A Terrible Irony
A Terrible Irony. American Response to the Vietnam War
ISBN 978-3-922031-78-9, ISBN 3-922031-78-1, 140 S., kt., € 19,50 (1990)
(Crossroads - Studies in American Culture, Bd. 2)
The importance of the fiction which has emerged from the Vietnam War derives largely from the peculiar significance of the conflict in the history of American wars. The implications for the American self-concept which was negatively influenced by the traumas of the Vietnam War are explored in this study of American novelistic response. Even conventional novels show heroes baffled and world wary by the end of the narrative. Others display a powerful impulse to question the mythology that underlies the involvement in such a war – Norman Mailer in Why Are We in Vietnam?, Gustav Hasford in The Short Timers (later filmed as Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick), and Ron Kovic in his personal narrative Born on the Fourth of July (which became an award-winning film by Oliver Stone). American frustration dominates the novels: the Vietnamese are shadowy figures in a landscape demoined by a war mentality, while the American soldier becomes an object of pathos in ironic contrast to his World War II forbears. In the depiction of a war often described as surreal, the majority of the fiction remains realistic, exploring the advantages of that genre to highlight the human aspects of the hight-tech war. However, as this study concludes, a literature accused at times of being too negative or nihilistic is better understood as part of a process in which Americans adjusted to a new, tempered image of themselves and their role in the world.