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  • Nov 24 2008

    Wages of War random chapters…

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    Chapters 6 and 7 address the government’s attempts to give pensions to Revolutionary War veterans, although it didn’t occur until after the War of 1812. Before legislation granting pensions to Revolutionary veterans was passed, Congressman Bloomfield believed that only 34 veterans would apply for pensions. How shocked he (and much of the government officials!!) must have been when over 32,900 people applied for these pensions. Unfortunately, there were many cases of fraud–men would apply under the names of dead men and receive their benefits. Despite what many in power thought, it was the wealthier veterans who were more likely to deceive the government, not the poor. These chapters also describe how picky the government was when it came to awarding pensions. Veterans could be denied for any reason: only fighting out of self-defense, enjoying one’s time in the army, or just being too young. It does not surprise me that the government looked for any excuse not to pay their veterans.

    Chapter 8 discusses the Mexican War. I knew there was discrimination against Irish Catholics and other immigrants during this time in America, but I have never really thought about its impact on wartime America. All immigrants were treated terribly, but Irish Catholics were especially despised. What I found interesting was the way that the Mexicans, who were Catholic, published pamphlets in order to get Catholic soldiers on the American side to desert. This chapter really made me think about the terrible treatment of so many men who served our nation heroically, despite being discriminated against, and yet they still had a bad reputation because ‘native’ Americans chose to exaggerate the rare stories of bad behavior.

    Chapter 13 addresses the terrible diseases and treatment the soldiers and veterans of the War with Spain faced. Soldiers contracted typhoid, yellow fever, malaria, and dysentery while fighting in Cuba, and the conditions on ships, such as the Concho made conditions much worse. Men did not receive adequate treatment, and water and food were scarce. Once they returned to America, they were placed in ill-prepared camps. I was horrified by the conditions at Camp Wikoff in Montauk. So many men were dying every day from these diseases, and yet President McKinley and Secretary of War Alger turned a blind eye. Alger, even after visiting Wikoff, refused to take any of the blame for the terrible conditions and blamed everything and everyone but himself. Alger, even once he had seen the men dying horrible deaths in muddy tents, thought that they were “very cheerful” (206).

    Chapter 14 describes the War of Philippine Insurgency. I found many of the incidents discussed in this chapter similar to what we have read about Vietnam. The American soldiers did not know what Filipino civilian was there enemy–children and women even carried arms. I was especially horrified when I read all the accounts of the water torture and brutal murders American soldiers committed–and what was worse was the lack of punishment they received. I don’t think I have ever heard about any of this in any of my history classes, and I am so ashamed.

    All I can say about Chapters 21 and 22 is that I am absolutely shocked. It is ridiculous that so many degraded returning soldiers from Korea and accused them of being communists. What is even more disgusting is the way Mayer accused those who died in POW camps of being weak and not trying to escape. I cannot believe that someone would say such things, let alone that so many Americans, especially those in power, would agree so quickly.

    Nov 20 2008

    Women Veterans!

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    I think I was especially drawn to Wendy Marie Wamsley’s (Persian Gulf) story because she enlisted in the Army when she was basically my age–she was only 17 years old. She discusses how angry she was when she first left. Her parents made her join the army in order to straighten out her life, since she had bad grades and bad behavior. Her resentment actually helped her get through the intense training during boot camp. She described going in the gas chamber as a “soldier moment;” something she did because she had to, without thinking about it at the time. When she arrived at “Soldier City,” which she said were unfinished condos the Saudis let the US troops use, it was extremely overcrowded and had no running water. Each soldier was given 2 bottles of water per 24 hours that had to cover washing, teeth brushing, and drinking. I found it shocking that self-inflicted wounds were considered destroying government property! It’s kind of funny, and yet it is sad at the same time, that a soldier is seen as government property. The homecoming that Wendy received was amazing. When she stepped off her plane, there were people cheering, including WWII and Vietnam veterans. Kids were asking for her autograph, and everyone wanted to shake her hand and thank her for her service. She mentions that after such a positive experience, she knows how important it is to warmly welcome home the troops today. I thought it was really heartwarming to hear about a happy homecoming after the terrible treatment Vietnam veterans received upon their arrival.

    Frances M. Liberty’s interview was a nurse in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. She saw so many terrible wounds and yet she was able to remain hopeful for all of her patients. She told the story of the Jewish man who was dying and asked for her rosary beads. She gave them to him, and he survived. Years later, the patient sent her a different set of beads, claiming that hers were to lucky to return. His granddaughter received the name Liberty in honor of Frances’ impact on the soldier’s life. She also remembered a pilot who was burnt on over 60% of his body in a helicopter crash. He was expected to die, but Frances and her fellow nurses spent extra time helping to care for this man, and he survived. It is remarkable how someone who served in three different wars can see so many terrible things and still remain positive. On a lighter note, I seriously laughed out loud when she talked about Fort Belvoir and that she “knew Betty Ford was an alcoholic long before anybody else did.”

    Darlene M. Iskra joined the Navy after a divorce with her husband who was in the Navy. She was 27 years old, and didn’t really have a very good job, so she figured, “why not?” She talked about how the military was not seen in a very good light, since this was right after Vietnam, so they were really happy to get people who wanted to join. The women in the OCS, she felt, were very supportive of each other and bonded very well. Darlene actually has stayed in touch with many of the women she met there. She was assigned to a newly commissioned ship when opportunities opened up for women, and then she chose to do back-to-back sea tours on the USS Grasp. This was strange, but she wanted to stay up to par with her peers. During the Persian Gulf War, she had no idea what was going on around her–not even who was winning! Darlene even says that Americans at home had a better knowledge because of CNN and other news programs.

    Nov 13 2008

    Remembering War the American Way: From the Korean War to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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    I am not going to lie–when I first glanced at these pages in their adobe format, I was not looking forward to reading.  But once I started to skim, I found this section of Remembering War the American Way fascinating.  I actually read the entire text without constantly checking the clock, which I think is impressive for a secondary source.

    I think it is ridiculous the amount of time it took to construct a memorial to Korean veterans.  Not until 1986–35 years after the ‘war/conflict/police action’– was a national Korean memorial proposed. Whether people wanted to call it a conflict, a police action, or a war should not matter.  What is important is that there were American men and women who sacrificed their lives and deserved recognition.  The South Korean government built monuments honoring US veterans in Korea years before the US.  Korean officials appreciate US soldiers, yet the United States do not, at least not in a public way.  How embarassing is that for our government, and all US citizens? 

    The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was created much quicker (if it took longer, we probably would just be constructing it).  It was unlike previous memorials, consisting of two black walls with names of fallen soldiers.  “The Three Fighting Men” statue introduced a new idea: that African Americans served in the war and deserved honor and respect for their service as well as whites.  In 1993, a statue honoring the role of female veterans was added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Finally America seems to recognize racial minorities and women for their service in battle.

    Nov 11 2008

    Wages of War Chapters 23-27

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    Once again, Wages of War reveals the struggles that veterans face following war.  Since the US was still pretty economically sound, many Americans didn’t realize the huge loss that Vietnam cost, mostly the loss of so many young lives.  Tragedies like My Lai muddied society’s view of veterans.  I found Ronald Ridenhour’s efforts to make public the horror of My Lai inspiring.  For a while, everyone in the military basically turned a blind eye and pretended My Lai did not happen.  Ridenhour believed that such acts needed justice.  He wrote to President Nixon, telling him that the rapes and murders of innocent villagers must be investigated.  Ridenhour, along with others who were disgusted by the murder of over 300 unarmed villagers.

    Like in previous wars, veterans faced drug and alcohol addictions and unemployment.  I was surprised to read that in the beginning, the first two Prisoners of War were warmly welcomed home.  However, due to constant television coverage of Vietnam, by the end, no one really cared much about returning veterans. 

    Although I shouldn’t be surprised that the government did not try to help the veterans, the resistance of government officials still gets to me.  These men who served their country were denied so much government assistance.  Many men faced health issues as a result of exposure to Agent Orange, and yet the government and chemical companies both were quick to deny the toxicity of this chemical.  There were so many cases brought before the VA of tumors and illnesses and deformities in their children, and yet the government did not care.  Their only concern was finding any research that would prove these men liars.  Anything to save face and save money.

    Nov 05 2008

    Born on the Fourth of July, part 2

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    Wow.  The second half of Born on the Fourth of July was even more intense than the first.  Once again, I could not seem to put this memoir down, and I even found myself cringing during some of the battle descriptions.  This entire story kept me interested, but there were certain parts that I found especially moving.

    When Kovic shatters his right leg, he has to return to the terrible treatment in the hospital.  He is so lonely, and he is treated as subhuman.  It really saddened me when he says, “I am isolated here because I am a troublemaker.  I had a fight with the head nurse on the ward. I asked for a bath. I asked for the vomit to be wiped up from the floor. I asked to be treated like a human being” (131).  He is treated worse than any human should be, especially someone who fought for his country.  I think the hospital aide succinctly sums up the attitude of the American people towards veterans when he tells Kovic: “Vietnam don’t mean nothin’ to me…you can take your Vietnam and shove it up your ass” (133).

    Kovic joins the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and protests in front of Nixon’s campaign headquarters.  A man he assumes is a fellow VVAW member turns out to be a police officer and arrests him in the cruelest way possible.  This man throws Kovic to the ground, beats him, andhandcuffs his hands behind his back so that he cannot balance once back in his wheelchair.  I was so surprised that someone could abuse a paralyzed man with such hatred and cruelty.

    Kovic details his actual war experience at the end of his memoir.  He explains his guilt in the death of the corporal from Georgia and the many Vietnamese women and children wounded or killed.  The scene with all of the bleeding and crying children and old men really touched me.  I know that this part really got to me, and all I did was read about it.  I cannot even begin to imagine the horror that veterans like Kovic face(d)everyday just remembering the awfuls sights they saw, and perhaps even caused.

    Nov 03 2008

    Born on the Fourth of July part 1

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    This is the best book we have read so far!!  When i first looked at the syllabus, I must admit I was not looking forward to reading 90 something pages…but as soon as I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.  From Kovic’s introduction, I could tell that his story would be intense.

    Kovic’s opening descriptions of battle were disturbing.  He illustrates the horrors of the Vietnam War and the terror he experienced when he realized that he could not feel or move his legs.  Once he arrives at the hospital in Vietnam, things aren’t much better.  There are soldiers all around him who are suffering severe wounds, such as the Korean with his limbs blown off and the man’s whose heart suddenly stops.  What I found especially sad was the baby who had been napalmed and wouldn’t stop crying.  Once Kovic made it to the American hospital, what bothered me the most was the fact that the young soldiers still were on reveille.  They had to make their beds, stand for roll call, and even scrub the hospital.

    In the second American hospital, Kovic’s situation is not much better.  He even compares it to a Nazi concentration camp: the filthy conditions, the emaciated patients, the terrible treatment from the nurses.  Even though there was a parade welcoming him home, he discusses the way that no one claps for him as he goes by in the parade.  Everyone cheers for the men who make the speeches about patriotism and democracy, but the people don’t appreciate the actual soldiers.

    Changing subjects to something a little lighter, I liked the part about his childhood.  He grew up in Massapequa, which is where my mom grew up (although she is a little younger than Kovic).  Many of the things he talked about, such as games of stick ball, I have heard about from my mom.  As a child, Kovic dreamed of becoming a Marine based on the movies he watched that romanticized war and soldiers.  He believed that becoming a Marine and fighting for his country was brave and admirable.  However, Kovic’s experiences in boot camp and war obviously changed his mind about the glory of being in the military and fighting in battle.

    Oct 27 2008

    The Greatest Generation: Chapters 4-6, 8

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    Finally, someone addresses the war experience of minorities! Chapters 4 and 5 of The Greatest Generation not only discusses the struggles of women and African Americans following WWII, but also Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans.  All of these groups had similar emotional and physical wounds to deal with upon their return to society as the typical white, male veteran, but they also faced discrimination.

    When women first joined the war effort, they could hold only 4 positions–but by the end of the war, there were 239 job titles for women (pg. 93).  For a brief time, women even participated in direct combat with men.  Many were sent overseas and saw the same horrors and suffered the same emotional distress as the male veterans.  The point system used for demobilization was especially unfair for women since they were not eligible for points for heroic acts in battle or physical wounds.  There were women’s auxiliaries within veterans organizations, but their roles were restricted to traditional ideas of what women should do: fundraise and help children.  Women, veterans or not, were expected to be the “glue holding peacetime America together” (101) and return to their traditional roles of housewife and mother once the war ended.  Despite this, some women chose to stay in the military, and many continued working.  Unfortunately, pay checks were skewed by gender and unions did little for women.  Although there was such discrimination against women following WWII, women gained self-confidence and realized that they were capable outside of traditional female roles.

    African Americans, despite valor in battle, faced discrimination.  Following the war, many blacks demanded equality, thus beginning what would evolve into the Civil Rights Movement.  They did not have the support of the VA or trade unions, but these black veterans had the support of President Truman who spoke against inequality.  Black veterans took advantage of the GI Bill, but there was a sore lacking of facilities for black students.  The NAACP strengthened following WWII as a result of black veterans coming together to fight the injustices black people faced in all aspects of life: housing, education, medical care, and voting rights.

    Hispanic Americans held combat and noncombat positions during WWII.  Despite their contributions in the war, upon reentering society, their living conditions were awful.  Hispanic communities were segregated from the whites and filled with disease and little educational opportunities.  The VA did not try to hide its discrimination towards Hispanic Veterans, and this led to the formation of the American GI Forum, led by Hector Garcia.  Garcia made public the ill-treatment that so many Hispanic veterans faced following the war.

    Many Japanese Americans, especially in Hawaii, volunteered to fight even though they were being forced into internment camps in the mainland.  They participated in all theaters of battle, and following the war, when the public heard of the accomplishments the Japanese Americans succeeded in battle, they received slightly better treatment.  However, “millions of dollars of business property, residences, agricultural land, and equipment” (138) taken from Japanese Americans during the war was never returned.  Like other minorities, they faced discrimination in the housing market, and they formed the Japanese American Citizens League.

    Although I am not surprised to learn of such discrimination in this country, the hypocrisy of American society really frustrates me.  World War II was supposedly fought to end the white supremacy of Hitler and the Nazis.  Yet, upon the war’s end, American society still places the white male at the top of the food chain, and minorities are discriminated against and not given any respect for their sacrifices.

    Oct 15 2008

    Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic by Paul Fussel

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    I found Paul Fussel’s war experiences extremely interesting, humorous, and disturbing all at the same time.  Fussel joined the ROTC at Pasadena Jaycee College as a pudgy, innocent boy, and by the end of his military service, he was a cynical, hardened man.  Fussel discusses his first real experience with death on page 105 when he talks about waking up in the forest at St. Die.  All around him are the dead bodies of German soldiers–they are all so young. At first he finds them almost beautiful, but then all he feels is horror.  He also talks about seeing children dead, with their brains oozing out of their heads, and how he had to keep all of his emotions bottled up so he wouldn’t be seen as weak.  On page 119, Fussel tells of the time he had to run an errand, and the only means he had to get there was to sit in the back of a truck among the frozen bodies of dead Germans.  He is “unmoved, by this time [he was] conscious only of a feeling of relief that the cold body was not [him].”

    I was shocked by the way the Americans treated German soldiers, such as the “Great Turkey Shoot” (124)  which involved F Company killing a squad of German soldiers who obviously were trying to surrender.  But then Fussel tells of the so-called kind treatment German prisoners received.  However, in that same paragraph on page 141he describes how prisoners were made to stand in the snow without shoes.

    Oct 06 2008

    Wages of War Chapters 15-18

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    Chapter 15 confirmed much of what we read in Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America by Jennifer D. Keene.  This chapter focuses on the treatment that the black and Italian veterans received upon their reentry into American society.  Italians were considered non-white.  What I found especially fascinating is the way that Irish immigrants, who were discriminated against when they came to America, were so quick to speak badly about Italians and what bad Catholics they were.  Once again, black soldiers, although so loyal to America and eager to fight for their country, still are treated like scum.  I had no idea that Italians were lynched, too.

    Chapter 16 discusses Harding’s corrupt presidency.  Harding chose Charles Forbes to be in charge of the Federal Bureau for Vocational Rehabilitation, which was supposed to help veterans, but really just benefited those who worked there.  More money was spent on the salaries of its employers than on veterans, and Forbes found ways to beat the system, such as using copper or brass to fill veterans’ teeth and charging the government for gold.    Once he was caught, Forbes completely denied his involvement in such corruption and blamed others. He denied having fancy parties with alcohol (how hypocritical during Prohibition) and generally cheating the system.  This entire chapter disgusts me beyond words.

    Chapter 17 focuses introduces the idea of the Bonus March.  Veterans of WWI were basically told they were being selfish for wanting a bonus for doing what they were supposed to do: defend their country.  Yet, corruption in the government and factory workers getting higher pay than soldiers facing enemy troops did not seem to upset society.  I think it is obvious that these veterans felt angry and entitled to better treatment.

    Lastly, chapter 18 describes the Bonus March.  Much of this chapter I had already read about from Doughboys, but I still found it quite interesting.  Here, though, it states that most newspapers supported Hoover in his removal of the protesting veterans from the D.C. area and that the people obviously disagreed because Hoover was no re-elected.  If I remember correctly, in Doughboys, Keene says that the public generally did not support Hoover, and many even admired the veterans exercising their right to petition the government.

    Sep 30 2008

    Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America

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    I really enjoyed reading the first chapter about establishing an American army for World War I.  What I found most interesting were the draft and the view of African Americans and other minorities.

    This was the first war with a real need for a draft.  There were not nearly enough volunteers for WWI, mainly because many Americans did not feel as strongly about these issues, which weren’t really effecting them, as compared to the motivation for fighting in the Revolutionary War or the Civil War.  The national government feared that America would not react well to a national draft, so they had local communities hold celebrations and pageants emphasizing patriotism to get men to volunteer before they were drafted.  I thought it was interesting how similar this is to the way the states got men to enlist for the Civil War.  Men often volunteered in order to have some say in which part of the army they would be a part of, or so that they would not feel ostracized for being unpatriotic.

    Within the troops, there was no longer regional cohesion.  Men could be fighting alongside other men from all over the country.  Aliens were mixed with US citizens, and many whites did not like the German, Italian, Jewish, etc immigrants.  Many were afraid to give black citizens guns, for fear they would rebel against the white men.  Instead, many black men were given unskilled labor jobs in factories so that they would not have the opportunity to turn against the white men.  This reminded me of when Bowdoin did not want to give African Americans firearms following the Revolution.  The black men volunteered to help put down Shays’ Rebellion, but the white men feared a rebellion.