Vietnam War Literature

Catherine Calloway

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Vietnam War Literature


Considered America’s first “long” war, the Vietnam War, which spanned the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, has always been a topic of interest, not only to the American people, who lost over 58,000 loved ones, but also to writers of literature, historians, sociologists, psychologists, politicians, and filmmakers. Literary expression began with British writer Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (1955) and quickly spread to the United States, where it continues over half a century later. Since 1955 literally thousands of works of literature have been written about the involvement of America and other countries in Vietnam. In turn, these works have generated over a thousand books and articles of literary criticism—far too many to enumerate in this selective bibliography—as well as special collections at Colorado State University and La Salle University, special journals and journal issues, and numerous conference sessions. In the 1980s and 1990s especially, a growing number of scholars began documenting the war and its prolific literary endeavors. They quickly realized that the Vietnam War reflected in this literature was a diverse war. The brutal experiences of the soldier on the front lines differed considerably from the boredom of the soldier who shuffled papers in the rear, and the soldier who served in the early years fought a different war from that of the soldier who fought after the TET offensive in 1968. Vietnam was considered by many to be an “absurd” war, one that was fought with mines and booby traps and children as well as with the most-modern technology, one in which progress was measured by the “body count” rather than the taking of enemy territory, one in which soldiers served a twelve- or thirteen-month rotation, and one in which the enemy was not clearly defined. These traits are clearly reflected in the literature of the war, which takes a wide variety of approaches in its efforts toward sense making and encompasses a number of genres—novels, short stories, poetry, drama, memoirs, oral histories, scrapbooks, and letters, for instance. In its inception, literary scholarship focused almost exclusively on accounts of white male American soldiers and has gradually evolved to include gender and minority studies, the effects of the war on the home front, and the war’s aftermath. Today, there is a growing interest in bicultural studies, especially those of the “other” or the Vietnamese people in whose land the war was fought and the diaspora or the immigration of Vietnamese to the United States. Literary connections are also quickly being made between the Vietnam War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan during the early 21st century.

Article.  12534 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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