For scholars comparatively studying World War II and Vietnam, the two conflicts could not have contrasted more, but the psychological effects of both wars on the rank and file soldier carry similarities that cannot be overlooked. Peter Kindsvatter, in his book titled American Soldiers Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, & Vietnam, recognized the intense violence that subjected enlisted men to a basic mental state in both World War II and Vietnam. Kindsvatter often juxtaposed quotes that revealed the primitive state that the human psyche succumbed to while dealing with such a high amount of stress and cited Eugene B. Sledge’s description of Peleliu as a “fierce struggle for survival” then proceeding to quote Richard Ogden’s account of Vietnam. “I was aware of subtle changes in my mental state…. The fight to remain alive was one problem; the fight to remain human was quite another”.
Sledge could very well relate to such a statement as he often spoke of his efforts to grasp onto his sense of humanity while at the same time being forced into a primitive state as the only means of survival. This effect that Kindsvatter attributes to the soldier’s immersion into the environment of modern warfare is the key link in connecting the combat experiences of American men in World War II and Vietnam, regardless of what scholars label as the differences between what they describe each as a conventional total war, and a non-conventional guerilla war.
A major factor in the degradation of a soldier’s humanity into a primitive state was witnessing the result of horrific brutality on friends and fellow comrades. Eugene B. Sledge, in his renowned memoir With the Old Breed, described such a scene in which he saw the mutilated corpses of Marines. “One man had been decapitated…. In disbelief I stared as I realized that the Japanese had cut off the dead Marine’s penis and stuffed it into his mouth.” Sledge continued in detail, then went on to describe the psychological effect it had on him: “My emotions solidified into rage and a hatred for the Japanese beyond anything I had ever experienced. From that moment on I never felt the least pity or compassion for them no matter what the circumstances.” Sledge’s reaction to such an unspeakable sight is an extreme example of the type of conditions that forced soldiers into losing all compassion for other humans. Although American soldiers were not just on the receiving end of brutality in World War II and Vietnam, as the primitive mental state focused on survival sometimes exploded into an excess of emotional venting that led to a kind of devolution of consciousness.
The explanation of the other side of primitiveness brings about the question, how exactly did men become so mentally distorted as to commit such heinous crimes against humanity? Philip Caputo described such a transformation in his account of Vietnam, A Rumor of War. Caputo was in command of a company of Marines in an operation against the Viet Cong when they found a cache of small arms in a village filled with civilians but no enemy soldiers. Having just been in several hours of non-stop combat, the company was on edge when the Marines spontaneously systematically set fire to homes with Vietnamese still in them. Caputo bluntly explained that the event “had been a catharsis, a purging of months of fear, frustration, and tension. We had relieved our own pain by inflicting it on others.”
Caputo then emphasized that the catharsis him and his men experienced was ill-placed, and that it quickly led to a greater amount of emotional stress. Caputo explained that their relief was as short-lived as the adrenaline rush that enabled them to burn down the village: “…that sense of relief was inextricably mingled with guilt and shame. Being men again, we again felt human emotions… The change in us, from disciplined soldiers to unrestrained savages and back to soldiers, had been so swift and profound…”
Caputo was not justifying their actions, but rather, attempting to explain how him and his men were brought into a state of depersonalization. The Marines lost their identities as individuals, and acted out when they were at their breaking point. Kindsvatter attempted to delve into the psychological implications and evolution of a soldier being thrown into a hostile environment. According to Kindsvatter, from the outset, a newly trained soldier would usually be over-confident before being thrown into battle, but that once the sense of danger “dawned on him, fear verging on terror was a normal reaction. Any prebattle cockiness evaporated”. The fear resulting from the constant presence of death built up the kind of stress that enabled Caputo and his men to feel like they were briefly relieved by burning down a village. Fear was the driving force that led to either courage or cowardice, both in Vietnam and in World War II. Sledge described how scared he was while first entering battle in an amphibious landing on the island of Peleliu. The sensory overload was too much for some men, and Sledge’s nerves were shot so bad that he rescinded on his previous insistence to veterans around him that he would never smoke a cigarette. As soon as Sledge gathered with his squad on the beach he caved in.
“‘Somebody gimme a cigarette,’ I yelled to my squad mates nearby. Snafu was jubilant. ‘I toldja you’d start smokin’ didn’t I, Sledgehammer?’ A buddy handed me a smoke, and with trembling hands we got it lit. They really kidded me about going back on all my previous refusals to smoke.”
Sledge’s need to smoke a cigarette after the shock of his first combat experience was not a trivial matter. This seemingly small change was an example of the need for what Kindsvatter calls coping mechanisms.
One such mechanism was an automatic mental state that some men fell into which many called the belief in fate or luck. “Despite the death and destruction about them, many battlewise soldiers refused to consider the possibility of injury. In short, they believe that ‘it can’t happen to me’”.
This could be attributed to youthful ignorance (a kind of perception that young people can have in which they sub-consciously consider themselves immortal, or invulnerable), but not if the previously mentioned “prebattle cockiness” returned or never really went away. Some men believed in their skills as soldiers enough to think that it could prevent harm, in that their battle prowess and caution would save their lives. Kindsvatter called this sense of prowess the “…period of peak efficiency,” in that “the battlewise soldier was able to master his fears. Some soldier-authors even describe their fear as ‘useful’ because it heightened their senses and reflexes”.
Kindsvatter cited many experiences in World War II and Vietnam that were alike because the men who experienced it were “so immersed in the physical and emotional environment of war”.
Being immersed in such an environment led men to go through stages or periods where, before entering the conflict the lack of fear made them overconfident, and once immersed the fear overtook them, and then led them to have a sense of courage, before making them completely lose their identities and seem like zombies in a non-responsive state. As Caputo stated, this state of mind was based off of “Self-preservation, that most basic and tyrannical of all instincts,” which “can turn a man into a coward or as was more often the case in Vietnam, into a creature who destroys without hesitation or remorse whatever poses even a potential threat to his life”.
A difference some would cite between Vietnam and World War II was that this sense of self-preservation could be seen as more distinct in the environment of guerilla warfare when American soldiers had to be more aware of booby-traps and mines than the presence of entire divisions of enemy soldiers such as was the case against the Japanese in World War II. Caputo explained the frustration that Marines in Vietnam endured when facing an invisible, un-fightable enemy that could take their lives at any moment while out on patrol. “We could not fight back against the Viet Cong mines or take cover from them or anticipate when they would go off. Walking down the trails, waiting for things to explode, we had begun to feel more like victims than soldiers”.
Understanding the kind of warfare that resulted from what Mao called a people’s war can make it easier to comprehend why American soldiers would commit crimes against the Vietnamese civilians that they were supposed to protect. Caputo saw this kind of warfare as akin to fighting against phantoms, because the Viet Cong would often ambush American soldiers to try and inflict as many casualties as possible in a short period of time before quickly disappearing into the jungle or the many tunnels the guerrilla soldiers utilized in South Vietnam. This made it hard for soldiers in Vietnam to cling on to their sense of humanity, just as much as the fear of stepping on a mine. And yet Sledge could relate to such a feeling in a different sense because of the island hopping warfare in the Pacific campaign often resulted in a war of attrition instead of the war of annihilation that so many historians characterize as World War II combat. At Okinawa, Sledge spent days at a time in a foxhole shooting at Japanese soldiers sheltered by pre-fabricated defenses in the side of mountain cliffs and in caves. Fighting in relatively open terrain under the poor cover of foxholes against such strong emplacements could have also been akin to fighting against phantoms. Under such conditions, Sledge remarked:
“I felt a sense of desperation that my mind was being affected by what we were experiencing. Men cracked up frequently in places such as that… More than once my imagination ran wild during the brief period of darkness when the flares and star shells burned out”.
The fear of darkness was another sign that soldiers had slipped into a primitive state of being where their perception of reality faltered in fighting what seemed like ghosts to them. Humanity slipped away from them because they felt as if what they were fighting was not human itself.
American soldiers were dependent on trying to cling onto what sense of humanity they had left, to the sense of civilization at home that contrasted so much from the primitive brutal warfare that they endured. Kindsvatter posited that this feeling was not just mere homesickness. He called what was not happening in an individual’s experience of combat, (their experiences before the war) what the soldier’s sense of what reality should be, or as a private he quoted from the war in Vietnam stated, “The world existed. All too often the fantasy became clouded over by the day’s events. It seemed far away, intangible, even alien; but you couldn’t let go of the fact that it existed, or you might never get it back”.
This perceived alienation led to another coping mechanism, the necessitation of comradeship. In the Marines this was called esprit de corps. Sledge and Caputo had much to say about this phenomenon in the Marine corps, as it was apparent in every aspect of the Marine’s life during war, whether in combat or resting on reserve. The esprit de corps brought home to the frontline for some soldiers, as these men were searching for a reality to grasp onto, a way to cope with the stress of primitive warfare. “I realized that Company K had become my home… I belonged in it and nowhere else… This was the result of, or maybe a cause for, our strong esprit de corps”.
As an officer, Caputo was acutely aware of the importance for maintaining the sense of esprit in the Marines. This was why when a soldier in the Marines was injured he was would always come back to the company he originally belonged to, unlike in the Army where redeployment was random.
This sense of camaraderie reveals that, in spite of all the horrors soldiers had to face in combat, that the experience of war was not absolutely negative for some. Kindsvatter dedicates an entire chapter to this idea, and even goes as far as to make the title “The Joys of War”. He supports this by listing memories that soldiers in both World War II and Vietnam shared that seem almost pleasant in retrospect. “Yet often to his surprise, he found that the experience of soldiering was not universally negative. He might fondly remember, for example, comrades who saved his life, shared meager possessions, raised spirits, or lent a sympathetic ear”.
Caputo exemplified Kindsvatter’s description of a soldier who enjoyed not only the prospects of war, but the actual action of combat itself. The Vietnam veteran described the thrill he experienced when his men were under fire and his orders led to the defeat of a group of Viet Cong, explaining that he felt like his men were extensions of himself.
Looking back on his experiences, Caputo exclaimed: “I could not deny the grip the war had on me, nor the fact that it had been an experience as fascinating as it was repulsive, as exhilarating as it was sad, as tender as it was cruel…. Anyone who fought in Vietnam, if he is honest about himself, will have to admit he enjoyed the compelling attractiveness of combat”.
Even to Sledge, (who was more down to earth than Caputo) he could not deny the compelling sense that war really was glorious at times. However, this similarity between the World War II and Vietnam veteran pales in comparison to the appalling horrors that they witnessed and experienced. Sledge and Caputo only dedicate a few sentences in their entire memoirs to the positive aspects of war, unlike Kindsvatter, who dedicates a whole chapter. Perhaps this was because the experiences they had shared were all too personal to extend a retrospective feeling of nostalgia for combat. In contrast to Kindsvatter, who was not writing a memoir, but rather a book on the universal experiences of American soldiers who had fought in World War II, Vietnam and other 20th century conflicts. Sledge and Caputo wrote memoirs that reveal, more often than not, the psychological effects of combat that could become too much for those who could not find the coping mechanisms to deal with it, whether they were drugs, taking joy in violence, or comradeship. When looked at comparatively through the eyes of Sledge and Caputo, the differences between conventional and non-conventional warfare are almost irrelevant when analyzing the psychological effects of warfare on a soldier, as any combat experience is proven to be beyond grueling, and ultimately inhuman.
Kindsvatter, Peter S. American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2003. Print.
Sledge, E. B. With the Old Breed: At Pelelui and Okinawa. London: Ebury, 2010. Print.
Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977. Print.
Critics of war memoirs have been slow to accept the reliability of soldiers’ accounts as adding anything objective to historical knowledge because it is argued that the individual who took part in warfare has had their memory subjectively scarred by the nightmarish horrors that they endured. Indeed, in With the Old Breed, E.B. Sledge described his experiences in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa as akin to nightmares; which is something that may seem to give credit to the critique that war memoirs are entirely subjective in nature. However, Victor Davis Hanson, in his introduction to With the Old Breed, asserts contrarily that Sledge had a peculiar style of language, telling his story “…in a prose that is dignified” and not “given to easy revelations of his own strong passions. John Keegan, Paul Fussel, and Studs Turkel have all praised Sledge’s honesty…”. Aside from this and Lieutenant Colonel John A. Crown’s forward, the proof of Sledge’s writing’s worth as a historical source can be found nowhere else but in the pages of With the Old Breed itself. Sledge’s memory to the reader seems remarkable in spite of the ferociousness the Marines experienced in the Pacific Theater, which he credited to his extensive notes at the time, and using other historical references as his own sources.
In the sixth chapter of the memoir, entitled “Brave Men Lost”, Sledge made one of many assertions of his distinct memory, but perhaps most explicitly. Referring to his usage of the word nightmare, Sledge inferred that the word evoked objectivity by paralleling his memories with the clearness that one finds in recalling the details of a long horrific dream when waking up the next morning. In the same paragraph, Sledge makes it known to the reader that what he did not know, such as specific locations (since only officers had maps) and passages of time (something all soldiers experiencing the drudgery of monotonous modern combat experienced) he left out all together. These factual trivialities were deemed not important anyway, partly because classical historical texts do that job already by giving names, places, and dates of events. In Sledge’s perspective, memoirs like With the Old Breed should not attempt to give their readers this kind of information, since their object is to put a human face, a relatable story, to the casualty figures shown in history textbooks. Sledge recognized that doing otherwise would be redundant and superfluous.
The question of how memoirs such as Sledge’s can be considered a reliable historical source does not lie in the argument between subjectivity and objectivity then, but in acknowledging that a soldier’s memoir is historical literature. This is in contrast to factual history textbooks- in other words; memoirs are a different facet of historical analysis. Samuel Hynes summarizes the reasoning behind telling this kind of history when he exclaimed in the prologue of The Soldiers’ Tale,“That is what I have aimed to do in this book: to bring modern war down to the human realm, to give names and faces and feelings to the anonymous armies and so to discover what it was really like to be there…”. With the Old Breed is a perfect example of this, because Sledge really was there on the beaches and ridges of Peleliu and Okinawa, and thus had the opportunity to stem the tide of depersonalization that classical historical analysis creates in consuming the individual’s story of history with abstract, colossal numbers.
With the claim of memoir legitimacy as a historical source put to rest, there is still a question of reliability when it comes to objectively expressing the subjective side of modern warfare. A salient representation of Sledge’s attempt to be as objective as possible could be seen in his recollection of atrocities committed by other marines. Sledge did not try to justify their actions under the pretext of war-related stress, but instead philosophically questioned how seemingly good-natured men became so brutal. In Okinawa there was an elderly civilian woman fatally wounded from shell-fire who begged Sledge to put her out of her misery, he refused and called a corpsman, but it was too late, while Sledge was finding help for the Okinawan native, another Marine quickly obliged her wishes, and then, “…emerged nonchalantly from the hut…” saying, “…just an old gook woman who wanted me to put her out of her misery”. When Sledge and an NCO reprimanded him, the Marine blushed from embarrassment; the author reflected upon this by stating “That quiet, neat, mild-mannered young man just wasn’t the type to kill a civilian in cold blood” –and yet he did. Even though Sledge did not attempt to give an answer to why such a horrific thing happened, it is important that he raised the question, because as John Keegan puts it, most historians think that situations such as the one mentioned by Sledge on Okinawa “need not be mentioned or can be glossed over by some reference to the ‘uncivilized behavior of small groups of soldiers’…”.
However, Sledge may have partly answered the reason why such atrocities occurred, when he attributed the brutal war of attrition to the fierce dedication of Japanese soldiers, and the need for Marines to be just as ferocious in order to claim victory against the Emperor’s warriors. Millet and Maslowski briefly recognized this brutality in For the Common Defense when describing how the Japanese changed tactics for the war- starting at Peleliu, by taking advantage of “…an interlocking defense system of caves and concealed weapons bunkers…” subsequently turning “…what might have been another week-long battle into a bitter two-month campaign that ruined the 1st Marine Division.” The historians elaborate on the ferocity of such a conflict, stating: “The Japanese defenders forced the Americans to kill and bury them with demolitions, flame-throwers, and close assaults.” Sledge attested to this on many occasions, and often described how he constantly pondered over his Division’s casualties, even referring to the men around him as “…the survivors of Peleliu…” On the same page, Sledge attempted to describe a speech Sgt. David P. Bailey gave to his fellow Marines in relation to their combat effectiveness under such ferocity, but relents at not remembering the Sergeant’s exact words, and thus Sledge did not pretend to recreate the scene entirely: “He said we had fought well in as tough a battle as the Marine Corps had ever been in…” Sledge analyzed his words and indeed felt proud as he remarked on its significance, “His straightforward, sincere praise and statement of respect and admiration for what our outfit had done made me feel like I had won a medal. His talk was not the loud harangue of a politician or the cliché-studded speech of some rear-echelon officer…”
Sledge indeed gave a straightforward analysis of the ferocity he and the Marines of the 1st Division faced. This, along with his admittance to not fabricating quotes even when what was said was important (although perhaps such a fabrication would be beneficial to the reader’s pleasure and sell more copies of his memoir) gave credence to the assertion that Sledge only desired to be as honest as possible. E.B. Sledge’s apparent integrity, along with his use of historical references, is proof enough that With the Old Breed is an objectively written subjective view of war that should be considered a reliable historical source.
 Sledge, E. B. Introduction. With the Old Breed: At Pelelui and Okinawa. London: Ebury, 2010.
 Sledge, E. B. With the Old Breed: At Pelelui and Okinawa. London: Ebury, 2010.
 Hynes, Samuel Lynn. The Soldiers’ Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: A. Lane, 1997.
 Sledge, E. B. With the Old Breed: At Pelelui and Okinawa. London: Ebury, 2010.
 Keegan, John. The Face of Battle. New York: Viking, 1976. Print.
 Millett, Allan Reed., and Peter Maslowski. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. New York: Free, 1984. Print.
 Sledge, E. B. With the Old Breed: At Pelelui and Okinawa. London: Ebury, 2010.
George Orwell developed the theme of 1984 under a shroud of dystopian totalitarianism, when the novel is really a metaphorical satire of modern class structure. The main character, Winston Smith, is a self-projection of the author as an isolated individual facing the menacing Big Brother’s totalitarian regime (Hopkinson par. 9). When the book is taken at face-value, readers and critics conclude that the theme of 1984 is a warning against communist totalitarianism and the looming threat of dystopian totalitarianism in the future. However, Orwell’s intended theme symbolically points out the inequitable class divisions in modern society, and only uses the setting of a futuristic dystopia to exaggerate his belief that the modern upper-class have complete control over the lower classes.
As early as the first two sentences, George Orwell gives a dank and isolating description of a dystopian world using simple but lurid syntax and diction “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”(Orwell 1). The “vile wind” may foreshadow the difficulties Winston will have to escape in the future, only to accept conformity in the end by letting the metaphorical “swirl of gritty dust” (conformity) overcome him in the end “… as the novel closes, Winston is alone, except for the internalized Big Brother. In Between he travels a boomerang’s course, from the solitude which leads to self-awareness to that which marks the loss of his identity.”(Lonoff 35). The individualist spirit that overcomes Winston is one thing that the totalitarian state of Oceania fears most and in order to suppress that spirit, it must be wiped out.
The allegory that a reader would most quickly draw upon is of the government of Oceania in 1984, and Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship in World War Two(Fromm 315). There are many parallels between Big Brother and Stalin, “….Resemblances, also, to the years of Stalinist terror in Russia. The grilling of Winston Smith by the Oceania authorities, the alternation between physical beatings and sympathetic conversations, the final terrifying appearance of O’Brien, master of power…”(Howe 96) A dooming presence of totalitarianism is not just the clearest element of the book, but a powerful tool of control. The salient idea of 1984 is modern class warfare, and Orwell gives frightening glimpses of the Inner Party (the upper-class) using the totalitarian government for control over the Outer Party (middle-class) and proletariat (working-class). Big Brother’s regime cruelly exerts control paralleling that of Stalin’s control of USSR-down to the point of homologous torture techniques, but there are more obvious signs. The identical resemblance of Stalin and Big Brother’s face is a frightening juxtaposition of a warm guardian in a cold world ” …the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features.”(Orwell 1). However, although Orwell draws many similar parallels between Stalin and Big Brother, there is a quintessential difference between the two, Stalin was a man who wanted control for his own power, while Big Brother is a tool of the Inner Party in order to maintain power.
There are many different tools that the Inner-Party uses besides Big Brother to keep the lower classes under control. Newspeak, telescreens, thought police, Ministry of Love, double think, war, prostitution, alcohol, gambling, the lottery and propaganda are only some of the many tools used by the Inner party in order to keep control. The propaganda of 1984 is an interesting aspect of the plethora of tools the Inner Party uses to maintain power. “Vast strategic maneuver-perfect co-ordination-utter rout-half a million prisoners-complete demoralization-control of the whole of Africa-bring the war within measurable distance of its end-victory-greatest victory in human history…”(Orwell 296-297) This example of Oceanic propaganda is projected through a telescreen describing a victory that could be applied to the British in World War Two. Not surprisingly Orwell had experience writing this sort of rhetoric before “When all of London was fleeing for the country during the Blitz, Orwell ran the other direction and took a propaganda job in the city…”(Kafka par. 23) 1984 draws parallels between the western democracies of World War Two and Oceania, discrediting the banal Cold War theory that the novel is a warning of communist totalitarianism. Orwell’s point is that the differences between capitalistic democracies and communist dictatorships are irrelevant because both are invariably a vehicle that the most powerful group uses to maintain power “He is actually talking about a development that is taking place in Western industrial countries also, only at a slower pace than it is taking place in Russia and China”(Fromm 320). The propaganda is directly correlated with Orwell’s modern world, but Orwell’s ideas of a new language and system of thought are more frightening prophesies of futuristic ultimate suppression.
Newspeak is the new language that is developed by the inner-party to suppress any unorthodox thought. “The version in use in 1984, and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak dictionary…”(“Principles of” 298) The perfect form of Newspeak is 11th edition, which does not allow any unorthodox thought to exist. Nearly no one really speaks Newspeak in 1984 but by the year 2050 it is supposed to override English in the state of Oceania (“Principles of” 298). Linguistics is an important factor of the Inner Party controlling the Outer Party and the proletariat. SImplifying words and expressions to one meaning can eliminate thoughts that are dangerous to the Party(“Principles of” 299). This concept of complete totalitarianism is another exaggeration used by Orwell in order to convince the reader of the control of the upper-class in modern society. This controlling of thought and words through speech is one of many examples of a state of controlled insanity. Newspeak is the easiest way that the Inner Party can communicate their insane views upon the lower classes as they literally would not be able to question any Party rules (Ranald Par. 1). This can distantly relate to what Orwell saw as modern linguistics (slang, vernacular) and lack of education being used to keep the lower classes in their positions in the class structure in order for the upper-class to retain power.
The theme of 1984 is a warning of totalitarianism, but the power of the state (Big Brother) is only a veil that covers the true power of the upper-class in the so-called democracies of the western world. The Inner Party is the driving force that utilizes all of the powers at their will in order to stay in control “the essential structure of society has never altered.”(Orwell 184). Orwell applies this theory of class warfare and stagnation by having Winston try to join “the brotherhood”, a secret terrorist organization that is only a ploy to get Winston caught. When Winston is tortured and re-educated in the Ministry of Love, Orwell deconstructs the human being and throws away all hope that may have been left in the novel. Orwell exaggerates all of the metaphors in his novel to coincide with the world of 1948 that he was living in. Orwell was a socialist himself, and he was exhibiting the powers of the upper-class that kept the elite in their positions throughout human history. Orwell explains in this novel that the Inner Party’s objective is to destroy the human and retain power for the elite few throughout the rest of time. Orwell sums up 1984 in a bleak statement from O’Brien while he is torturing Winston “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever.”(Orwell 267).