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The Other Side of Grief

The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War

Maureen Ryan

Publication Year: 2008

The lingering aftereffects of the Vietnam War resonate to this day throughout American society: in foreign policy, in attitudes about the military and war generally, and in the contemporary lives of members of the so-called baby boom generation who came of age during the 1960s and early 1970s. While the best-known personal accounts of the war tend to center on the experience of combat, Maureen Ryan’s The Other Side of Grief examines the often overlooked narratives—novels, short stories, memoirs, and films—that document the war’s impact on the home front. In analyzing the accounts of Vietnam veterans, women as well as men, Ryan focuses on the process of readjustment, on how the war continued to insinuate itself into their lives, their families, and their communities long after they returned home. She looks at the writings of women whose husbands, lovers, brothers, and sons served in Vietnam and whose own lives were transformed as a result. She also appraises the experiences of the POWs who came to be embraced as the war’s only heroes; the ordeal of Vietnamese refugees who fled their “American War” to new lives in the United States; and the influential movement created by those who committed themselves to protesting the war. The end result of Ryan’s investigations is a cogent synthesis of the vast narrative literature generated by the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Together those stories powerfully demonstrate how deeply the legacies of the war penetrated American culture and continue to reverberate still.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War


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Title Page

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pp. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-iv


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pp. v-v

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-ix

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pp. xi-xii

The cultural narratives that I engage in this book affirm that the Vietnam War was the defining experience of an American generation. I am a member of that generation, and because I came of age against the backdrop of that vertiginous era, I was formed by its changes and challenges. Yet a subject and a project as expansive as this one inevitably—happily—inspires ...

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Introduction - The Vietnam War and Modern Memory

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pp. 1-12

The soldiers we sent to Vietnam were not the only ones who went. We were all there. And we all had a long journey to make together to get Looking back on it is something we’ll do for a very long time. . . . It’ll become an industry. There are so many of us who’ve been there. The cover story of the October 5, 2003, New York Times Book Review, a review of American Woman, Susan Choi’s novel based on the Patty Hearst...

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Chapter 1 - MIA in America: Vietnam Aftermath Narratives

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pp. 13-59

John Rambo has killed nine men and a couple of hunting dogs by the time that Special Forces colonel Sam Trautman arrives to rescue his “boy” from a small Kentucky town, two-thirds of the way through David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood. Trautman is surprised that Sheriff Will Teasle, himself a medaled hero of the Korean War, has failed to recognize...

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Chapter 2 - The Other Side of Grief: American Women Writers and the Vietnam War

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pp. 60-97

Every book should have the opportunity to be published,” proclaims a disquieting New York Times Book Review advertisement for the online self-publishing company iUniverse that features Patti Massman and Susan Rosser’s 1999 Vietnam War–era novel A Matter of Betrayal. Massman...

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Chapter 3 - Years of Darkness: Narratives by and about American Prisoners of the Vietnam War

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pp. 98-151

Republican partisans deployed a savvy strategic weapon against the Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign when they launched a “Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth” media blitz that lethally attacked the decorated Vietnam combat veteran– turned–antiwar activist. In television ads and a documentary film titled...

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Chapter 4 - The Fugitive’s Hour: The Counterculture and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement in American Fiction

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pp. 152-205

In 1998, in one of the many celebrations of the coming millennium, the U.S. Postal Service invited American citizens to vote for representative American events and images of each decade of the twentieth century. Millions of ballots were cast, on the Postal Service website and at 40,000 post offices and 300,000 public school classrooms around the country. The resulting issues...

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Chapter 5 - Something Strange and Extravagant: Personal Histories by Vietnam Antiwar Movement Activists

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pp. 206-251

Midway through his 1986 memoir Passing Time, Vietnam veteran and Swarthmore undergraduate W. D. (Bill) Ehrhart, his antiwar sentiments stimulated by the debacle at Kent State, wonders, in a 1970 speech to the local Rotary Club, “who will be the heroes of the Vietnam War? Men like me who fought there, or those who argue for an end to further killing and senseless destruction?”1 (96). Fifteen years later, near the...

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Chapter 6 - People Singing a Sad Song: Vietnamese Exiles in American Literature

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pp. 252-293

In the spring of 2007, Together Higher, a contemporary dance company from Hanoi, presented its show Stories of Us in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Manhattan. American audiences for Stories of Us, which featured deaf and hearing-impaired performers, were primarily members of the deaf community, for “Vietnamese-Americans largely stayed home,” Claudia La Rocco...

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Conclusion: We Were All There

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pp. 294-299

In his early combat memoir A Rumor of War (1977), Philip Caputo recognized that the Vietnam War would be “the dominant event in the life of my generation” (xx). Th e powerful combat narratives that succeeded Caputo’s affirm his prescience, for the war in Vietnam, more than any other historical event, defined late-twentieth-century America. Complementing...


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pp. 301-311

Works Cited

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pp. 313-329


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pp. 331-341

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761571
E-ISBN-10: 1613761570
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496859
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496858

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War
Series Editor Byline: Christian Appy See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794701599
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Other Side of Grief

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • War in literature.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Influence.
  • Soldiers in literature.
  • Peace movements in literature.
  • Exiles -- Vietnam -- Biography -- History and criticism.
  • Soldiers' writings, American -- History and criticism.
  • Prisoners of war in literature.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Literature and the war.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Personal narratives, American.
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