Ideologies of forgetting: American erasure of women's sexual trauma in the Vietnam War
Weaver, Gina Marie
Morris, Wesley A.
Doctor of Philosophy
Vietnam War literature frequently mentions the rape of Vietnamese women. Academic histories of the war and literary criticism largely refuse to address rape and sexual assault, however, and popular American narratives of the war seem to have forgotten this type of atrocity entirely. This dissertation argues that the erasure of Vietnamese women's rape from the Vietnam War story has been necessary for the rehabilitation of the Vietnam veteran as a victim and has largely occurred through film. Through an analysis of Vietnamese writing and testimony, American veterans' testimony, and literature by veterans, this dissertation demonstrates that war rape by American soldiers was a widespread phenomenon. This analysis also indicates reasons Vietnamese women were particularly subject to sexual violence; it makes manifest veterans' own interpretation of the causes of their aggressive acts. It suggests that American rape of Vietnamese women was ultimately the byproduct of the military's misogynist training techniques and the ideals of masculinity prized in and validated by Cold War American culture. Though veterans have long testified to such abuses, Hollywood productions of the war have altered or contained veteran narratives in such a way as to deny these atrocities occurred or to suggest that they were the acts of deviants rather than typical soldiers. Trauma studies has been an enabler of these narratives of victimhood, as it has conferred a blanket victim status to all Vietnam veterans. Such status denies that much of the trauma from which Vietnam veterans suffer stems from the aggressive acts they committed against the Vietnamese and is thus of a different nature than the trauma of Holocaust or incest survivors. This dissertation argues that American narratives of the war have used the "victimized veteran" to represent the U.S. itself as a victim in the Vietnam War rather than the aggressor. Ultimately, the dissertation suggests that true healing and acceptance of Vietnam veterans cannot occur until the truth of the acts committed in Vietnam are acknowledged and understood.
American studies; Women's studies; American literature; Cinema