. Index
    (pp. 331-340)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 341-342)