College Of Arts and Sciences | The Vietnam War in Literature and Memory
S103 | 0092 | Wiles, T.


The Vietnam War was a turning point in American history—our longest
war, our anti-Communist war, the only war we lost—and it has had a
great influence on literature, film and popular culture in the
decades since the 1960s. This course will investigate how the war has
been remembered in various artistic media, and it is designed to
bring students from the present generation into closer contact with
the legacy of the Vietnam era.  We will read fictional accounts and
factual memoirs of the war; most of these books were written by
combatants themselves, and a few of the authors are Vietnamese.  We
will also discuss several popular films that depicted the war, and
contrast them with other visual images that have become imprinted on
our culture’s collective memory—images ranging from wartime
photography to the “look” and the iconography of war memorials, such
as the Vietnam Veterans Monument in Washington.

Several class sessions will be devoted to a historical survey of the
war, to provide a context for our literary readings. The class will
read Jerold M. Starr’s history text. The Lessons of the Vietnam War
and each student will also research an individual topic from Vietnam
era history.  The midterm and final exams will contain both factual
questions and essay-style questions.

While we will do extensive reading in this course, a good deal of our
class time will be devoted to your own writing. Students will write
short response papers to analyze sections of Vietnam era fiction and
film.  You will also do historical research for a factual paper on
one aspect of the war, and write a second paper on literary and/or
cinematic depictions.  For the final paper, you will have the
opportunity to draw on your own memories, family histories, and oral
histories, to write an account of ways in which the Vietnam War has
come down into your own generation and your decade; your goal here
will be to deal with some legacies of the Vietnam War in our own
time.  The class format will be a combination of lectures,
discussions, and writing and editing sessions conducted with student
partners.  One of the main ways in which we will use writing in this
course is through “writing to learn,” which means finding out more
about the subject in the process of writing about it. Readings
include: O’Brien, The Things They Carried; Mason, In Country; stories
by Vietnamese and American wrriters found in the collection, The
Other Side of Heaven; oral history and memoir writing such as
Santoli’s, Everything We Had; and Wolff’s, In Pharaoh's Army; and
films including Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon.