Dialectics of Humanism: Thematic Readings of the Literature of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars
thesisposted on 04.02.2020, 15:34 by Sara A. Alzahrani
Since ultimate military failure in the Vietnam War (1964–75), the United States has changed its management of wars, making full use of advanced military technology to carry out small-scale wars and continue imposing its global dominance without risking involvement in military and political quagmires. Shedding the spectre of the Vietnam War, however, proved particularly elusive at the onset of the Iraq War (2003-11) and cultural commentators have questioned if Iraq War has become another Vietnam in terms of a seismic culture change. While ample research has studied the changes in military engagement and the emergence of “postmodern combat” after the Vietnam War, scant discussion has been offered on the role of the two wars in recontextualizing the human discourse.
This thesis steers away from the rigid analysis which defines the contemporary scholarly approach to both wars and instead pays special attention to the insider perspectives of veterans to better understand the changing conception of “the human” through the prism of war. Taking into consideration the central role that Vietnam War played in creating postmodern confusion and disillusionment, the main objective of the thesis is to thoroughly examine Iraq War narratives to develop a discussion concerning the ways in which veterans extend, subvert or transcend the postmodern politics that informed Vietnam War narratives.
The thesis adopts a thematic-based analysis of cultural texts from both wars in order to identify veterans’ contrasting responses to the militarization of the body (chapter 2), the mental and physical trauma that ensues from war disabling injuries (chapter 3), the hyper-masculine military culture (chapter 4), and the long-held strategy to dehumanize the enemy (chapter 5). It argues that war narratives depart from traditional war templates, beginning in Vietnam and then more fully in Iraq, by presenting emerging posthuman concepts such as relational embodiments, psychological resilience, gender fluidity and worldly encounters. In spite of the similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq wars that this thesis documents, it also identifies and explores notable differences relating to social and historical particularities that shaped each war and each era.