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The Vietnam War has had many long-reaching, traumatic effects, not just on the veterans of the war, but on their children as well. In this book, Weber examines the concept of the war as a social monad, a confusing array of personal stories and public histories that disrupt traditional ways of knowing the social world for the second generation.




The Traffic in Memories
Early in my research for this book I was sitting in a coffee shop absorbed in my thoughts on how to write about the trauma of the Vietnam War through the eyes of the second generation—children of Vietnam Veterans (COVV). As I struggled with these thoughts, I was interrupted by a conversation between two men. Their conversation, initially, held nothing of interest to me. They were complaining about their jobs and local politics and gossiping about their mutual friends. They captured my attention, though, when I heard one of the men say, “He’d have to of been in Vietnam—nutty as he is.” His friend tacitly agreed. Actually, it was not a tacit agreement: he laughed. I wanted to ask the man what he meant by his remark, but did not feel comfortable intruding on their conversation. So I silently reveled in the serendipity of this interruption. The resonance of the man’s comment and his friend’s response exemplifies the innocuous way social memory infiltrates our everyday lives and expressions. His remark is an example of how we can read the social meanings at work in the subject position of the Vietnam Veteran and how they are inscribed onto our hearts and minds. And in relation to my research, it exemplifies the complex traffic at work in memories of a historically traumatic event such as the Vietnam War.
Christina D. Weber

Chapter One. Exploring Trauma and Memory through the Social Monad

Ted, an interviewee I discuss in more detail in chapter five, attempts to separate his father from the image of the prototypical Vietnam Veteran throughout the interview, explaining, “There was that stigma that everybody over there [in Vietnam] got attached with. And even, you’d see those reports in the media, ‘former Vietnam Veteran opens fire at a McDonalds restaurant’ or whatever, then it brings back that stigma that’s so prevalent.” Similarly, Samantha, another interviewee, made the comment that when Vietnam Veterans were finally acknowledged by society in the media they were portrayed as men who had a lot of problems, leading people to assume “that half the street bums on the corner are probably old Vietnam Veterans.” In Ted and Samantha’s minds these types of assumptions generate the negative undertones constituting the image of the Vietnam Veteran. This is not a benign image; rather, it is one that actively interjects into their personal relationships. They and my other interviewees seek to generate a different view of their fathers—Vietnam Veterans.
Christina D. Weber

Chapter Two. Conceptualizing the Vietnam Veteran Narrative as a Narrative of Trauma

Using Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War films (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and Heaven and Earth) as a prototypical example of the Vietnam Veteran Narrative, I read the Vietnam Veteran Narrative as a narrative of trauma.
I think [Born on the Fourth of July] is about America. I think it takes America from the 1950s to the ’60s and into the ’70s…. What we tried to do is—the boy and America are linked. It’s my generation. The way we grew up. We bought certain beliefs in the 1950s; they were tested—hard. In the 1960s losses were incurred and I think a sense of wisdom we learned in the ’70s and we’re still, obviously, trying to apply it to our lives. We’re still struggling. It’s our generation (Stone, film commentary).
Christina D. Weber

Chapter Three. Exploring the Social Monad through the Crisis of Articulation

If the Vietnam War is the epicenter of the social monad, narratives of children of Vietnam Veterans (COVV) constitute one of the ripple effects radiating out of the initial shock of this historically traumatic event. As Bissell writes,
For the growing-up children of many [Vietnam] vets the war’s remoteness was all but impossible to gauge because it had happened pre-you, before you had come to grasp the sheer accident of your own placement in time, before you recognized your reality—your bedroom, your toys and comic books—had nothing to do with the reality of your father. (Bissell, 2004, 567)
Christina D. Weber

Chapter Four. The Vietnam Veteran Father: Reconfiguring Hegemonic Discourses of Masculine Subjectivity

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Alexandra Kerry made the following statement: “To every little girl her father is a hero. It’s taken some getting used to, that my father actually is one. And not just in the obvious ways.” To children of Vietnam Veterans (COVV) such as Alexandra Kerry, their fathers embody not only the traumas of war but also its heroism, teaching them about freedom, peace, and the meaning of sacrifice. Alexandra considers her father a hero not just in the obvious ways that a woman might idolize her father, but in ways that reach into the myths America holds about war. Yet, she does not do this by talking about her father’s heroics in Vietnam. Instead, she tells about his heroics as a father. In her speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where she introduced her father, Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry, she described the hero who is her father by invoking a story about his willingness to jump into a lake to save her sister’s hamster. She explained that “when he loves you as he loves me and my sister and his family, as he loves the men who fought beside him—there is no sacrifice too great.” By elaborating on their fathers’ strengths and sacrifices as a father, the men and women in this chapter, like Alexandra Kerry in her speech, work at the discursive intersection of the ideal Father and socially marginalized Vietnam Veteran.
Christina D. Weber

Chapter Five. Narrative Disruptions of the Dominant Fiction

Gordon reminds us that “we are part of the story, for better or worse: the ghost must speak to me in some way sometimes similar to, sometimes distinct from how it may be speaking to others” (1997, 24). As we discovered in chapter four, intergenerational narratives of trauma rely on the fixed form of the Father to reimagine the negative public representations of the Vietnam Veteran and Vietnam War that permeates the social imaginary. As will become clear in this chapter, some of the interviewees refuse to reimagine the Vietnam Veteran and Vietnam War, instead questioning the fixed form of the Father. The variability of the ways in which children of Vietnam Veterans (COVV) work through their relationship with their fathers as they address public representations of the Vietnam Veteran and Vietnam War in society demonstrates the dynamism at work within the social monad. That COVV rely on these societal images as they navigate their relationships with their fathers alerts us to the way historically traumatic events are inscribed into the intersubjective dynamics of individuals’ daily life. Being part of the story of the Vietnam War, these interviewees raise questions about images of the Father and the Vietnam Veteran in American society. Focusing on their narrative negotiations of these categories enables me to analyze issues surrounding masculine subjectivity and its reified position of power in the dominant fiction.
Christina D. Weber

Thoughts and Conclusions

Stretching toward and beyond the Horizon
Bissell writes, “The war had not ended for [my dad], and now it is in me” (2004, 64). His comment conveys the subtle density that the gift of trauma hands to the second generation. Vietnam is in Bissell as it is in my interviewees, but its specific mass and weight is felt in a variety of diverse ways. The fractured pieces of the traumatic history of the Vietnam War cannot be read as a linear series of events that progress into a cumulated story of the past. There is no clearly marked beginning, middle, and end. Instead, in this research, we have moved through a social monad that resembles a palimpsest of layered narratives merging and separating to reveal an incomplete and shifting story of a history of the present. The layers I explored in this research remind us that the historically traumatic event of the Vietnam War is still being lived out, is still in-formation. The tangled intersections of the Vietnam Veteran Narrative, individual Vietnam Veteran narratives, and the narratives of my interviewees remind us that the social world is founded on the continual negotiation and renegotiation of social forms and intersubjective relationships. For the second generation, the gift of trauma passed on to them is not founded solely in the historical event of the Vietnam War; it is a lived presence animated by their fathers’ lives, not only as Vietnam Veterans but as men—fathers—who live their own unique social existence.
Christina D. Weber


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