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Friday, February 21, 2020 

How was the Vietnam war depicted in its time?

The Milwaukee Independent reprinted an article originally published at the The Conversation nearly 3 years ago about the history of how the Vietnam was was portrayed in past comics, including Marvel's The 'Nam (1986-94). It includes the following:
During the Great Depression, Superman battled corrupt landlords. At the height of World War II, Captain America clashed with the fascist Red Skull. Tony Stark’s transformation into Iron Man occurred alongside the growth of the military industrial complex during the Cold War. And the diverse team of X-Men first appeared during the civil rights movement. These storylines reflect the shifting attitudes of regular people, the target audience of these comics.

More recent plots have included Tea Party rallies, failed peace missions in Iran and coming-out stories – all of which underscore the fact that comics continue to engage with current affairs and politics. As modes of “modern memory,” comics – to quote French historian Pierre Nora – “confront us with the brutal realization of the difference of real memory…and history, which is how our hopelessly forgetful modern societies, propelled by change, organize the past.”

In other words, comics are a type of historical record; they’re a window into what people were thinking and how they were interpreting events – almost in real time.
Sure, but under what political perspective, and with what kind of approach? In the Golden Age, most entertainment contributors recognized the nazi regime as evil, and during the 60s, communism was at least initially recognized as a bad influence. But when the Tea Party came about a decade ago, Marvel took an atrociously negative stance, and there was offense taken at their attitude from conservative-leaning citizens. We could honestly have done without the anti-Tea Party attacks.

And Superman didn't just battle corrupt landlords in his early tales. There was also the subject of battling organized syndicates and such, which was a notable staple in some Golden Age comics, and you could see it as a focus long afterwards too, even if the mobsters eventually stopped wearing fedora hats. As for the subject of Iran, they're right in a sense that the missions were failures - if they were written as David Goyer's Superman story from 2011 was, with its emphasis on Supes forfeiting his US citizenship, which wasn't an issue when he was in costume, rather than his civilian guise of Clark Kent.
The comics produced in the years during, after and leading up to the Vietnam War were no different. The conflict, its soldiers and its returning veterans appear in mainstream comics franchises such as “The Amazing Spider Man,” “Iron Man,” “Punisher,” “Thor,” “The X-Men” and “Daredevil.” But the portrayal of soldiers – and the war – shifted considerably over the course of the conflict.

Prior to 1968 and the Tet Offensive, Marvel comics tended to feature pro-war plots that involved superhero battles involving U.S. compatriots and the South Vietnamese battling National Liberation Front operatives and Ho Chi Minh’s communist forces. These Manichean plots were reminiscent of World War II comics, wherein the “good guys” were clearly distinguished from their evil counterparts.

But as the anti-war protest movement started to gain momentum – and as public opinion about the conflict turned – the focus of such works shifted from heroic campaigns to traumatic aftermaths. More often than not, these included storylines about returning Vietnam War veterans, who struggled to return to civilian life, who were haunted by the horrors of conflict and who often lamented those “left behind,” namely their South Vietnamese allies.
The problem is that in some cases, if not all, it was made to look as though the war itself was unjust and not worth fighting, instead of asking why northern 'Nam wasn't raided, if that's what it took to put an end to the Viet Cong's tyranny. It was the failure - or outright refusal - to hit the enemy at its core that damaged the ability to combat evil regimes for years to come, and doubtless led to the later situations with Iran and Iraq.

When the article gets around to discussing Marvel's notable series focused on the period, they even go out of their way to make use of a politically correct description:
“The ‘Nam” (1986-1993) by Marvel Comics, written and edited by Vietnam War veterans Doug Murray and Larry Hama, reflects the medium’s ability to narrate the past while addressing the politics of the present. The plots, for example, balanced the early jingoism with a now familiar, post-conflict cynicism.
So it wasn't patriotism, but rather, jingoism, a denigrating putdown? Well it's a shame they feel that way, because how are we supposed to rid the world of the most serious evils if patriotism is going to be damned with such a negative connotation? Marvel's series about 'Nam may have been balanced well enough, but with propaganda tactics like what the writer who'd first written this at the Conversation made use of, it's hardly what I'd call balanced. Rather, it's just a cunning way to make it sound like the US - and other western countries who participated in the war - were the baddies, because they were being "jingoists" instead of caring for the innocents whose lives were made miserable by communism.

And today, while some leftists do have a problem with Vladimir Putin in Russia, they not only still remain fixated on communism as a belief system, there's far less chance you'd see communism being condemned in comicdom as it was in the past. Indeed, has Marvel or anybody else published comics giving an honest portrait of Vietnam since? Or stressed the evils of communism itself, and all the Russian dissidents who suffered in the Gulag? There's very few these days who're willing to be honest about what Iran's like, or why it's a bad omen either. Not even Europe's Islamic invasion. If the medium can be used for education, today's leftists have trashed the potential.

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We can add history and politics to things you are woefully ignorant about.

Thi Bui wrote and drew an exceptionally good comic about Vietnam, The Best We Could Do. It was published by Harry Abrams a couple of years back. And Will Eisner's Last Day in Vietnam is worth a mention. There are lots of others.

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