Example Of Argumentative Essay On Poetry From The Vietnam War

Published: 2021-06-21 23:39:03
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The Vietnam War is widely acknowledged as one of the most contradictory wars in American and worldwide history. It has been a historical incident whose causes, effects, interpretation and role in the evolution of world affairs has never stopped causing heated debates, still leaving lots of questions unanswered or half-answered. Like any contradictory event, the Vietnam War hurt lots of people, destroyed numerous human lives, tore America apart in terms of its heated supporters standing against its heated opponents and brought nations on the front step of dealing with one of the world’s worst historical pages. If history is to be seen as a number of homocentric circles, following Aristotle’s theory on human nature, then it is easy for one to understand why the Vietnam War has been a black page in humanity’s historical evolution. Taking into consideration the trauma and effects of the preceding World War II, it is incomprehensible but mostly traumatic for nowadays generations to deal with that period’s fatal mistake of allowing one more war to break out. But since humans are characterized by their innate tendency to repeat themselves and their mistakes, the surprise generated at those period’s mistake is quickly overcome by the interest in studying it in detail so that such mistakes could easier be avoided in future times. A question rising though behind the need of studying history is how and what can help people in their study. Historical books, academic material, historical analysis, interviews and witnesses of each event, one might easily say. But there is always something more that can lead you far beyond the surface. Because history is not just a strictly structured building whose floors are just built one upon the other in the form of a list. History is not just a list of dates, births, deaths, fights, wars, important events. First and foremost, History is the beat of people living and experiencing each period. It is the feelings of people, their reactions, their efforts, their lifestyle, their mentality, their culture at the time of important historical events taking place. As a result, studying the Vietnam War cannot be achieved by just reading its versions of historical analysis. The readings of people’s cultural reactions at the time is an open window broadening one’s horizon in studying a historical event. Victor Hugo had once said that ‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent’. Paraphrasing him, I have come to realize that art and mainly the literary legacy of a nation is what expresses all these which, although they could not be put into words, they managed to find their own ‘literary words’ to speak out with loud voice. The Vietnam War is one of those historical events which could not remain silent, therefore a number of literary works spoke and still speak to people, providing them with another, more genuine way of reading into things. The aim of this essay is to provide you with information on how poetry as a kind of literary production has borrowed the Vietnam War its own voice. Therefore the title of the essay is ‘Poetry from the Vietnam War’ depicting the thematic core of the essay which is the presentation and analysis of four poems by Vietnam Veterans and protest poets. It is through the presentation of its thematic core that the essay will prove that poetry speaks its era and sheds light onto dark moments, corners or highways of any historical period. It was Jay Parini who once said ‘poems cannot simply choose to separate themselves from the life of their times. [ I]t has always been part of their job description to point to things wrong and right about the human condition in its present manifestation. ’ (Parini, Jay, A Time for Poets to Raise Their Voices)
The two examples of Vietnam-Veterans poets
Veit Buntz in his essay ‘Hammered out of Artillery Shells’ on poetry from the Vietnam War, refers to the ‘trauma’ of the war which is the main trait of poetry written within the context of the Vietnam War. ‘The war trauma lies at the center of many poems, including the confrontation with fear, death, and guilt in a formless guerilla war, and with the haunting memories that follow the soldier back to the civilian world. To the unaffected reader, the horrors of war are virtually beyond comprehension. However, veteran-poets address their readers through the "human- centered images" (Lifton 357) of their immediate experience, thereby subverting the dominant discourse of technological warfare. Their poetry captures the fragments of war, creating a complexity that refuses easy answers and defies a return to wholeness and order.’ Buntz, Veit. “‘Hammered out of Artillery Shells’: The Discourse of Trauma in Vietnam Veterans' Poetry.
Keeping in mind Buntz’s comments on the power of trauma as the source of inspiration to Vietnam-veterans poets, one can easily witness their validity when reading the poem ‘You and I are disappearing’ - Bjöm Håkansson by Yusef Komunyakaa. The title of the poem talks about a disappearance. The poet describes the disappearance of a girl who died being burnt in front of his eyes. ‘The cry I bring down from the hill belongs to a girl still burning inside my head. At daybreak she burns like a piece of paper. She burns like foxfire in a thigh –shaped valley.’ The poet’s mind is conquered by the girl’s image being surrounded by flames. The girl’s death has turned into his own nightmare which he carries in his mind. The worst image of all is of himself and the others who stand ‘with our hands hanging at our sides’ watching her being burnt. It is noticeable that no one does anything to try and save her. No one because her disappearance has left them speechless and unable to act. Why? Probably because the disappearance of them themselves is also taking place without them having realized it. It is the flames of the war who have eaten up their courage, their power to try and change things. They are being burnt everyday by the nightmaring memories of the war which they carry inside them. They have also disappeared in the terror and violence of this war. Their souls have disappeared. But their trauma is still there haunting them. Their trauma is their dreadful memories bringing their disappearance in front of their eyes. Even if they want to there is no escape. The trauma will not disappear.
In another poem, ‘Twins’ by Gary Rafferty, we read that ‘Ghosts still inhabit our days’ and ‘when we take boats out to fish, they sit beside, weightless as birds, careful not to scare the fish.’. The trauma of the war in people’s lives is once more vivid, living in people’s lives. The ones who have returned have their own traumatic experience to deal with while being obliged and expected at the same time to fully adjust to their country’s lifestyle and everyday life. They have to keep on doing whatever it was they did before they went to the War. They go fishing but their trauma turns into the ‘birds’ which are about to eat the fish they will catch. So whatever they try to do, whatever they try to create, whatever their efforts for a new beginning, independent of the fear they experienced there in the war field, the trauma is haunting them. And it is this trauma which will never leave them free of their nightmare. ‘Our children can’t understand. Although poets we’re wordless to expain, we stammer: ‘I grew up on a different planer than this one’. They think us mad’. It is obvious that no one who has not experienced the war can really understand the inner trauma of their souls, not even their children. This poet addresses his readers begging for help. He shouts at them ‘please help me deal with the war’s trauma’. The words of his poem are just his way of trying to ask for a shoulder to cry on but there is no understanding on behalf of anyone. The trauma was experienced on their behalf and the trauma is here, a living hell experienced only by themselves since no one seems even willing to try and detect it.
The two examples of protest poets
Fussel Paul in his essay the ‘Wars in Asia: Obscenity Without Victory’ he refers to the reaction experienced during the years of the war in America. ‘By the late 1960s, American opposition to the war grew strident. The war was illegal, many said; it was immoral, colonialist, cruel, and unnecessary, and those directing it were simply war criminals. Richard Nixon came into office promising to end the war. His plan was to withdraw American troops gradually, replacing them with beefed‐up equivalent forces from the ARVN, and to increase the bombing of North Vietnam to persuade that country to make peace. By 1970 the war had spread to neighboring Laos and Cambodia, and in the early 1970s everything began to come apart. The My Lai massacre, when hundreds of unarmed civilians, including infants and old women, were shot to death by angry U.S. Army troops, became known and was perceived less as an aberration than as an entirely representative atrocity. Anti‐war demonstrations became more indignant’. (Fussell, Paul ‘Introduction, Parts III, 307-14)
Studying poetry of that period written by protest-poets who had not taken part in the war but had stayed behind experiencing the effect of the war on their country’s everyday life, on their psychology, on their mentality, makes it clear that a strong wave of protest is expressed through their verses. It is their effort to use the power of their words, their images, their sounds so that they can stand up shouting at all those governmental factors who allowed such a war take place. It is as if they stand up waving their hands to the sleeping crowd and masses of their country who seem to have accepted their relatives and beloved ones be killed, the world suffering massacres and all they do is taking part in some demonstrations. Protestor poets go far beyond protesting. They want to depict the war’s dreadfulness so that even in future time potential wars can be avoided. They want to express their opposition to this war in such a way that they contribute to a revival of a whole nation, their nation who were carried away by those in power to blindly follow a route not chosen by them. The route of their self-destruction.
Margaret Atwood in ‘It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers’ she writes focusing on the responsibility every individual carries for this war happening. ‘I am the cause, I am a stockpile of chemical toys, my body is a deadly gadget, I reach out in love, my hands are guns, my good intentions are completely lethal.’ She criticizes all those protesting without actually being able to make the war stop. She is angry and frustrated. She witnesses protestors being defeated either by governmental powers or by their own weakness to make things change. ‘It is dangerous to read newspapers. Each time I hit a key on my electric typewriter, speaking of peaceful trees another village explodes.’ Atwood also criticizes those who write but not on war, on how they feel about the war. They write about ‘peaceful trees’ in an effort to keep on writing just to say that they are writing. There is an underlying irony in her verses. Even she herself, how can she keep on writing when she knows that every single moment ‘another village explodes.’ She writes to protest, to awaken people but it seems as if its writing even aiming at people’s awakening is weak to make things really change.
Another protestor poet, Robert Bly, in his poem ‘Counting Small – Boned Bodies’, he uses satire against all those interested in the war’s progress. He imagines that bodies of all those lost in the war are so tiny that a body can fit ‘into a finger ring, for a keepsake forever’. What does Bly want to emphasize on? He wants to emphasize on how this war is treated on behalf of those hiding behind it being organized and put into practice. The war is treated in such a way that lives who are lost, people’s losses do not count but only as numbers which can show the victory or the defeat for each of the armies involved in this war. How tragic really! Human life has just turned into a figure. This is what Bly says in his own sarcastic way in an effort to depict the War’s dramatic effect on people’s mentality and ethical values.
It is obvious that the Vietnam War like any other significant historical event has caused people’s reactions in all fields. Whether an artist, a poet or a common mortal, despair, doubt, disappointment, fear of people’s predestined fate to fall into committing fatal mistakes, are some of the feelings humans experience. Art is the mirror of each era’s traits and characteristics. So whatever is experienced in a period of time, it is reflected on art’s mirror. And it is this mirror when looking into it or behind it like a modernized Alice in the Wonderland of humans’ actions that brings reflections on how responsible artists are for making people’s consciousness wake up. Humanity’s evolution has beyond any shadow of doubt shown that what an artist can say and achieve as far as awakening people’s consciousness is concerned, nothing else and no one else can do.
Works cited
Atwood, Margaret. “It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers.” Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and its Aftermath. New York: Scribner. 1998. 141.
Atwood, Margaret. “It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers.” Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and its Aftermath. New York: Scribner. 1998. 141.
Bly, Robert. “Counting Small-Boned Bodies.” Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and its Aftermath. New York: Scribner. 1998. 70.
Buntz, Veit. “‘Hammered out of Artillery Shells’: The Discourse of Trauma in Vietnam Veterans' Poetry.” American Studies, 48 (2), 2003. 227-48. “Hammered out of Artillery Shells”: The Discourse of Trauma in Vietnam Veterans'
Fussell, Paul. “Introduction, Parts III.” The Norton Book of Modern War. Ed. Paul Fussell. New York: Norton, 1991. 307-14. Part III: The Wars in Asia: Obscenity Without Victory
Komunyakaa, Yusef. “You and I Are Disappearing.” Dien Cai Dau. New York: Hanover, 1988. 17.
Parini, Jay. "A Time for Poets to Raise Their Voices." The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle Review, March 14, 2003, p. B20., A Time for Poets to Raise Their Voices
Rafferty, Gary. “Twins.” Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and its Aftermath. New York: Scribner. 1998. 217.

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