Year

2010

Degree Name

Master of Arts - Research

Department

School of History and Politics, Faculty of Arts

Abstract

Literature about the legacy of the Vietnam War portrays veterans’ wives and daughters largely as victims. The female case studies used in this research validate such an interpretation. The women involved in this research were victims and in a minority of cases remain victims. However, at the same time, the case studies reveal a more complex picture. These women were not merely victims, they also demonstrated resilience by dealing with and coping through adversity. The case studies show that women from different groups associated with the Vietnam war dealt with adversity in different circumstances and in different ways. The main method for this research was case studies, primarily oral testimonies. The women came from diverse backgrounds not only in terms of their countries of birth - Australia and South Vietnam - but also in terms of their individual identities as women, first, and their connection to the war, second. The research involved five groups of women: the wives of Australian veterans, the wives of South Vietnamese veterans, the daughters of Australian and South Vietnamese veterans and the widows of Australian soldiers. Wives of Australian veterans coped with and quite often took control of adverse circumstances that had been defined by veteran husbands, whom the women believed, had been physically and/or emotionally changed by their time in Vietnam. Wives of South Vietnamese veterans also coped with and took control of adverse circumstances. In their cases, these circumstances were defined by the Communist regime that they interpreted in their stories as the war’s main impact on them. The daughters of Australian and South Vietnamese veterans dealt with different forms of adversity. They too, showed strength and resilience in the ways in which they coped. As adults, some even attributed their insights into life and their empathy for others to their experience of being daughters of Vietnam veterans. Widows from Australia suffered loss, grief and trauma when news reached them that their husbands had been killed in action. Although these women never re-married and held onto idealised memories of their husbands, evidence that they never fully recovered from their loss, they channelled their energies into bringing up their children.

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