Dynamics of Violence in the Mirror of War Letters: An Analysis of Letters Written by Mike Ransom and other US-American Soldiers from the Vietnam War

Dietmar Rost


The perceptions and interpretations of soldiers participating in combat are not just biographically important; they do not only regard their subjective handling of that experience. Rather, they immediately interact with the use of collective violence in war; e.g., by increasing or reducing their willingness to fight. Scientific approaches to the understanding of the dynamics of violence in war, must take account of them. As personal documents written during war and typically reporting very recent events, war letters seem to be an appropriate source for reconstructing such subjective experiences. Paul FUSSEL (1975, 1989), however, put forward plausible arguments against such use of war letters. Thus, this essay begins by reflecting on the scientific significance such letters may have. This is followed by a short theoretically oriented view on the general role of subjective perceptions and interpretations of war events. The essay's central section analyses war letters written by US-American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The principal object of analysis is the case of an officer with rather critical attitudes towards the war. In this way, some data based contributions to the development of theory in the field of subjective interpretation of situations as well as to the dynamics of action in war emerge. These findings show that interpretation of such war letters may contribute to a deeper understanding of frames for interpreting war events as well as rather rapid shifts in such frames. The narrowing of soldiers' horizons and frames, as it is linked with a growing desire for revenge and the corresponding will to kill, is an important aspect of this. Focusing on such dynamics, I conclude by considering the communicative function of letters for the framing of war situations.

URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1201281


war; violence; soldiers; military; frames of reference; revenge; war letters; Vietnam War; grounded theory methodology

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-13.1.1640

Copyright (c) 2011 Dietmar Rost

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