Drug Use During The Vietnam War Essay

One of many elements that set the Vietnam War apart from other wars up until that point was drug use, which was rampant among soldiers. Marijuana was grown all over Vietnam, and many soldiers had their first experiences smoking it overseas. It helped them mellow out, it helped them continue fighting. It took their mind off what the war was about and helped if they didn'tt necessarily believe in the cause for which they fought. In The Things They Carried, drug use is treated matter of factly: it is another not-too-wonderful strategy for trying not to see what is going on around the users. Some soldiers have religion, others have girlfriends waiting for them at home, others have dope.

Although smoking marijuana -- the drug of choice among soldiers -- was a punishable offense under army rules, many soldiers still indulged. Precise statistics are not available, but army records suggest that marijuana use at the time was much more widespread in Vietnam itself than it was in the United States. After outraged, sympathetic and bemused newspaper reports drew international interest to the issue, the southern Vietnamese government took steps to make marijuana harder to obtain in 1968. The problem was soon overshadowed, though, by the rise of heroin as a popular drug among soldiers.

Some leaders chose to ignore the problem. Others encouraged marijuana use, because it kept their men mellow and focused, because it diffused social problems in the group, because it had fewer side affects than alcohol use and abuse, or because they simply could not imagine trying to prohibit it. It is unclear whether a crackdown, ordered from above, on marijuana use helped feed a switch to heroin. What is clear from army documents is that heroin was a larger problem. Heroin is debilitating. And when soldiers returned to America they were sick for months because they no longer had access to the drug. This was often in addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, an illness portrayed in many of O'Brien's stories.

In O'Brien's fiction, all drugs are grouped together under the term "dope." As when writing about many of the other aspects of the book -- casual sex, killing, to name a few -- O'Brien the narrator remains non-judgmental. They are things that happen. Some people are drug addicts, others carry their girlfriends' stockings. In the moral balance and the wider craze of the war, these small transgressions hardly seem to matter.

Drug use in the book is even used to fuel some of the troops' humor. Ted Lavender is the group's habitual drug user. When he is high, the other men like to ask him how the war is going. Lavender responds: "...real smooth. Today we've got ourselves a real mellow war." (18) This is always good for a laugh. When Lavender is killed, the others try to convince themselves that he is just high, is in a higher place, has taken so much dope that he's up there floating in the clouds somewhere. To help themselves believe this, the soldiers all partake in smoking what's left of Lavender's dope. This anecdote illustrates that drug use, though it may have been insubordination according to strict army definitions, was also simply a form of escapism for the soldiers.

Essay on The Vietnam War's Effects on Soldiers

1239 Words5 Pages

After the Vietnam War, soldiers suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder in countless numbers. The trauma they saw, endured, and witnessed forever changed and scared their lives. Men, like Tim O'Brien the author of the novel The Things They Carried, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder and it took them years to regain their lives after their return home. In the excerpt from his novel, O'Brien shows the reader how the men endured this mind-altering experience in the jungles of Vietnam through the details of all the items the men carry. Men in the Vietnam War did not know why they were there fighting in Vietnam and what their purpose was there. The United States justified their involvement in the war by asserting that they were…show more content…

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is "an anxiety disorder, characterized by distressing memories, emotional numbness, and hyper vigilance, that develops after exposure to a traumatic event" (Doyle-Portillo, Pastorino 490). Traumatic events include physical abuse, rape, military combat, death of a close friend or family member, natural disasters, or witnessing events such as terrorist attacks, a violent crime, or a horrible accident (Doyle-Portillo, Pastorino 490). All these different events lead men and women to have nightmares, flashbacks, and tormenting memories, especially the men who fought in the Vietnam War. Around "19% of Vietnam veterans developed PTSD at some point after the war" (Doyle-Portillo, Pastorino 491) from the events they witnessed out in the Vietnamese jungles during combat that it would have been highly unlikely for them not to develop PTSD. This disorder leads the veterans to substance abuse to calm their nerves and help them feel more at ease. The substance abuse, in turn, leads the veterans to be more hostile, aggressive, and violent to those people around them, especially their families. A study found in The American Journal of Psychiatry revealed, "Increases in alcohol and substance abuse closely paralleled the increase in PTSD symptoms seen in the period during and immediately after the war. Patients reported that alcohol, heroin, marijuana, opiates, and benzodiazepines (but not cocaine) were beneficial for their symptoms of

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