Loren Baritz, in Backfire: American Culture and the Vietnam War, concluded by saying: “Our power, complacency, rigidity, and ignorance have kept us from incorporating our Vietnam experience into the way we think about ourselves and the world.” While on the surface, such a sweeping pronouncement could be deemed correct, explain in what ways Contemporary American literary texts, while underscoring this statement, also specifically parlay “power, complacency, rigidity, ignorance” into signifying markers that proscribe American experience. Discuss, too, drawing specific points from the texts, how these qualities are really more complex than they really are.
Given the modern liberalism that characterizes materially-abundant America, it is easy for the rest of the world to accuse it of power-tripping, bullying and arrogance especially in the context of its war engagements, most classic of which is the Vietnam experience. However, its pullout of troops from the Southeast Asian nation in 1973 proves that this American defeat renders the qualities of power, complacency, rigidity and ignorance more complicated than they seem. In Carolyn Forché’s “Because One is Always Forgotten,” the injustice committed against taxpaying and assassinated citizens of America by some corrupt Third World elite offers the possibility of America’s justification of the choices it enacts. Meanwhile, John Ashbery’s “They Dream Only of America,” written in exile due to what Ashbery perceives as repressive political atmosphere in the United States, liberation does not appear to be a stuff of the famous American Dream, but a horrific reality that Americans must wait for signs of, with the necessary price to pay. Michael Harper’s “American History” shows the painful, unforgotten episode of American history wherein black slaves were rendered invisible, a condition that recurs in an altogether different but ghastly version to their eventual descendants in their new homeland. Meanwhile, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a reminder that not all Americans are in favor of their country’s commitment to war, recognizing the terror it creates and the worldwide disrepute that America falls under for engaging in an atrocious foreign policy. Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night echoes this antiwar stance, antagonizing the Americans for their lethargy toward their country’s Vietnam interference. Ultimately, John Hersey’s Hiroshima comments on the American moral complacency over the unconscientious war act that victimized ordinary humans leading ordinary lives.
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