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This report is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

The Middle Generation and the War in Vietnam Diederik Oostdijk

Many of the most prominent American poets of the Second World War were alive during the Vietnam War. Nearly all of them wrote poems about that war, and nearly all of them positioned themselves unambiguously against the war as it dragged on and escalated in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. The Second World War had been a nightmare, too, but it had been, if not a good war, at least a defensible or necessary war. Or so they told themselves, even if they were not entirely convinced. The war in Vietnam was clearly none of these things, according to the poets of the Second World War. John Ciardi spoke for his entire generation of war poets when he wrote:

I told myself I would rather be dead than live to see a Japanese battleship sail into San Francisco Bay with the surrender terms. That would be worse than dying. It seemed certain that I could not get back alive, but despite army stupidity, there did seem to be a reason [to fight]. I wonder what I could have told myself had I been in Vietnam being asked to die with no reason even to invent. In Vietnam I think I would certainly have cracked.

Even though their protest was less aggressive and voluble than Robert Bly and Allen Ginsberg’s tirades against the war, many of them showed their disapproval by taking part in marches and poetry readings expressing sorrow about the new war. ...

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