Representation of War: Vietnam and Iraq Compared
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Centered on the most representative and celebrated literature and films about the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, this dissertation aims to conduct a comparative study of the aesthetics and politics that have been mobilized in literary and filmic representations of the two wars. Representations of Vietnam and Iraq, to a great extent, still follow the tradition of the war genre in literature and film. That is to say, in key works such as A Rumor of War, All the Things They Carried, The Yellow Birds, Apocalypse Now, American Sniper and more, the focus has tended to be on the traumatic experiences of the soldiers, resulting in a genre that has tended to privilege a critical stance against the horrors of war. There have been two main features among the most celebrated representations of the wars in literature and film: first, each work highlights one aspect of the war in a metaphorical way (such as when war is compared to organized butchery, a game of killing, a drug and more). Second, each work has engaged in the pursuit of higher morality and more just ideology. In other words, celebrated representations of war have been consistent with the construction of American democracy and American national identity. This dissertation will compare literary and filmic representations of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars from three perspectives. First, four pairs of war literature (two memoirs, two collections of short stories, two semi-autobiographical fictions, and two real fictions) about the two wars will be compared. Second, four feature films about Vietnam will be compared with four feature films about Iraq. Third, four pairs of war documentary films (two concerning America’s involvement, two concerning the homecoming, two concerning letters home, and two concerning war scandals) about the two wars will be compared. Each of the comparisons reveals something new about the complex relationship between the two wars. Furthermore, by drawing out similarities and differences between literary and filmic representations of Vietnam and Iraq, this dissertation demonstrates that the aesthetic representations of the two wars are influenced by the legacy of the American New Left since the 1960s on.