Military Drug Use in the Literature of the Vietnam War
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CitationDaniel Chang, Military Drug Use in the Literature of the Vietnam War (April 2008).
AbstractPopular historiography of the Vietnam War often focuses on the apparently rampant drug use which characterized many American servicemen stationed in Vietnam. Indeed, historical commentators have suggested that Vietnam marked the first war where drug abuse constituted a serious threat to the American military effort. What accounted for this widespread use of drugs in Vietnam? While statistics and historical accounts can provide a sense of the breadth of this problem, fictional accounts written by Vietnam War veterans and accomplished authors such as Larry Heinemann, Tim O’Brien, and Gustav Hasford can provide narrative weight, from a soldier’s perspective, as to just how compelling illicit drugs could be to beleaguered American servicemen. From these works we can observe how 1) the rapidly commercialized culture and markets of South Vietnam – built to cater to every conceivable GI want or need; 2) the young, disillusioned soldier’s need for an escape from the psychological horrors of a guerilla war; and 3) the inability and reluctance of military authorities to crack down on illicit drug use, all contributed to a conducive environment where drug abuse among soldiers could, and indeed, did, flourish.
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