The Vietnam War: Out from Under Momma’s Apron
By the time of the American war in Vietnam, the need to fight to prove oneself a man pressed even more acutely than in earlier wars of the century In World War I, Vera Brittain’s fiancé hurried to the front because “effeminate” men whom he “despised” had unexpectedly joined up, and he didn’t want to be left behind as the new nominee for effeminacy (126). In World War II, American GIs teased, “Whatsa matter, bud—got lace on your drawers?” or “Christ, he’s acting like an old maid” (Stouffer 2: 132). By Vietnam, however, in addition to peers conveying the cultural norm, drill instructors (Dis) systematically instilled fear of womanliness, in a self-conscious manipulation. One of the voices in the oral history Nam recalls his DI sneering, “All right, ladies. You look like shit” (M. Baker 22). Philip Caputo remembers a DI needling marines, “Square those pieces away SQUARE ‘EM AWAY GIRLS” (9), while the infantry sergeant in Tim O’Brien’s nonfiction If I Die in a Combat Zone ridicules a man who lodges a complaint, “You’re a pussy, huh?” (54). Women are the lowest of the low, and military men are taught not only to look down on them but also to worry that they themselves might stand revealed as permanent “ladies.”
KeywordsFatigue Explosive Cane Arena Dien
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