Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
A well-known memoirist once said that a true war story never seems to end, that it just keeps going and going. The question begs: If the war story never ends, then how does it manifest in future generations? In my case, as the first-born son of a Vietnam veteran, the war story has played out physically, within my body, in the form of an Agent Orange-related disability and a resulting set of limitations and adaptations. Fortunately, for me the limitations have been few and the adaptations many. But despite this, I’ve known, since a relatively young age, that I am not quite the same as other people, that there is something different, something I’ve often seen as grotesque.
And the questions this leaves me with are many: How has my response to disability—the contortion, the tendency toward concealment, the development of adaptive mechanisms—affected both the fine details and the overall texture of my life? Secondly, how has my father’s war experience—the physical facts and the emotional residue—shaped my own story? The Agent Orange component is largely straightforward, mostly a matter of piecing together bits of recorded history, but the emotional element is another thing altogether. My father suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for several years after his return, a timeframe that happens to coincide with the first and most impressionable years of my life, and I’ve often suspected that I’ve inherited, through the environment of my youth, many of the sensitivities that oozed from father’s own psychological wounds. If so, how have these sensitivities helped form my relationships to my disability and to the world at large? Lastly, what can a chronicle of the origins and employment of and fallout from Agent Orange in Vietnam—a history filled with obscurity, secrecy and denial—tell me about my own story? What parallels and crossing points, if any, can I find in the journey through these questions?
Quick, Benjamin A., "The Shape of Grief: A Generational Legacy of the Vietnam War" (2011). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Spring 1920 to Summer 2023. 933.
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