To Anselm December 1916–September 1996
Scholar and Humanist Who touched the minds and lives of all who came into contact with him[Page iii]
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Corbin, Juliet M., 1942-
Basics of qualitative research : techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory/Juliet Corbin and Anselm Strauss.—3rd ed.
Rev. ed. of: Basics of qualitative research/Anselm Strauss, Juliet Corbin. 2nd ed.
The 1990 and 1998 eds. present Strauss as the first author and Corbin as second.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4129-0643-2 (cloth)
ISBN 978-1-4129-0644-9 (pbk.)
1. Social sciences—Statistical methods. 2. Grounded theory. I. Strauss, Anselm L. II. Strauss, Anselm L. Basics of qualitative research. III. Title.
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Also, at my intellectual core perhaps is the sense that—however naïve you think this—the world of social phenomena is bafflingly complex. Complexity has fascinated and puzzled me much of my life. How to unravel some of that complexity, to order it, not to be dismayed or defeated by it? How not to avoid the complexity nor distort interpretation of it by oversimplifying it out of existence? This is of course, an old problem: Abstraction (theory) inevitably simplifies, yet to comprehend deeply, to order, some degree of abstraction is necessary. How to keep a balance between distortion and conceptualization? (Strauss, 1993, p. 12)
Whenever an author is asked to write a revision of a text there are always those persons, including this author, who say, “Is another revision necessary? Wasn't everything said in past editions?” I thought so, yet when I looked at the 2nd edition of this book I realized how much both the field of qualitative research and I had changed since its publication.
I grew up intellectually in the Age of the Dinosaurs, or so it seems when I read the literature pertaining to qualitative research today. I carried within me the values, beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge of my profession and the times. I believed what I was told and wrote about it. But one day I looked about and found that I had been labeled a “post-positivist” (Denzin, 1994). “Oh dear,” I thought, “I've been classified and labeled just like we do in qualitative research!” It seems that while I was going about business as usual, a Qualitative Revolution was taking place. As part of that revolution the word “interpretation,” the byword of qualitative research in the old days, became passé. The new qualitative jargon centered on letting our respondents talk for themselves. Also, it was now considered okay to “go native,” a dreaded accusation in the “old days.” It gets worse. I knew my research world, like that [Page viii]of Humpty Dumpty, had tumbled down when the notion of “objectivity” was dismissed as impossible to achieve. Instead of being the “objective researcher,” the postmodern movement put the researcher right into the center of the study. But the final assault on my research identity came when the notion of being able to capture “reality” in data was deemed a fantasy. All is relative. There are “multiple perspectives.” The postmodern era had arrived. Everything was being “deconstructed” and “reconstructed”
It's safe to assume that I was just a little exasperated and concerned as I heard about these new ideas. I feared that researchers would become so concerned with “examining their own navels” and “telling nice stories” that they would lose sight of the purpose of doing research (at least from my perspective) and that is to generate a professional body of empirical knowledge. Most of all, I feared that qualitative methods would lose whatever credibility they had accrued within the “scientific world.” However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were some valid points being made by the “postmodern,” “deconstructionist,” and “constructionist” schools of thought. With my original research “bubble” burst, I wondered what was left. I have to add to this “confession” that during these past years I was doing a lot of teaching in various countries on how to do analysis, and the interactions with students also helped shaped my new understanding of qualitative research.
It wasn't until I was asked to write the 3rd edition of Basics that I started to think about putting my thoughts together. As I drafted an outline for the book, I was confronted with a series of questions. Questions such as: What are methods? Are they merely sets of procedures? Or are they philosophical approaches with few, if any, procedures? What role do procedures play in research? Are they guides, or just a broad set of ideas? What and how much structure is necessary to give students? And what is the role of the researcher? How can the researcher be acknowledged while still telling the story of participants? How much or how little interpretation should be involved?
Part of the challenge I faced in writing this new edition was determining who I was as a researcher. I was trained as a grounded theorist. At the time of my training, supposedly there was one “grounded theory” approach, though this point is open to debate. Throughout the years, what was initially grounded theory has evolved into many different approaches to building theory grounded in data. Each evolution has been an attempt to modernize or to extend the original method, bringing it more in line with contemporary thought. Yet, I also wanted to hold on to the methodological vision of Anselm Strauss, now deceased, who continued to believe until the end of his life in the value of theory and its importance to the development of any professional body of knowledge. Complicating this last point was the fact I no [Page ix]longer believed that theory construction is the only way to develop new knowledge.
Thick and rich description, case analysis, bringing about change in a difficult situation, and telling a story are all valid reasons for doing research. Each form of research is powerful in its own way. I came to realize that in order to remain true to Strauss's vision, yet still hold on to my own beliefs, I would have to find a way in this book of accommodating other research goals in addition to theory building. Then, too, there is the whole issue of complexity as pointed out in the quotation by Strauss introducing this Preface. Since complexity was so important to Strauss, there is no doubt that the method presented in this book would have to provide a way of capturing some of that complexity. In other words, I would have to find a way of blending art with science and interpretation with complex storytelling—qualities that certainly characterized Strauss's writing. Strauss was, to those who knew him well, the master storyteller, though no one can deny the scientific contribution of his work.
Needless to say, with all things considered, I wondered if I could live up to the challenge of writing the 3rd edition, and I felt rather daunted when I first sat down to write. I procrastinated, wrote and rewrote as one does when trying out ideas. But once I got into the “groove” of writing I found myself enjoying the process. I discovered that I wasn't delineating a whole new method. I was modernizing the method I had grown up with, dropping a lot of the dogma, flexing some of the procedures, and even thinking about how computers might enhance the research process.
In this 3rd edition of Basics, I try to keep Anselm's vision in mind as I write. My aim is not to recreate his approach to analysis, but to combine what was good about the old editions of Basics with some aspects of contemporary thinking. I don't wish to be labeled as a “this” or a “that” because once labels are applied they tend to stick. Labels don't take into account that times change, the state of knowledge changes, and, most of all, people change along with these.
This book is based upon the belief that though there are multiple interpretations that can be constructed from one set of data (I've done this myself), generating concepts is a useful research endeavor. It is useful for two reasons. First, it increases understanding of persons in their every day lives—their routines, habits, problems, and issues—and how they handle or resolve these. Second, concepts provide a language that can be used for discussion and debate leading to the development of shared understandings and meanings. The understandings can then be used to build a professional body of knowledge and enhance practice.
The Basics of Qualitative Research, Third Edition, is not a recipe for doing qualitative research and I would be offended if it is viewed as such. Rather, it presents a set of analytic techniques that can be used to make sense out of [Page x]masses of qualitative data. Researchers are encouraged to use the procedures in their own way. There is one thing about which I feel strongly, however. Researchers should be very clear at the beginning of a study what it is they are setting out to do. If the goal is to do description, then fine, do so. I just want researchers to do “quality” description, and using this book should help them do so. However, if the goal is to develop theory, the findings should be integrated to form an overarching theoretical explanatory scheme. Too often persons do description and call it theory, leaving the reader confused about what is theory and what is not.
How a person does qualitative analysis is not something that can be dictated. Doing qualitative research is something that a researcher has to feel him- or herself through. A book only provides some ideas and techniques. It is up to the individual to make use of procedures in ways that best suit him or her.
In the first part of the book readers will notice the use of the pronoun “we.” In the second half of the book, the pronoun changes to “I.” Please don't be confused. There is a reason for this. The first part of the book, which includes all of the methodological procedural chapters, is based on materials that Anselm Strauss and I worked on together—many of which were published in previous editions of this text. The second half of the book is devoted to demonstrating how to do analysis using materials from the Vietnam War. These are new chapters and I take full responsibility for them. Though Anselm Strauss has been dead for some years, he remains a strong part of this book. In the fifteen years we worked together, it became difficult to separate my views from his. Times have changed and so have I, yet the words contained in this book are grounded in all that he taught me. I hope that in this 3rd edition I am true to him as well as true to the person I have become. For Anselm, the techniques and procedures were more than just a way of doing research. They were his way of learning about life.
In this 3rd edition, there are some new features. First, the book is a more open, analytically, reflecting changes that have occurred in myself. Second, the first chapter begins by explicating the theoretical foundation underlying the approach to research presented in this book. Though this chapter was written several years before Anselm's death and was meant to be part of the 2nd edition, when it came time for publication, the theoretical material in the chapter was deleted by the editor. It was thought that perhaps it was too theoretical for a basics book. This time, the chapter is being included. Third, the book is not limited just to persons who want to build theory. Theory construction is a long process made up of many analytic steps. Persons using this book can do quality research without going on to the final step of theory building as long as they make it clear that they are not out [Page xi]to build theory. There is a chapter in this book devoted to theory construction, but many of the analysis chapters are designed to be useful to researchers who are interested in thick and rich description, concept analysis, or simply pulling out themes. Fourth, in this edition, rather than just talking about analysis, I am actually doing analysis—taking the reader through the steps from concept identification to theoretical development. Fifth, and absent from previous editions, there are exercises at the end of each chapter to reinforce learning. Sixth, explanations of how to integrate computer programs into analysis are included.
In every seminar that I've taught over the past years, there is the inevitable question about the use of computer programs for qualitative analysis. Though the use of computer programs in qualitative research is debatable and outright rejected by some researchers, computer programs for analysis are here to stay and their ability to support the research process increases with each improvement in the many programs that are available. Notice that I say “support” and not “take over” or “direct” the research process. I think one of the most interesting aspects of this edition is that it demonstrates that the analytic process remains a researcher-driven thinking and feeling process, even with the supplementation of a computer program. This is a very important point. Though users of computer programs sometimes rigidify the analytic process, this need not be. The evolving analysis should determine how the researcher will use the computer program and not the reverse. There is no reason to restrict analysis to the limits of a program's capabilities. Computer programs are tools, like the many other analytic tools presented in this book. They can enhance the ability of the researcher to search for, store, sort, and retrieve materials. They help a researcher keep track of his or her codes, provide easy access to memos, and facilitate the making of diagrams. Furthermore, the researcher need not be committed to an analytic scheme too early in the analytic process because computer programs allow the researcher to move materials around and think about them in other ways. Everything is at the analyst's fingertips. There is no more rummaging through boxes or notebooks looking for that important memo. Finally, computer programs provide for transparency of the research process. The researcher can retrace the analytical process, an option that didn't exist twenty years ago. For researchers who are interested in “reliability” and being able to provide an “audit trail,” the ability to retrace the analytic process makes it easier both during and at the end of analysis to evaluate the research process. Always keep in mind that findings are only as good as the work that the researcher is willing to put into the analysis. The researcher has to think and feel his or her way through the process. The computer program is an option, a tool, one meant to facilitate and not distract from the [Page xii]analytic process. Computer programs are not integral to this method or necessary for doing the exercises included in the book, but the option is now there.
The computer program utilized in this book is MAXQDA (Kuckartz, 1988/2007). This author does not advocate the use of one computer program over another and acknowledges that there are many excellent programs out there, including N-vivo, Atlas.ti, and Ethnograph, among others. While I happen to use MAXQDA, I use it because it does in a very clear and well-organized way what I want a computer program to do and it is relatively easy to learn and use. And with my nontechnological mind I am able to understand it. In certain places in the book there are details of how to use this software and what it would look like in specific phases and steps of the analysis. Moreover, the data and the analysis presented in this book are prepared as a MAXQDA project, which is provided as a free download from the Sage Web site at http://www.sagepub.com/corbinstudysite or alternatively from the MAXQDA Web site at http://www.maxqda.com/Corbin-BasicsQR.
Thus, with the software, readers will have the opportunity to work “live” with the data, do additional coding, add codes, write your own memos, and so on. Readers may download a free demo version of the MAXQDA software together with the project, which is named “JC-BasicsQR.mx3.” There is also a step-by-step tutorial available that introduces you, in a clear and easy way, to the basic functions of the program. Moreover, you will find detailed information about how to handle the project.[Page xiii]
Screenshot 0 The pictures shows the project “JC-BasicsQR.mx3,” which contains all memos and the interview data of this book. The project can be downloaded at http://www.maxqda.com/; there you will also find all necessary information to work with the project. The screenshot displays the workspace of MAXQDA 2007: The four-window main screen is structured along the four major areas of qualitative data analysis: The Data Set (window: “Document System”), the codes/categories (window: “Code System”), the results of Retrievals (window: “Retrieved Segments”) and the text work space, where codes are assigned, Memos are written and attached (window: “Text Browser”). Most of the management options are integrated into the four windows as a context menu, accessible via the right mouse button. The basic selection principle of MAXQDA is the action of activating, which allows completely free, one-click selections of any number and combination of codes and texts. In the screenshot you see that the one text of Participant #1 and the three texts of Participant #2 are activated and the code “Survival” together with its subcodes. This selection means that all coded segments of the activated texts that have been assigned with the activated codes are displayed in the “Retrieved Segments” window. The currently opened text is the one of Participant #1, displayed in the Text Browser window. All assigned codes and it exact position is displayed in the code margin by the colored code stripes (colors are freely chosen by the researcher). Memos are created and displayed in the margin beside it, they can be opened by double clicking a memo icon.
I want to thank my husband Dick for all his computer help and support during the writing process. He certainly made up for my deficits in the use of computers.
I also want to thank my friend Anne Kuckartz for her support and help while writing this book. Her interest in the project and encouragement kept me going.
I am indebted to following reviewers of this text for all their helpful comments: T. Gregory Barrett, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; J. Randy McGinnis, University of Maryland, College Park; J. Randall Koetting, University of Nevada, Reno; Anthony N. Maluccio, University of Connecticut and Boston College; and Kathleen Slobin, North Dakota State University. Their input helped to make this a better book.
Finally, I want to thank the Vietnam veterans who participated in this research both through the interviews and through their written memoirs. They fought for the freedoms that we living in a democratic society enjoy and so take for granted.
Overview of the Contents
Chapter 1 introduces the reader to this book and presents the philosophical belief underlying the Corbin/Strauss approach to analysis. Chapter 2 discusses practical considerations when doing qualitative research. This is similar to a chapter in past editions. Chapter 3, titled “Prelude to Analysis,” is a new chapter. It explains what is meant by analysis. Chapter 4 combines several chapters from the previous edition. It presents a series of analytic procedures and techniques that can be used to analyze data. Chapter 5 uses familiar materials on context and process, but includes them early in the text and presents them as additional analytic tools. It also includes a section on integration. Chapter 6 then focuses on memos and diagrams. What is different about this chapter in the present edition is its placement early in the text. Chapter 7 is about theoretical sampling, again an earlier placement of this chapter. Chapter 8 is the first chapter in a series of five new chapters that demonstrate the “doing of analysis” and uses materials from the Vietnam War as the research project. The focus of Chapter 8 is on concept identification. Chapter 9 moves on to concept elaboration. Chapter 10 is about contextualizing data. Chapter 11 brings process into the analysis. Chapter 12 is devoted to integration and theory development. Chapter 13 offers slight revisions of an earlier chapter on writing theses, monographs, and giving talks about research. Chapter 14 is about evaluating qualitative research and has some new components to bring it more in line with contemporary thinking. Finally, Chapter 15 is on student questions and answers to these questions—a chapter that remains popular from previous editions
This book remains a joy to write and a testament to my teacher and mentor, Anselm Strauss. I hope that through it we can inspire a new generation of qualitative researchers in both the art and science of doing qualitative research analysis.[Page xvi]
Appendix A: Exercises for Chapter 4 and 6
[Page 328]Field Notes
These interview notes represent just a few pages of a much longer interview, and are intended to accompany the activities presented at the end of Chapters 4 and 6. The study topic was “the biographical impact of a life-threatening cardiac event.”
This person went into the emergency room with chest pain that was radiating down her arm.
The “event” happened while she was outside pruning her roses.
R = Researcher
P = Participant
R: Now getting back, when you were undergoing this procedure [placement of a stent into two blocked blood vessels] at any time were you frightened of dying or having something go wrong, or did you just trust that the health care system would take care of it all?
P: When going through the procedures, I was afraid I was going to die on the table. I remember thinking that. I better not die here. But the thought that I was going to die has never really entered into it for some reason. I have to internalize that. I'm having nightmares and things like that. But it's very interesting. The denial is incredible. I won't accept the fact. It's like my sister. She doesn't really ever think she had a heart attack. She thinks she really had—she refers to it yet as her event. She doesn't say she had a heart attack. And as I look at this thing that happened to me, it wasn't really a heart attack, it was just a little narrowing and they opened it up before they [narrowed blood vessels] did anything.[Page 329]
Now, the fact of the matter is everybody dies. The only reason I went into the hospital [in] the first place was because I knew my mother had three silent MIs, my sister only had pain in her elbows, my aunt—everybody in the family has these and they don't even know they're having them. And so I thought, well, I don't want to be one of those that doesn't know. At least I want to know what's going on, if there is some change coming about. So I knew that the threat was there, but it didn't feel like I was going to die. I keep internalizing that, internalizing and trying to make it click for me. Because if I don't make it click for me, I will die, that's it.
It's like doctor X said, she said, well, if you don't change anything, the same thing will happen again. It's as simple as that. And she's right. It will. I've got a bunch of other vessels that are waiting to close down, or one of them could drop off a piece of plaque. But [if] I would die early I would be one of those in the family that died early. I'm trying to get hold of that, and even if it doesn't internalize, it doesn't seem that way. I know that I have to take steps to make my life different or I will die.
R: One of the interesting things about cardiac disease is that you can't see anything. And so it's very hard to incorporate that into your being. Nothing shows on the outside.
P: Nothing shows different. You know, it's interesting. Now, the nightmares. I'm thinking that—and I know what it is. I know there's this little stent in there, this little wire cage. And I don't know whether I was half-thinking it or half-dreaming it, that it came loose. They don't do that. But it came loose, or it went sideways and it blocked the artery and I woke up terrified that it would shut off the artery. It isn't something you can look at, you're right. It's the history. Even my complaints about the whole cardiac experience in the hospital are not that bad. When I came home, I was having, you know, you keep thinking what is this, what is this, is there something going on? And I think, maybe that's a pain, maybe that's it. And by the time I go to find my nitroglycerine, the pain is gone. And I got, and I thought, when I came home, I had trouble with asthma. Now I don't know whether that was asthma, as I look at it, or whether I was having some kind of an anxiety attack. Because I never had asthma. I was given albuterol for coughing. When I got home I was coughing, and so I took some albuterol and was having premature ventricular contractions. Now that scared the bejeebies out of me. So I called the doctor and they told me to stop the albuterol and they put me on cardizam which slows down the heart and takes the sensitivity away, so [Page 330]I did that then I went off that and went on, Flovent, which is a cortisone type of medication. They didn't want me to take albuterol again. Finally the funny stuff stopped. I took the Flovent for a week or so, and I didn't want to take it. I know, it's such a miniscule amount I was told to take. I mean it's topical, it doesn't get into your system at all. But somewhere in my head I was thinking you don't heal well when you're on cortisone preparations and I wanted those stents to heal because I was only going to be on blood thinners for a month and I wanted to make sure the healing took place in that period of time.
So anyway I tried to avoid it, but I had to take it, I couldn't breathe. I was coughing, coughing, coughing. I took it for about a week, two puffs a day, and the coughing stopped. I took the medication down to one puff a day, then I stopped it entirely. I've been off it every since. But I don't know whether it was asthma or whether I was having an anxiety attack because the worse coughing attack I had was when I came home. I sat there and started coughing, I could hardly breathe and I didn't know whether it was the cat or what it was. I noticed when I sat here for the whole week you think I would have spent most of my time in the garden. Usually, I'm out there fussing around in the garden in my free time. But I didn't do it. I didn't finish pruning the roses on the fence because I was home alone and I was afraid. I was going to tell you I called the doctor to change the prescription to get the Flovent instead of the other medication and I said to him, he said have you been having any chest pain. I said, I get this funny little twinge but I'm not sure what it is. By the time I find the nitroglycerine…. He said, wait a minute. I don't care what you get. He was one of those guys and I thought, oh, all right. He was serious enough about it, he said no matter what it is take a nitroclycerine and take yourself over to the emergency room. So I thought maybe there is more here. Or maybe I'm not hearing what they say. Because I thought it was a done deal, you had the stents put in and that was the end of it.
So I didn't do much that week. Actually it was like being on a retreat. I read my books and I looked out the window and I fussed a little in the backyard. I just love to be alone. I could be a hermit very nicely. But I didn't do much of anything. Usually while my partner and son are gone I do some huge project, paint this or do that, but this time I didn't. And shortly after they came back, we went to X and of course I wasn't going to go. And what I'm finding is that I'm treating myself like I'm frail. I got the flu while I was there and that was worse yet. Everybody was waiting on me, making my bed and bringing me ginger ale. And you [Page 331]know, I'm locking into this sick role. I'm thinking why am I doing this? Usually I hate that. But I didn't go places. We usually go to the same places, but I didn't walk this time. I didn't go down hill and I didn't walk along the ocean this time. I stayed on the top and I watched them do it. So I'm thinking to myself, I've got to stop this crap because somewhere I'm incorporating frailty into this. And I don't know whether I'm scared because I'm listening to them or if it is something else.
I guess it's because everybody's watching. You see that's it. I didn't want to get down the hill and not be able to get back. I signed up for cardiac rehab to get over this. I've got to make sure my insurance covers it. The doc wanted me to go to rehab. She said some people have good luck with it. I think it will be good because I haven't gotten on my bicycle yet either. I'm afraid to be out there without somebody to be with me, although I have my little telephone. I don't even know how far I can go. It's very interesting…. I think part of my reaction is at an unconscious level.
Appendix B: Participant #1: Veteran's Study
[Page 332]Face-to-Face Interview
R = Researcher
P = Participant #1
P: Basically, I come from a middle class family, very patriotic, God fearing and religious. We were a very loving family and continue to be. I have three brothers and one sister. May father is dead. My mother died in her eighties. We all [get] together for a family reunion at least one time a year.
I left home at sixteen. I worked a couple of years at menial jobs, well not necessarily menial but low paying. I worked as an orderly in a hospital and that's how I became exposed to the nursing profession and decided to pursue that. I was twenty-one-years-old when I was first licensed as a nurse. Now that I'm fifty I have a long history of nursing in there. This was back in the 60s. I worked one year at a veteran's hospital in the city of X, where I was exposed for the first time to veterans, people who had been to wars. Primarily, there were elderly World War I people, some middle-aged World War II people, and a few Korean veterans thrown in. And I was pretty much interested in listening to them talk about their experiences and all that, so in 1966 when the government finally made a commitment to Vietnam, sending lots of men and women and materials, I volunteered to go. Well, kind of volunteered. I was one step ahead of the draft. So I volunteered to go. I did basic training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, a six-week wonder. I came out as a second lieutenant and was immediately sent to Vietnam. I… most of the time I was there I worked in transport and an evacuation hospital. We went out in helicopters and picked up people from aide stations, which were pretty much … it's hard to say because there were really no defined lines. The lines could change every day, two to [Page 333]three times a day but the aide stations were in the areas of conflict. We would transport the most seriously wounded back to Saigon, which was about 75 miles away and the less seriously injured back to the evacuation hospital, which was about 25 to 30 miles away. Let's see … I was pretty young, twenty-one-years-old, very patriotic and gung ho, and thought that we had every right to be there and doing what we were doing.
I was very much anti-Vietnamese like most of the soldiers always feel about their enemies. I guess during the time I was there I started to become aware at little nips at my conscience, inconsistencies, but don't think that I paid much attention to them. There was too much going on to have really given a lot of thought to that. And I'm not sure that it's not some sort of unconscious mechanism that keeps you from looking at what you're doing and evaluating it. I don't know if it's because you don't want to or you choose not to. I'm not sure. It's pretty hard when you're in the middle of something to be evaluative while you're doing it. I actually can't say that my experience there was all that bad. I was young and kind of enjoyed that experience. I think it's the most maturing thing I've ever done in my life to be there and realize that people would want to kill me! As far as I know I never killed anybody else even though we had to carry weapons at times. I never shot at anyone. Not on purpose anyway. It was a strange time in my development.
A lot of things that I hold sacrosanct such as the value of human life I guess I saw that diminish I was there in ′66 to ′67 during the Tet Offensive when the North Vietnamese fought back and really won a great victory. I can remember in this one village, the village was called “Cu Chi,” after they had been routed, there were dead Vietnamese, these were South Vietnamese, killed by the Viet Cong, and they were stacked along the road like racks of firewood and I can remember not having any emotion about that. It was just like “Hey this is war!” This is what kind of happens. So that kind of confused me because before that the thought of someone dying would send me into some sort of scurrying behavior. Working in a hospital, if someone is dying you really get concerned and upset about that. And I just really didn't feel anything about that. Like this was all well and good, that's the way thing[s] should be in war. It was a strange feeling. And if I remember correctly, most of the people around me didn't show any emotion about that either. In fact, there was a lot of jocularity. “Well that is one less ‘gook’ we have to worry about.” That was a common name for the Vietnamese, “gooks”… so let's see …[Page 334]
For a while then I worked in an evacuation hospital. They kind of rotated you from job to job. The strange thing is these were Quonset huts set up like hospital units and there were … we would have three kinds of people in there at one time, which was strange. We would have wounded American soldiers, we would have wounded South Vietnamese soldiers, and we we'd have wounded Viet Cong or North Vietnamese. So we kind of depersonalized those people. I remember when we would give report to an oncoming shift we would talk about our soldiers, use their names and stuff like that. I remember when giving report on a North Vietnamese or a South Vietnamese we would say bed #12 or the “gook” in room such and such. It was a way of depersonalizing that person so you didn't have to feel for them. You couldn't communicate with them because you couldn't speak the language. You very seldom had a translator or interpreter around. What I do remember about these men was how stoic they were. I can't remember them asking for something to ease their pain, which as I think back they must have been in. At the same time, unfortunately, I don't remember myself, or any of the other nurses or doctors ever taking the initiative to find out if they were in discomfort.
The wounds of war can be terrible. I don't know. I never thought about that at the time. I don't remember ever giving a Vietnamese anything for pain. They were very stoic. I do remember one incident where I felt sorry for this Vietnamese person and I don't remember if he was an enemy Vietnamese or a friendly Vietnamese, it's when he woke up after surgery and looked under the covers and saw that one of his legs was missing and he was crying. Being unable … I don't remember anyone, myself included, being able to comfort this person in any way. Hmm.… Then again this would be abnormal behavior on the part of a medical person outside a war zone. We wouldn't let people suffer emotionally or physically the way we let these people suffer. At times there would be conflicts in the units because we would have these three groups of people. Some American soldiers or South Vietnamese would see that their enemy was in there, the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong and there would be conflict. We would always protect them from the other people. We would never allow our soldiers to physically abuse them, although I do remember a lot of verbal behaviors, threats and all but I never saw any physical violence.
There was never a question about who would get care, or who would get supplies as they were needed. Always, the Americans or the Australians came first. There was an Australian division next to ours and they would wind up in our hospital. Ah … they always got priority of care and [Page 335]supplies. Generally there was enough to go around. So ah … I recall one incident where I didn't make the choice, but a choice was made to take a North Vietnamese off a ventilator and use it for an American solider because it was the only one available. That is the only time I remember that kind of decision being made. Most of the time was more of a case of benign neglect of their needs, to see if they really did want or need something. Sometimes I can remember the South Vietnamese interrogation team came into the hospital to interrogate the Viet Cong and I can remember at times they took the people out of the hospital. I can only imagine what happened to them. They would take them out. They said they were going to take them to another hospital but I'm sure they were taken and interrogated or even killed. But again, at the time, in all reality that didn't bother me. It was war and they were just faceless people. They were just another North Vietnamese to me. [Pause]
Like I said there were times when it would slip into my consciousness, I would think about the inconsistencies. It was not only the treatment of the Vietnamese that bothered me but there was a hierarchal system within the American army system. I was an officer so I had a lot more privileges than did the basic soldier. They would have to work a twelve to eighteen hour shift at a stretch whereas officers did not. They were the “grunts,” but that's the military. That's consistent worldwide with military everywhere. I'm trying to think about my peers, to think back to see if we had any discussions about what was going on. I don't recall any. I really don't know anything about how other people were feeling while they were there, if they were having any problems with what they were seeing or not. It amazes me how comfortable you can get in that situation. You get up and go to work and it just doesn't seem to bother you a great deal. I guess that's part of the whole human adaptation that goes on. You just adapt to the surroundings. But life took on an almost normal feel at the time. You had parties. At times the big concern was where are we going to get enough beer. Or can we trade some penicillin to another group for some whiskey or something like that. We never thought that maybe some other group needed that medicine.
R: Were you ever attacked? Did you ever feel in any danger when you were there?
P: Do you mean the compound or the hospital itself? The hospital itself came under fire very often and there were people killed in the encampment. When fire did come we had to move patients out of their beds on to the floor on their mattresses. The buildings, the Quonset huts [Page 336]were made out of tin and when a shell would hit there would be shrapnel flying around. But we never moved the North Vietnamese. They stayed in their beds. Americans went on the floor on their mattresses out of the line of fire. [Pause] Some of the other inconsistencies were that during the day we allowed Vietnamese to come into the encampment to work, clean up the place and that kind of thing. You don't know if at night they went out and put on their black pajamas and became Viet Cong. It's like in the daytime you are okay. We can see you. We don't know who you are at night, that kind of thing.
I stayed there for a year. In retrospect it was not a terrible year. It went very fast. It was very maturing for me. Um … it was in ′67 that I came back. That was when the peace movement was starting to be heard very vocally. I remember my first stop after Saigon was the San Francisco airport. They made us take off our uniforms and change into civilian clothes because people in the airport were throwing things at the soldiers coming back from Vietnam and calling them murderers and things like that. That made me really mad. I thought I had gone over there and taken part in something all well and good and how could they treat us like that. Over the years my feelings about that have changed. It was senseless for us to have been there. It's hard to lose your patriotism. It's hard to give that up. What I think that the experience did to me is give me the motivation to do something. I was maybe twenty-two or twenty-three by then. I don't remember which but by then I had formulated plans of what I wanted to do when I was discharged. I came back to X to finish my time [military] out there. I applied to the university and received a bachelor's and master's in nursing. I was very busy. I worked part-time and went to school. I was really too busy to think about that whole experience. I just put it on the back burner and went on with my life. I really, at this point can say that there weren't any major negative affects of the war on my life. It's hard to know over the years and my feelings about war and killing have changed. It's hard to say what cause the change, whether it's a maturation process or whether it was just becoming aware of all the inconsistencies and feeling the futility of war. I normally have avoided situations where I would bring this stuff back into consciousness. I have never gone, never went to watch a movie about Vietnam. Those never had any appeal to me at all. I don't know why they don't appeal. I never tried to maintain any friendships with any of the people that I knew in Vietnam. I got out of the military. I knew I never wanted any more of that, so I got out. When I got out of the military I severed that relationship completely. It's almost like that it was a part of me that I find almost difficult to recall. It's like that experience was part of me, it's over with, and it's gone. It's something that I seldom ever think about and less ever talk about.[Page 337]
When I think about the impact of the war on me it was a positive one. It seems strange to say that war can have a positive impact. I met some people in Vietnam, motivated people and it kind of motivated me to go on to school. [Pause] I would say if I had to put any kind of weight on it, it was probably more positive than negative. It was a maturational process. I probably would have matured anyway but this was kind of instant maturity. I was still angry when I got out of the military. This was 1967 and the peace movement was big. I was in college and I would get angry with the student marchers, groups, and stuff like that. There were still soldiers over there and I know that it hurt them to watch that, to see the news and all of that. Now looking back as I said before I admire the marchers. At the time I was seeing them from my viewpoint, a patriot and they were seeing the war from their viewpoint, “this is all wrong.” So looking back now I admire those people who at the time had more insight into that situation than I did at the time. It was wrong.
R: Let's talk about that a little bit. There are two things I'm interested in. One is that war is a maturing experience, certainly understandable. Can you say more about that? Then I'd like to know more about the looking back and the change in perspective about war that has occurred with time.
P: I guess the maturity came from learning how to set priorities. Ah, being very self-reliant, learning to speak up for myself. [Pause] Along with a maturing experience it was also a hardening experience. I think I learned during that situation to not be so sensitive about things, people suffering, the human condition because if you allow yourself to be that way when you are in that kind of situation I don't think you could function very well. Maybe it did harden my sensitivity to people suffering, to pain, death those kinds of things. Ah….
R: You went into the war, like other friends of mine, with a pro military background and totally accepting of the American government. Okay, what happened to that in this?
P: If I follow your train of thought, I was able to separate myself being an American from the government imposition of war on the people. It changed me as an American. It now and was the beginning of a process … back then I felt that the government would do the right thing, that our leaders would always do what was best for our country and at that time what was best for our country was supposedly good for the world. We were riding high then. I guess that I lost that naivety … well you should turn over all that personal power to the government, that those people up there in Washington would always to [Page 338]the right thing. So that was part of the maturational process. My two older brothers were also in Vietnam. I was there at the same time as one of them. It is interesting that over the years that Vietnam has never been a topic of discussion. Ah … they've gotten on with their lives and have been successful. It is not something that we reminisce about at all. Again, I'm not sure what that means. I'm not sure if that means that it was something that we are not proud of or something that is history and not worth bringing up.
R: You got on with your life in one sense?
P: That's the phrase I like to use, “just get on with life.” It's one stepping stone and you go on. It's really hard for me to say how it impacted my life. It's been almost thirty years. And things happen along that continuum of life that make me who I am now and so it is hard for me to directly relate who I am now to that experience, I really can't.
R: Say more about that. I'm not trying to pin an impact of the war upon you. As you say it is only one set of events. But as you look back now, where does it fit in to the additional steps that you took.
P: I think it was a stepping stone for me, a motivator to maybe try to fulfill my life as well as I could. Maybe I saw the futility that life can lend. I'm not sure but I think of that experience as a springboard.
R: Would you have sprung into the university otherwise?
P: You know, I doubt it.
P: I don't know. I was quite content with my level of education. I don't know if I would have stayed that way. I could have moved on. I think it was some of the people that I met in the military.
P: Yes, I admired them. I thought that they were very competent, the higher-ranking officers, the older people who had been in the Army Nurse Corps much longer than me. At the same time I didn't want to emulate them. There was something about being a career officer that didn't appeal to me. There was something about the way they approached life, their attitudes about life that did not appeal to me.
R: And what was that?
P: I think that they gave over the decision making for their lives to someone else. I'd always hear them talking about, “I don't know where the [Page 339]army will send me next.” And I thought I know where the army will not send me next because I will make the decisions about where I go and where I live. There was a certain hardness about them. That's not categorical. There were some really good people but in general the career people were more interested in what this experience in Vietnam would do for their careers more than anything else. It was a great opportunity to get promoted. I went from 2nd lieutenant to captain in two years, which in time of peace would take ten years. Now it would probably take fifteen years to get anywhere. And for many of the career officers who had been majors or colonels since the Korean War, this was an opportunity to get their long-awaited promotions. They did all kinds of things. I remember a couple of men, they were physicians, the men were all in the tents they slept in and we were having a discussion one night. One man cut his foot somehow and he was wondering if he could get a purple heart for this because everyone was out to get as many medals and accommodations as they could get and I thought, I remember thinking there are people who are getting their legs blown off and their eyes blinded and who will get a purple heart and you're thinking about a purple heart for a cut on your foot that you probably did out of carelessness. But again they were looking at how the war would help out their careers.
R: Did that kind of thing shake you up in terms of the military?
P: Absolutely, absolutely. Hm … a lot of wheeling and dealing went on including a lot of black marketing, especially in medical supplies. That used to bother me. Like I said, they used to trade a case of antibiotics for something else, a case of beer or something like that.
R: So despite the good care they were giving they were doing other things too.
P: Well you say good care, that's relative also. I can remember times when the doctors and nurses would be so drunk that they didn't know what they were doing. However that was the exception and not the rule.
R: So why did you stay in nursing when you got out?
P: I was a nurse already.
R: But you could have shifted into something else when you went back to school.
P: I could have. That part I didn't have any problem with. I thought that there was room in nursing for anything you wanted to do. That [Page 340]experience didn't shake that part of it. Again because that was just one experience. Vietnam was one experience, one year of my life. It really didn't change my professional focus.
R: One of the things that J. spoke about with one of her students who studied Vietnam nurses was that people were upset in their professional hearts because they were saving people to go back to battle. The severely wounded, the very hurt, were allowed to die, which is the reversal of the usual medical way of treating the worse off first.
P: Again, that is the military way. The goal of military medicine is to return people back to the position they came from, be it a foot soldier, a pilot, whatever. So, there would be situations after a bad battle or attack where our hospital would be inundated with 150, 250, 300 people and there was a definite triage that went on in that people were shunted to different treatment areas. People were kept comfortable they were given narcotics to ease their pain. I think there were six operating rooms and there might be a backlog of 100 people. And those people who were severely injured never went into the operating room. They were allowed to die. I wasn't part of that triaging. I'm trying to think how I would have reacted. I think that I would have been okay with that. Again because it was the “military way.”
R: Let's go on. After you were discharged you say you took the next step with your education and went back for a nursing degree. Can you recapture some of the things that went on in the university around ′67, ′68, and ′69?
P: I was pretty busy most of the time. I went to school full-time and I worked part-time. I never took part in any of those demonstrations, if that is what you mean. At the same time I don't remember feeling…. After a time I began to feel that they were really right. I never supported the demonstrations. At the same time I was never negative about them.
R: Why did you think they were right?
P: Umm…. In the late 60s early 70s it became apparent not just to me but the whole nation that we had been caught up into something that was … unavailable and that was peace. We would have all these false stops and starts, treaties, stop firing and start up again. Then the political situation in Washington, we were committing billions of dollars and yet our social system was breaking down here in the States. I think I thought more about it being wrong in those terms as opposed to the [Page 341]wrongness of people dying. I thought the war was causing social unrest and upheaval, an impact upon our country. And I think at the time to me that was more wrong than what we were doing to those people over there because I still kind of depersonalized them, the Vietnamese.
R: And what were the specifics of what you saw that made you feel that way?
P: I can't remember the specifics. I'm trying to think about what was going on here economically, but I think that is was more that needed social reform was not going on here. I remember that the age of students was going down and inflation was going up. I remember that I was starting to have a hard time living on the money I was earning. I can't think of anything specific. Mostly I led an insulated life. I was living my own little life and really wasn't aware of the whole big picture.
R: Why did you say the social order was breaking down?
P: That was the rioting. I remember the 1970s and Kent State because I was still in college at the time and I remember a lot of demonstration[s] on our campus and thinking how could we turn that way on our own people and shoot them. I had some sympathy for those that were caught up in that situation. That may have been one of the turning points in my attitude about government. I'm not sure. I was losing more and more confidence in the government.
R: Did you have contact with other vets?
P: No I really had no contact. I remember that there was a veteran's organization on campus but I didn't have any desire or time to be part of hat. It wasn't cool to be a vet at that time. I can remember in some of the classes, sociology classes, that the topic of Vietnam would come up and I never volunteered and I never spoke up. Absolutely, I never would, I never wanted to be identified in any way as a Vietnam vet. I was a little older than most and I was taking Soc. 101 with kids eighteen and they were all worried about the draft and the unfairness of it all. I never opened up myself to any of that.
R: And yet your attitudes about the government were changing.
P: It was a gradual shift. I started losing confidence in the government. [Pause] Again I can't see where any governmental policies were having any great affect on my life because I was really focused on what I was doing and I was doing okay. But remember at the time that the Head Start program was disbanded because there wasn't enough money to [Page 342]fund it, everybody was talking about all the money going to pay for the war and that things were not being taken care of at home. I remember in one class that there seemed to be general disapproval of the government in the classroom. People were negative about the government. It was starting to get to me. I hadn't yet lost all my confidence. You might say it was slowly eroding. It's hard to say because where I lived was home to one of our major presidents and it is hard to be negative when you respect these people. It's hard to let go of that respect.
R: The war went on and on and you went on with life.
P: Yes, the war went on until 1975 but you can draw a curtain on a part of your life. I did not spend a lot of time thinking about it. I can remember how excited I would get at times when they said they had reached a truce and the fighting was going to stop. The next day it would start over again. I don't recall having any negative feelings about the Vietnamese per se though at this time because I was losing confidence in the government. I thought we were just as much the blame as they were. And then I started thinking that maybe we should get out.
R: Was this early or later?
P: It was later. One thing I can remember doing, they would publish the name in the paper of soldiers who had been killed. I always read the names to see if there was anyone on the list that I knew. [Pause] But as far as trying to keep up with the day-to-day happenings of what was going on with the war I did not. As for the peace talks in Paris, I remember them going on but I don't remember being that interested in them. I think that like most Americans I felt that we got out with our tails between our legs and that I think that was when I really made the decision for myself that war is futile and nobody wins. And I think there was some anger towards the government because they never really committed themselves to the war. And I remember how the government would never call it a war. It was the Vietnam Conflict. They would never come out and call it a war because Congress never declared war. And so it was a play on words war vs. conflict.
R: What about Cambodia?
P: That was going on all the way through because the place where I was stationed Cu Chi, was only 75 miles from the Cambodian border. It was not unusual to go into Cambodia because in those countries there is not a well-defined border. It was more like behind this tree is Cambodia, behind that one is … it was not news to us that they had been in Cambodia.[Page 343]
R: Tell me more about the time after leaving the military.
P: I graduated with a master's degree in the early 70s and took a teaching position in a school of nursing. I taught for twenty years after that. That must have been pretty much the right decision at the time because the career lasted. I stayed at the university and went on and got my doctorate mostly because it was being required for teaching and tenure. By then I was ready for a move and left the state I was teaching in and came here.
R: Have you been to the Vietnam Wall? And did it have any impact on you?
P: The wall itself did. I went to Washington just to see it and I remember becoming very overcome emotionally with the wall. I went specifically to look for someone's name, someone I had known who was killed, and when I found the name I remember a real rush of emotion. At the same time, I think that it was probably for me a cleansing experience. After I had been there, seen it, expressed my emotion, that was the end of it. I didn't have any lingering problems with it.
R: And so the whole wall experience so to speak centered around the person you were looking for?
P: It seemed to be that way. If I were to conceptualize that and say one incident that characterized that whole situation that name would have been it. It was finding that name on the wall.
R: Describe that day for me.
P: I remember it was a cold day in Washington that morning. It had been raining earlier that morning. I was sloshing around that part of Arlington. I couldn't quite find the wall and so I had to ask someone. I remember that the person I asked didn't have any idea where the wall was and I remember thinking that is strange. Then when I finally found the wall it was completely deserted. I thought there would hordes of people around but there wasn't. I was the only person at the wall at that particular time. I remember looking at the wall and trying to make some sort of sense out of it. I read what it was supposed to represent, which I forgot already and I remember looking at it from different angles and just sitting there. There are some benches and a table with something like a history book. It kind of helps you find the name of the person you are looking for, what part of the wall their name is on. I remember flipping through that. I don't remember any special emotions at that moment. Then I found out where the name of the person was supposed to be. I went over to the wall and when I got a little closer there was [Page 344]evidence of people having been there. There were mementos and flowers. That was a little more encouraging because I think that I was disappointed that there weren't more people around that there wasn't more an expression of grief because in a cemetery there are all sorts of monuments and stuff. To me I thought it should be “the monument!” In retrospect it was probably no more important than the monuments to the World War persons that died. But to my mind it should have been outstanding. There should have been bands playing, people there all that kind of stuff. But there wasn't. It was actually lonely. It was lonely. I don't remember any specific emotions after I left. It was one of those things that I wanted to do, and that was that.
R: What about all the attention Vietnam now is getting?
P: I find it very interesting that Vietnam is opening up a tourist trade. They want our people to come there. And people are going back to see where they were at. It's kind of like that if you can't fight them, join them kind of thing. To be quite honest I would like to go back. I think mostly out of curiosity. I don't think that I am looking for anything specific or trying to solve any leftover problems. I think it is curiosity that drives me. I think it would give me a picture of how futile it all was because nothing has really changed. They are still there and we are still here. Nothing much has changed. Um … I don't have any animosity towards the Vietnamese whatsoever. I think the war was something imposed on the people and they had no choice in fighting. Of course they had a history of occupation for many years. And their loyalties are to whoever is in power. That's how they adapt and survive. I have no problem with that.
R: How do you feel towards the Vietnamese living here?
P: Not a great deal. I've taught a great number of Vietnamese students. I did go to their Tet festival one year. What I found so interesting was that the Vietnamese children who were born here, the children of the immigrants were about six feet tall and their parents about this tall. We always think about Vietnamese people being so small. They are small there for one reason, and it's the diet. I just found it funny to see all those tall Vietnamese kids walking around. I have a lot of admiration for the Vietnamese who have come here and made successes of their lives. They've gone on with their lives.
R: Did you even have a close friend that died in the war? And have you read any books or novels about this war or other wars?
P: No I didn't. The person who died there died after I came back and he was the brother of a friend. So that was the closest that I came to having [Page 345]someone who actually died. As for books, I've read a couple of funny lighthearted ones. There are two books, one is called The Tunnels of Cu Chi. It was a story about how the Vietnamese dug tunnels. That's why we could never get them out. They lived in those tunnels. Since I was in Cu Chi that was interesting to read. I read one that was almost a farce on Vietnam. It was called The Book That Picks Up Bullets. It was basically biographical. It's pretty funny, about the absurdities of war. I know there are many books out there but I have no desire to read them. There are no heroes out of that war.
R: Did you carry any images with you when you went off to war?
P: I don't know if I did or not. My family did not have a military background. Patriotic yes, but not military. And my brothers went after me, so I didn't have any preconceived ideas about military life.
R: What you are saying in summary then is that the war hit a boy in his early twenties and that it was a maturing experience. It made you grow up fast in certain ways. It doesn't seem to have crippled you because you've had a good career since. On the other hand you've sealed off certain things.
P: I'd say that I sealed them off, yes. I don't think, personally, I don't think that the war has been a negative in my life.
R: I'd like to return for a moment to the life in the evacuation hospital. In your mind, or structurally, was there any distinction made between the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese in how they were treated?
P: They were treated differently. I remember that there would always be a contingent of the South Vietnamese Army that would come to the hospital and talk to their soldiers and bring them little gifts, things like that. Of course, there was no one to visit the Viet Cong except the interrogators from the South Vietnamese. But, we did give more attention to the South Vietnamese, the friendly Vietnamese as we called them. Again, we had difficulty being able to communicate with either group because we couldn't speak their language. So sometimes what looked liked neglect … I think in my own mind it is just that we weren't able to do as much as we would have wanted to. But it was a hospital and we gave care as best we could. There was not much of a military feel inside the place because there were no guns in there.
R: When you went to the wall why did you look for that person?
P: Well he was the brother of someone I was close to. I draw a corollary on that. As I told you before, I'm going to Washington in October [Page 346]because the AIDS quilt is going to be displayed there and I see a lot of corollaries between the quilt and the monument. And I'm going for the same reason. My lover died last year of AIDS and he has a quilt panel we did and I think a lot of it is the same type of cleansing experience that maybe I was looking for when I went to the wall.
R: During the war and your time in the hospital did you begin to have a kind of distancing not only from the army, but from what was going on, some doubt about what was going on. At age twenty-one or twenty-two to be able to differentiate yourself, how were you able to do that?
P: I think mostly in my spare time, my free time I started giving a lot of thought to things that I wanted to do when I left Vietnam, like places that I wanted to visit, where I wanted to live, where I wanted to go to school, things like that. I think that this futuristic orientation kind of helps you separate from the reality of the situation that you're in. I thought more about the future than the present.
R: Is it also a reflection of maturation even if it is somewhat defensive?
P: I think so. I think anyone that did not deal with anything beyond that day … I just think that they would have more difficulty dealing with that … I could see…. And probably by formulating my plans about the future also subconsciously did tell me that I had a future, that I was not going to die, that I was going to get out.
R: Were there any individuals that you would be willing to mention that played a role in the shift in your life or was maturation all an internal process for you?
P: Well there were individuals both on a personal and professional level. At the university when I returned I certainly met some exciting people, teaching and those kinds of things. One of the things I had forgotten to mention, left out … I don't know if it is important.… When I was in Vietnam I came to grips with the fact that I was gay. And I met someone when I was there and so it is kind of interesting. It was an exciting time for me. I came to grips with whom I was. This same person who was there in Vietnam with me, we ended up moving to X together and lived together for six years. So there is that both on a personal and professional level that helped mold me. I've often wondered why it happened there. Maybe it was the freedom there and maybe it was, there may not be a tomorrow. You better experience today. My lover was drafted into the army, whereas I joined. He stayed out until they drafted him. He was not there by choice. But he was more professionally oriented. I can remember he [Page 347]was more concerned about conditions in the hospital than I was. Things that he saw that could be done better, how people behaved. I think he was somewhat of a role model for me.
R: Did he share the curtain?
P: Again you'd think that two people who had been through that experience and lived together for six years would talk. But I don't remember us ever [having] discussion [about] that part of our lives. We just kind of moved on and that was it.
R: I have another question. Given AIDS and all that it has stirred up, do you see any relationship between this and the war or are these separate events?
P: No, I think … I consider the fight against AIDS a war. The people who are most affected are mostly young men. So you can draw that kind of corollary between a war zone and the people who are dying around the world from this disease. Also, I think that what we've seen we have these dichotomies very severe very distinct those people who are very pro as far as winning this war against disease. You have other people who don't really care. And the same thing about the war. You have those people who want to get in there and do all the right things and you had people who didn't care. Socially I think that there are a lot of relationships and similarities between the two. And I don't have any more confidence in the government committing themselves this way than to their commitment to winning the Vietnam War. I've been so touched by AIDS that I can't separate that. I guess I'm more anti-government because of AIDS than I've ever been.
R: A lot of veterans that came back from Vietnam eventually became converted by the demonstrations and are still angry and upset because their own efforts were discounted.
P: You know I think that any soldier can say that about any war because it has not made that much difference. That about all the countless wars, all the people who died. Is the world any better because of their deaths? I think not. Look at what's going on now. I would like to think that everyone who died, that made the effort, who gave up something, made a difference. I'm no longer able to say those kinds of things are worthwhile. I don't think that they have any lasting value for society. Apparently we don't learn from them.
Appendix C: Participant #2
[Page 348]Part 1: Electronic Correspondence/Questionnaire
Dear Participant #2,
I was so happy to receive a reply from you and I can see from the dates that you gave me that you were there in the thick of things.
If we were doing a face-to-face interview, I would ask you to tell me your story about Vietnam and sit back and listen. But since we are not face to face, I will give you some topic areas and you can take it from there, adding or deleting as you see fit. I may ask you after you respond (if you continue to choose to do so) some follow-up questions based on what you said for clarification.
[Page 351]Part 2: Electronic Correspondence/Questionnaire Follow-up
First it would be good to get a couple of lines of background information on you—when you went to Vietnam, such as your age, something about your family relationships, if you have siblings and did they serve, were they patriotic and supportive.
I was 21 when I went to Vietnam. I came from an average southern family—my father being a schoolteacher, coach and athletic director. My mother was a homemaker and I had one sister 19 months younger than me. I wasn't married or engaged. My father was a WWII combat veteran flying 50 combat missions on a B24 out of Toretta, Italy. My family was supportive of my choices, not necessarily the war in Vietnam.
Did you volunteer or were you drafted?
I was a volunteer as all marines were when I entered service in 1964. I did not serve with any draftees in Vietnam.
What was your role, combattant, noncombatant?
I was a Combat Marine Rifleman also certified in 3.5 inch rocket launchers.
Describe something of what it was like for you to be there, to be engaged in battle (if you were), to be fighting, and how were the enemy. (This is really the heart of it.)[Page 349]
The Viet Cong were a very well-trained and disciplined military force who gained foot holes in local villages by terror, killing, and torture. Marines like myself were extensively trained to follow orders, no question why or the politics of the situation. I could and would kill without hesitation as that was my job and I was trained to do just that. It doesn't take long for one to get into the grove seeing his friends wounded and killed. The killing becomes a habit and self-defense as time goes on and you survive. Marines fight for other marines and the corps, not necessarily the cause.
Did you feel supported while you were there and how did it feel to come home to all the antiwar movement?
I was always supported when I served. There were a few of us that did not want to be there but no one wants to be in a life or death situation in combat if they have a choice.
As far as the antiwar movement was concerned, that's one of the reasons GIs fight. The right of free speech, right to protest and right to live free. However, when that movement attacks GIs due to their choice to serve, call them baby killers just to mention one name and to have never served this country in anyway with the exception of running their mouths about things they know not or never will know anything about, I detest to this day and to my grave. These groups will be the downfall of the United States as we know it. The anti-war movement did nothing but gain a dishonorable peace and disrespected 58,000 Americans who paid the ultimate price for the rights of its citizens. The GIs of the Vietnam War were treated like traitors to the student and activist antiwar movement of that era. That should never again happen to an American GI.
Would you describe the experience as a maturing experience, a bad experience?
Maturing? I considered it a surviving experience.
Did having been in the war impact the rest of your life in any way?
Every combat veteran and some who were not are affected for a lifetime by the killing, carnage, loss of friends and family. Some carry the burdens easier than others. Outwardly anyway.
Like I said, basically I want your story as you are looking back on it today.
In closing, I joined the Marine Corps by choice out of State University. At that time we only had advisors in Vietnam. Myself as well as my entire unit did not join the corps especially for the Vietnam cause. I joined as John Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” I wanted to give something back to the country and people I so love. Myself and tens of thousands of others were in the same boat when the leaders of this country who were elected by the people took us into the Vietnam cause. I'm a true American patriot and believe that those who choose to serve or are required to serve should do just that in an honorable way. Those who choose to attack us for our service, those who ran to other countries are not the foundation this country was built on. These attitudes carry to this day with many and never should have been tolerated or excused by the American people. The difference [Page 350]with Vietnam compared to WWII or WWI, we weren't attacked by a foreign force. The GIs of all those eras are no different in their service to the United States. Just the cause.
I do thank you so much for taking the time to do this. If you wish I can let you see what I am doing with these materials. Also, when the book is finally finished I can send you a copy. As I said, it is a methodology book but I do need materials in order to demonstrate to students how you work with qualitative data.
Dear Participant #2,
In the first interview, which by the way was done with a good friend of mine, several themes came out and I wonder if you could respond to them. I think in some way you have but wonder if you might say more. One is about the “culture of war” and how that conflicts with standard behavior. Because of that conflict, at times my friend had pangs of conscience at what he was seeing and doing but the only way to survive that was to push those thoughts aside, see the enemy as the “enemy,” one who would kill you if given the chance, call them “gooks” to distance oneself from them being human, and just not talk about it. In fact he had never talked about the war with anyone during or after the war up until the time of the interview. He just blended into the college campus when he got out, avoiding all antiwar activities and discussions on campus.
Did any of that haunt you then or afterwards and how did you deal with it?
It has haunted me everyday of my life. Not a day passes that I don't remember something about that era. I never mentioned or talked about Vietnam to anyone including my wife of thirty-seven years until the late 90s.
I guess what I'm getting at is that you say that you thought of it as a survival experience, but what were those strategies that enabled you to survive?
Surviving the war was a matter of pure luck. You happened not to be in the wrong place at the right time. That was merely luck. You could not survive the war by being careful, a coward or trying to stay in the rear with the gear. I know guys who served an entire combat tour without even a briar scratch and then I knew others who were there less than thirty days and nearly blown in half.
How did you deal with the death that was happening all around you?
Death and mutilation is all around you in war and it becomes a matter of acceptance and habit. You mentally try to remove yourself from all the carnage and put your mind in another place and another time. Your mind spends hours upon hours at home in a warm, dry, clean, safe bed with family and loved ones. It's my opinion that marines were better trained than some of the other services to deal with the carnage. Not better GIs, just better trained and much closer to each other.
How do you turn that off?
I was able to mentally remove myself from the carnage. I always felt if I dwelled on it and allowed it to consume me I would be the next one hit.
Then and now?[Page 352]
Since Nam and now I put it completely out of my mind with friends, family and loved ones. I avoided drinking completely as booze would bring on the most vivid mental attacks of rage, anger and depression. I would not be talking about it today unless a great friend of mine through boot camp and Nam found me after forty years and all the memories flooded back into my mind. Talking with a brother you served with is easy but not the general public. This guy was a machine gunner in my weapons platoon and now we see each other regularly which allows us to dump all the memories on each other which is like taking a drug. I've been so lucky to have a woman in my life who never pushed the issue, never asked questions, held me quietly when the nightmares came and gave me her unyielding support.
Just the name of your Web site intrigues me “n.g.a.”
N.g.a. as you have guessed has to do with the ghost of war and Vietnam. The name popped into my head in 1996, thirty-one years after my Nam tour. Several dozen Nam vets used to gather at a Web site put up by a lady and Vietnam vet supporter who was never associated with a veteran or Vietnam in anyway. It became too much for her to deal with over the years so I put up a chat room and Web site to honor my unit and maintain contact with many Vietnam veterans I've met over the years. Mostly marine combat vets but we have a few others from other services including the air force, army and navy who join us weekly. We're a very tight knit group and stay to ourselves for the most part. During our gatherings online we try to avoid the ghost of Vietnam. Therefore the name, n.g.a.
Another theme has to do with “the enemy,” who they are, how one thinks of them. Did you ever have any direct contact with the enemy, such as prisoners, and if so, what was that like?
The contact I had with the enemy were dead or dying. I watched several last breaths and can see each one today as I did then. We had intimate contact with ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) which in some cases I'm convinced were VC, the enemy. There was no difference in the Vietnamese friend or foe as far as the people were concerned. They were of a different culture and religion but human. I never view friend or foe as nonhuman or villains.
My friend was a medic and so at times had to “treat” the enemy and this was difficult because they supposedly were “the enemy.” Also, there was the fact that during the day Vietnamese were allowed into the base to do work and all the while you knew that these same people probably put on pajamas at night and took shots at you. So there was always this internal conflict and sense of distrust when dealing with Vietnamese people even those from the south.
Like your medic friend I did not trust any of the Vietnamese, friend or foe. You never knew what they were from one day to the next. Under the right pressure of being killed or tortured, your friend on Monday was your foe on Tuesday. They were still human, just the enemy. You depended on your GIs who came from the same land as you.[Page 353]
Would you say that the war hardened you, made you more sensitive and feeling, disillusioned you about war?
Unfortunately, war has become a necessary evil of the world as there are cultures who want to murder us, each and every one. I'm not against war under the right circumstances and Vietnam for sure did not make me a pacifist. I viewed myself as hard nosed before Vietnam, owned my first gun when I was seven. Hunted alone before I was nine. Things that your parents would go to jail for today. Not then. Vietnam showed me how many Americans really are in their attitudes about God and Country. I learned they are all about themselves and will kill Americans to have their own way or force their views on society. What ever one wants to call these people need to give this old GI a wide berth in life. If you want to brand that hardened, yes, I'm hardened. It's my feeling the elected leaders of this country should put GIs in harms way only as a last resort. WWII was a last resort. I'll have to say, I'm not sure about Vietnam, Korea or Iraq. The average American does not have the information at hand as our elected leaders have to make the determination of war. History will prove whether these other wars made a difference in the world or the well being of the USA. I wish I would be here for those answers. I detest seeing humans abused, tortured and killed now and before Vietnam. I think we are blessed as a country as well as a people which puts us in a mindset to help others. Is this a justification of war? I'm just not sure and don't have all those answers.
Have you been to the war memorial and how did that affect you?
Yes, I've been my one and only time. No way I can explain how seeing those 58,000 names many being GIs I served with as well as friends from high school and college affect me. I will say, I never want that feeling again.
Thank you again. I do appreciate your willingness to share some of that experience with me.
Ms. Corbin, in closing I just want to warn you if you don't already know, asking these questions of some Vietnam vets will bring on aggressive responses and sometimes verbal attacks including guys who patronize my Web site. I would say most of them as matter of fact. I choose and never have edited the message board and the guys know it. We offered our lives for freedom of speech as well as all other GIs who have served. Who am I to censor free speech? I've tried to accommodate teachers and students like yourself over the years with basic input to enable those who were not involved to see the views of many, especially the views of veterans in a feeble attempt to create an understanding of their views. Just don't take it personal if some tell you to take a hike.
Appendix D: Participant #3
[Page 354]Part 1: Electronic Correspondence
I read your post at N.G. I am a Panama, Saudi, Bosnia, veteran. I served with the U.S.
Marines. What can I do for you?
Dear Participant #3,
I thank you for your response. I am interested in your war experiences. My interest in this topic started as I was looking through materials that I had at home to demonstrate to students for a text on qualitative research (3rd edition, Sage Publications) that I'm writing and I found an interview with a Vietnam War veteran. I had it but had never really read it. You know you read something but don't really read it. After reading it I became very interested in the war experience from the perspective of those who have to serve in those wars, the front-line soldiers. The subject now goes beyond the book because I think it is a story that can't be told enough. I've read some of the memoirs from Vietnam and frankly am astounded at what soldiers face and how little we know or understand what it is that they go through. So basically, I am asking any marine who will tell me, to tell me your war story, things like your background, then why you enlisted, what you did in the service, did you see battle, what was it like, how you lived through it, and how you now live with those memories, anything that you want to tell me or want others to know. I always remove any identifying information from my database. If you are still interested let me know.
J.C.[Page 355]Part 2: Electronic Correspondence/Journaling
To start here is an excerpt from my personal writings. Therapeutic in nature, no plans for them. It was a way to start the healing process. I am still working on that. It's more like an evolution. I will write more and send it as I do. Do you have a deadline? Ask me anything you would like and I will answer them as emotionally honest as I can.
One perspective of mine that helps me is that if you take for granted the freedoms you have and demand more, is that we defended the freedom so well that you do not have to lose sleep over it, or have to constantly think about it as others do in their countries. That in itself is a nice payment. Ask me anything you want, part of healing is having to remember these things and process them as we didn't have time for it when we were there. Don't try to protect me and don't treat me as a child. If I can stand a post with an M-16, I can handle what you would like to know. I am on my 3rd marriage, I am a fire fighter/Paramedic now, and I am starting to enjoy life a lot. Even with all my quirks and even when the neighbours think that I am losing it by digging up the front lawn to build a series of ponds and waterfalls. I look forward to this, as no one has ever asked to hear my story. Thank you for taking an interest. Please leave my name and other things out as I do not want to have any unfounded attention. I am just one of millions of men who have done this. We all did it as a team and we all deal with it in our own ways.
I wasn't really shot rather I was hit with a hand grenade just one tiny sliver that went through my right armpit area and collapsed my lung. Yes it did hurt one of the surprising aspects is that it felt very hot. After I healed I went home to my pregnant wife and started to drink. In March 1990 my wife was in a motor vehicle accident and we lost [our] son. In [A]ugust 1990 I went to Saudi. I had been promoted and this time I was playing Dad to my troops. Seasoned is a good word for it. I wasn't scared now it was a job. I could pick out the bad guys with out hesitating. Keep the moral[e] up, and keep my guys together. You don't get used to it, you act then later it all comes back and you wonder why anyone would want to do it. You understand the big picture but the one on one with a guy that is no different then yourself. Raising a family, paying bills. They have pictures of [their] family in their wallet like you do. You are amazed at the amount of lead that is in the air flying all over that more people aren't hit. Being wounded actually made me less vulnerable, as you experience things in life the less strange they seem to you or scary. I hope that makes sense. It makes me realize that life goes by faster [than] I initially thought when I believed that I had eighty years. I think it motivated me to live more of it. However I did lose about ten years with drinking a lot. Something that I am actually pretty ashamed of because deep down that wasn't me. I was aggressive and belligerent. Not really in my nature so to speak. Bosnia I am still not sure why we were there at all. There was no really defined mission. I miss my buddies who didn't come home and even those who did. That is what NG is all about. Vets talking to [v]ets. My memorial to them are the waterfalls, to my buddies who didn't come home, and 343 firefighters that didn't come home on 9/11. My spirit took a long time to come home, physically I was home in twenty-four hours, emotionally and spiritually most of me is here. That I owe to my wife. Great girl teaching me how to live again that's harder [than] anything I have ever done, Dying is the easy part.[Page 356]Part 3: Electronic Correspondence—Follow-up
Dear Participant #3,
Why the alcohol? What did it do for you? What did you carry back with you that was so painful? Would you have used alcohol in that way if you had not been a marine and gone to war? J.C.
Why the alcohol, it was socially [acceptable]. My platoon would get together for some “beers” to forget and unwind, then you wanted to forget faster so you started drinking Jack Daniels. It was easy. In hindsight it did nothing for me but make it worse. Behavior problems, nightmares, and you could never quite drink enough to forget although you tried. Everything was painful, what you did and to whom, what you saw was burned into your brain. Your buddies who did not come back you missed you were constantly grieving and [angry]. [Extreme] anger you hated the world and wanted to kill it. But since you couldn't it created internal stress like a steam boiler just about to blow up. I wouldn't have drank if I had not seen what I did nor would I have drank if it wasn't the only “socially [acceptable]” form of a theorized relief. I didn't drink in high school and never had an interest in it. At twenty-one I had been in two wars, divorced, had a son killed and was hundreds of miles away from home. I was too young to have a support network of friends, family and I didn't have any idea how to process this emotionally. Physically I was on U.S. soil, spiritually and emotionally I never came home. Even though my body was twenty-one mentally I was about fifty to sixty in regards to experience of life. Everyone around me only saw a twenty-one-year-old in this society if you're just a kid you aren't trusted with anything. I didn't come home until 2002.[Page 357]Part 4: Electronic Correspondence—Follow-up Tell me more.
What I have found to be true is that a veteran goes through a grieving process, denial, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. After the “imprint of horror,” a video is imbedded into the memory of a soldier. The video often replays continually until the coping skills are exercised and the imprint is reduced. Anger stays as the primary emotion because this is where everything is stuck, anger at loss of life, loss of innocence, loss of the “fun years,” loss of power, loss of any number of things. The average age of a service man is eighteen to twenty-five. What do you remember of those years and why do you remember it? College, spring break, friends, all nighters, etc., these are fond memories in contrast of war for the veteran. The secret is to get the veteran to enable them to use coping skills they don't know they have because they were never taught to use them as you were with “critical thinking” in college. Emotionally ‘til the veteran uses coping skills they can't advance in emotional or cognitive age. They are stuck with thoughts, hormone imbalance, etc. Some need not only counseling but medication also to help maintain psychological homeostasis. I learned how to use coping skills with meds, counseling, support network of other veterans, and my wife. That's why I am finally back in college going after what I wanted to be fifteen years after the normal age of doing that. Regret is another hang up. Have you ever done anything that you regret because you didn't think it was you really doing it? Regret turns into confusion emotionally and it in turn creates anger. It's a cycle that continues until you break it.[Page 358]Part 5: Electronic Correspondence—Follow-up
Why so much anger?
The anger comes from several avenues. It starts in boot camp. They are training you to protect, defend, and to kill if it comes to that.
They frustrate you, intimidate you and irritate you because any sane person would not make you do the things that they do. Then if you do go to war and experience it, our anger splits, like an atom does and creates heat. Anger is volatile. You are sent someplace to defend your way of life, to protect your country, her women and children and her divine right to exist. You get mad because you don't understand why the other guy [enemy] hates you because you're an American. It builds and builds because everything you were told as a child you have to protect. You are afraid it will be taken away. This adds to the anger. You do your job. You win and you get to go home and everyone has been protected. No one loses sleep while I'm protecting you.
You come home and no one cares that you fought for them. They didn't feel the pinch, the lead flying around, the bullets, smell the death, smell diesel fuel, the napalm, the gun powder, the smells that are burned into the soldiers brain. Because they didn't experience it nor did they actually feel that their liberties were in jeopardy, they don't think that you did anything for them. So their freedom was never really challenged in their eyes so quit overreacting you didn't do anything for me. This reaction from an ungrateful person adds to the anger, it continually compounds. Now remember you are still young and you do not have the coping skills because so much happened to you so fast that the coping skills are short circuited in the process.
Now you begin to think it was a waste and your buddies died for nothing and you got shot for what? More anger you're like an atomic bomb with its atoms splitting. It is a continual reaction. Add alcohol to this already explosive mixture. You are in hell, you don't understand. You did it right. You were a Marine and defended America. You did what you were supposed to do. Why does life hurt so bad and why do I not want to be here anymore? You can't think it through there is no logical thought pattern that will help you put this together. Now add the hormones, the dopamine, the epinephrine, because you were in a constant state of excitement and fear your hormones that flow in the brain to maintain emotional stability are all screwed up and stuck high. You can't process it now if you wanted to.
The anger is actually a chain of events, then it goes to a chemical reaction in the brain, then add the Jack Daniels to this, the anger does not go away till one of these chains are broken. That's why it takes years to “come home.”
I hope this answers the question for you. Take this info and help more guys to be able to “come home.” You will help me by bringing all of us home.
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