If anything the Vietnam War was a conflict that changed the discussion about war in America. Both sides (America and North Vietnam) fought a war based on the perceptions of public opinion and would achieve victory only through wining the desired effect on the civilian population. The US wanted to win the hearts and minds of Vietnam, while the Vietnamese communists’ objective the whole time, as General Giap puts it, relied on “… absolute political superiority, on the righteousness of our cause, and on our people’s unity in struggle”. In the end Giap’s objective was more easily achieved.
By 1969 the majority of Americans had grown to disapprove of the Vietnam War, only a minority (a very vocal and substantial one) of people actively mobilized against it. The end of the Vietnam War (or at least US involvement in it) would be a major cause in the growing counterculture and hippy movement mainly populated by young, liberal, middle class “kids”. While this group might not have been very representative of most of America, it was also a key point of American focus during the war and helped to put pressure on the American government. This population would find refuge and a place to grow in the hot bed of idyllic middleclass white “kids” that is college campuses. The Students for a Democratic Society or SDS would help create this.
Even at the small private college where my mother went (Phillips University) there was a hunger strike against the war. College campuses across America became the incubator for political dissent against the war. Then the shootings at Johnson State and Kent State truly showed how impactful college campuses were on the anti-war movement. The youth and educational institutions of America would continue to be a focal point for political discussion and a hot bed for discontent keeping with the developments of the Vietnam War.
Giap, Vo Nguyen. The Political and Military Line of Our Party
For Vietnam War Veterans, psychological recovery was likely just as difficult of a process, if not more so, than physical recovery. Post traumatic stress disorder is common amongst veterans, but particularly for those who suffered injuries during a war. However, without actually being in the war, it can be difficult to understand what these soldiers went through that could have caused such severe stress. That is why this database article I found that tells about how a veteran named Allen Clark who lost his legs was effected, how he recovered from this tragedy from a psychological standpoint, and what he does to help others who suffered the same as him is so helpful toward my research.
The US Army Captain, Allen Clark, was near the Cambodian and Laotian borders when a mortar strike began to reign down. He states that a shell landed a mere 18 inches away behind. Fragments and shrapnel flung into his lower legs. He lost his left leg below his knee that same day and his right about ten days later. It was a whole eight months later, after a long recovery, that Clark was finally forced to face the reality of returning home to a completely different life. As a result, Clark suffered a heavy emotional breakdown due to post traumatic stress.
One of the biggest difficulties for returning soldiers dealing with PTSD is that nobody really, truly understands unless they’ve been there. That is how Allen Clark plays such a helpful role towards those who are in a similar boat as he once was. He reaches out to these unfortunate veterans by urging them not to repress these feelings, which is a “warrior’s natural instinct” as he puts it, but rather to let them out. After years of hopelessness, he is now a successful business man. Of course the things that happen in war are not forgotten, nor could they be, but he leads by example to veterans all over on how to move forward from the days that haunt them. I believe this article really emphasizes how much more of a lasting struggle it is for injured veterans to recovery psychologically from PTSD than it is physically from the wounds, giving me a better understanding of the emotions that returning soldiers had to cope with.
For the next step of my research paper I decided to research the details about the causes and procedures of dealing with an above-the-knee amputations during this time period. I decided to focus on above-the-knee amputations because of the seriousness of these injuries and to focus my research more narrowly. Likewise, I found a very helpful long-term study regarding these types amputees. Thirty of the 484 (6%) amputees that participated in this study received above-the-kneed amputations.
This study shows that the most common cause of above-the-knee amputations were landmines/booby traps, being responsible for twenty-six of the thirty in this particular study. It goes on to present that fifty-six of sixty total limbs that were amputated because of trauma while the other twelve were amputated because of bacterial infection, likely caused from the unsanitary conditions in Vietnam that the wounds were exposed to in the process of being rescued.
The study reads that, “Because bilateral traumatic amputation at the thigh is one of the most massive injuries seen in battle, it presents some of the most formidable challenges during both the acute and the long-term phase of recovery. “The first phase of caring for an individual who received such a serious injury is to make sure that the amputee actually survives. The next phase is the amputation process, where the two primary goals are to prepare the stump for safe transportation while preserving length and to prepare the stump for a prosthesis of the appropriate size and length. The largest issue with above-the-knee amputees was rehabilitation. Before the United States Army provided a separate amputee services, the rehabilitation process was recognized as being “uncoordinated, fragmented, and nonstandardized”. This made it especially difficult for these amputees to adjust back to their regular lives before the formation of this separate amputee service.
This study alone has really helped in my ability to sympathize with those who were unfortunate enough to endure these life-changing injuries and I understand more about the process they underwent as a result. While it is important to understand that these above-the-knee amputees only represent approximately 6% of the total amputees in the Vietnam War, these are also considered to be one of the most serious forms of amputations.
Immediately following the war, along with veterans who suffered from PTSD in general, there was an overall lack of empathy toward those who suffered serious physical impairments. Because nobody really understood what they went through or how it effected them, veterans would often develop a sense of rejection from society. Additionally, those who were unfortunate to receive amputations of one or more limbs or became paraplegic now also became dependent upon others for daily life. Likewise, those who the burden of having to care for these injured veterans were their families. As described in the song “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, you can see how this might have caused wives to lose interest in their husbands, and more so how this this impacts these amputees and paraplegics who are mistreated and misunderstood by society.
In one of my sources that I found particularly interesting from New Jersey Times, there is an existing program dedicated towards amputee war veterans. The Annual Next Step Golf Clinic gives these veterans an opportunity to place side by side with professional golfers as a method of physical and psychological therapy. This program also provides a very good environment for these veterans as they’re surrounded with those who experiences very similar tragedies in their life. One of the veterans from Marlton, Walt Martinez states, “I try to soak up everything the pros point out, and being out here with the veterans, I don’t need to explain anything to them because they understand me.”
These people are hugely impacted by these programs to help them cope with their physical and psychological injuries. That is why this article influenced me to take a route in my paper to try to actually understand the struggles endured by Vietnam War amputees who were neglected by society after returning home from the war. Additionally, I am going to further research the types of programs that might have existed or lacked during this period of time to help rehabilitate returning veterans in the 1960s.
The song “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” is about a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran whose wife would see other men behind his back while he was forced to remain at the house. Because of this, I am going to make the primary topic of make paper about veterans who had limbs amputated or became paralyzed which was a very common result from serving in Vietnam.
While veterans did not receive much appreciation, veterans who had to have one or several limbs amputated or became paralyzed had a much more difficult time adjusting back to regular society become severely depressed. Many amputees and paraplegics were unable to take car of themselves as well, which would become a problem for their significant other or whoever they had lived with previously to the war. This was seen by the original writer of the song, Mel Tillis. The man that lived next to him after the war had become forced to live in a wheelchair. He would often see this man’s wife leave late at night all dressed up and come home late at night, being dropped off by other men.
This poor man was only one of many during this time. Throughout the Vietnam War, approximately 75,000 people were considered severely disabled, 23,214 being 100% disabled. An unfortunate 5,283 people lost limbs, while 1,081 suffered multiple amputations. Shockingly, three times more people during the war in Vietnam sustained amputations or crippling wounds compared to those of World War II. Additionally, the rate for amputations during this war was also a high 18.4% compared to the lesser 5.4% during World War II.
With so many people suffering life altering injuries, then being plunged back into regular society, there were a large amount of individuals who felt like they had been rejected from society because of their inability to win the war. With a seemingly complete lack of empathy, many veterans were unable to get jobs and just simply adapt back to the life they once had. Struggling to live a normal life, these veterans were never treated with the respect that they deserved, but instead seemed to be viewed as pests.
On August 15th 1969 Joe McDonald was pushed off onto a relatively small wooden stage surrounded by a sea of around two hundred thousand people. The seasoned musician would later say: “I was scared”. Simply wanting to fill time in between sets, backstage personnel had handed “Country” Joe a forgotten Yamaha FG 150 acoustic guitar with a rope around it for a strap. As Joe started his band’s popular anti-Vietnam War song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag” he had changed the beginning cheer from F-I-S-H to F-*-C-K. This completely improvised performance would prove to be one of the greatest moments in Woodstock history, and its popularity would show the ever growing frustration of the American public with the Vietnam War.
After “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag” appeared as the title song to Country Joe & The Fish’s second album, it sold well for a year. Even getting into the top 40 chart. It wasn’t necessarily a popular song but was one of those songs that everyone knew. In its satirical message was a feeling that most Americans could relate to. Of course it was more popular to the hippy subculture, but it was also able to resonate with many every-day Americans.
The Vietnam War was considered the first televised war, in that: the American public got to see actual hostilities and their consequences. By the time Country Joe sang that fateful song at Woodstock, American media had been thoroughly introducing the public to the war (and the Tet Offensive) for 3 years. This is what gave his performance at Woodstock such potency. Due to the fact that the song itself wasn’t necessarily popular, but the idea and the way in which, and passion for said idea, was sold by McDonald to a war weary nation that was all too aware of the grotesque form that the Vietnam War was in. After the Vietnam War America would enter into a new era of conflict that had a new more transparent dialog with its public.
War was no longer that distant thing fought by heroes against villains. It was in America’s living rooms, in its minds. It was fought by people… against people… for the people.