Warning: This post discusses and includes images of the violence of war.
Recently I have been binge-watching the American comedy-drama series This Is Us. I am of the same generation as Jack and Rebecca, the parents of the triplets, but I didn’t think much about that connection during the first two seasons. The middle class father works-mother stays home family and the “father knows best” story line seemed like a throwback to the generation of my parents. Though everyone was supposed to have loved him, I didn’t like Jack, and I didn’t identify with Rebecca. The children’s lives seemed much more interesting to me, and I resented it when the flashbacks to the parents’ lives began to take over the script.
When the plot turned to Jack’s experiences in Vietnam, I fast-forwarded. “Been there, done that,” I said to myself, “I don’t need to see it again.” But eventually I realized I had to watch some of the scenes of the Vietnam War or I would not be able to follow the plot.
With no television and immersed in my studies, I was not really aware of the Civil Rights movement or the Vietnam War until the summer after I graduated college. Over the summer of 1967, a friend made it his mission to introduce me to the world around me. He was sure he could turn me from conservative to liberal–if he could make me aware of what was going on, and he succeeded. By the time I started graduate school in the fall, I was firmly committed to ending the war, poverty, and racism.
While watching the episodes of This Is Us that focused on the Vietnam War, memories flooded back: the image of the naked girl running down the road, the stories of the My Lai massacre, marching while chanting “war, war what are we fighting for” and “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Cong are gonna win.” Most of my friends had student deferments and my brother did not serve because he was married with children, but one of the dearest loves of my youth, Tony, who was a black man, told me that he still had shrapnel in his leg, that he was the only one to survive from his infantry unit, and that he would never forgive himself for throwing a grenade that killed a small Vietnamese girl who was walking toward him–because a girl the same age had thrown a grenade that killed his best friend. A white veteran, a work colleague of one of my other boyfriends, would duck and start muttering to himself whenever he heard a loud noise; and needless to say he drank way too much.
In my first job, I was required to teach the Iliad, which for me was neither beautiful poetry, nor a magnificent depiction of the heroic quest. I found it to be a glorification of warriors and war. The fact that my colleagues could speak dispassionately about Briseis as a “spear captive” turned my stomach. She was the “spoils of war” and a victim of rape. I could not discuss whether Achilles or Agamemnon had greater right to hold her as his captive and to rape her. Nor did I find Achilles’ “metaphysical dilemma” of whether to fight and die in war and be remembered forever or to return to an ordinary life to be compelling. It was obvious to me that the road not taken would have been the better choice.
I did not experience the Vietnam War directly, but the horror of war was etched into my brain and has shaped my life ever since. Because of the Vietnam War, I have opposed war and everything to do with the military. While many were shocked when rape in war made headlines following the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I already knew that rape is an ordinary weapon of war, practiced not only by Serbians but also by US soldiers in Vietnam. I have also always understood that war is an integral part of patriarchy and vice versa and have made ending war one of my feminist priorities.
In This is Us Jack’s brother Nick is one of the walking wounded and Jack is a silent sufferer. Nick retreats into an alcoholic haze. Jack has a drinking problem and refuses to speak of what he has seen and done. It is a credit to the writers of the series that the war that shaped a generation is not glorified in This is Us. I wonder though, will the writers go a step further: will they help us to understand that the only way to end the suffering of war is to end war?
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator currently living in Lesbos, Greece. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.