In my application to Brown, I clearly outlined what I wished to succeed in graduate school. I believed that my calling was to teach future generations the of the history and effect of the Vietnam War. Due to the fact that the generation of those who personally experienced the war in Vietnam has been slowly dwindling, children born within the next few decades will probably never encounter a first-hand account of a Vietnam War veteran. My intention was to ensure that the stories and memories of what this war meant to the American people and what it changed within the souls of soldiers would never be silenced or forgotten. In this process, I wished to illustrate why America became involved in the first place and why it turned into such a consuming topic. Most importantly, I wanted to look at the soldiers. Not only would I analyze their own political, ethical, and moral considerations, but I would investigate how the American government treated these soldiers when they returned home from a war in which they did not believe.
The classes I’ve taken this past year have helped me to address almost every topic I outlined upon my enrollment. During the first semester, I chose three elective courses: History of American Intervention, U.S. Foreign Policy, and Public Memory. History of American Intervention introduced me to a professor that was a former journalist and war correspondent, and it encouraged me to write a final paper on the United States government’s involvement in the coup of South Vietnam’s leader, our supposed ally, during the early years of the Vietnam War. U.S. Foreign Policy not only enlightened me on some policy decisions during the Vietnam era, but it set the stage for the conflict and illustrated the political implications the war had on America for generations to come. In Public Memory, I was able to explore a topic of my choice that related to memorialization. I chose to delve into the subject of Vietnam soldier memoirs and what these memoirs may have meant to the soldiers in their process of coping with the trauma of the war.
During my second semester, I took four more classes, though these viewed the war from a slightly different perspective: U.S. Presidents and the Western Tradition, War and Society, Violence and Society, and First-Person Testimony in Times of Crisis. U.S. Presidents and the Western Tradition allowed me to further explore the figure of Richard Nixon, the influence of his speeches, and his eventual demise through the Watergate affair. War and Society necessitated an ethnographical report, which I was able to conduct on a book about Vietnam and how the collective memory of the war still permeates Vietnamese society and ritual today. Violence and Society, a sociological course, encouraged me to understand violence at both an individual and institutional level, and it demonstrated how the Vietnam War was the perfect storm of such a combination. Finally, each week, First-Person Testimony examined different aspects of historical trauma through the lens of personal accounts. My work in this course culminated in a final project that studied the contrasting ways in which the media portrayed the Vietnam soldier in the decades succeeding the war.
Unfortunately, there were aspects of my research that I did not get to accomplish in my short time at Brown. I wanted to study why so many soldiers returned home from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, why so many others were, somehow, predisposed to other mental illnesses upon their return, and what may have happened during their time in Vietnam that could have exacerbated these conditions. While some courses did touch upon this subject, none explored it in depth. However, all is not lost. The resources I have been granted through Brown, as well as the extensive bibliography I have developed on Vietnam War discipline, will allow me to continue my studies and seek answers to the questions not yet addressed.