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Caitlin  DiBiasie

Robert Olen Butler: Power of Human Connection
The Role of American Nurses in the Vietnam Conflict

Robert Olen Butler opens his readerís eyes and mind to the hardships that the American soldiers endured during the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath. In the Vietnam conflict soldiers became robots, devoid of feelings, emotions, and human connection. The soldiers in his novels live through each day with the belief that emotions distract them from their mission and make them weak. In his novels, Alleys of Eden and On Distant Ground, Robert Olen Butler, explores the lives and minds of two American soldiers during and after the Vietnam conflict. On foreign lands, the soldiers fight an endless physical and mental battle with their enemies. Upon their return home to America they continue to battle with themselves and their loved ones. The protagonists of his stories learn to survive through isolation. As these soldiers return home from the Vietnam conflict they learn these coping mechanisms cause further damage. They are alive physically but dead emotionally.

Although the Vietnam conflict marked the country with dehumanization, desolation, and sorrow, there also existed soldiers who were often unacknowledged for their positive attitudes and successful presence. These soldiers, known as the American military nurses, saved thousands of lives as a result of their skills developed from nursing education, positive attitudes, and bravery. They were driven to save all wounded soldiers. Although military nurses were in constant and great danger, they gave the highest quality of nursing care. These nurses were front-line witnesses to the physical and mental anguish of war. Not only did nurses deal with the physical wounds of soldiers, they also healed the emotional wounds by replacing a soldierís sister, mother, girlfriend, or wife. A nurseís job in Vietnam was to provide the initial step to intensive care before the wounded flew out on medical evacuation helicopters for further treatment in other areas. Both Robert Olen Butler and the American military nurses exemplify the power of human connection in the survival of those who served in Vietnam.

Major Works Consulted:

Butler, Robert Olen. The Alleys of Eden. New York: Holt, 1981.
---. On Distant Ground. New York: Knopf, 1985.
Freedman, Dan and Jacqueline Rhoads, Ed. Nurses in Vietnam, The Forgotten Veterans. Austin: Texas Monthly, 1987.
Kalisch, Philip A. The Advance of American Nursing. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.
Photo Credit: Butler, Robert Olen. On Distant Ground. New York: Knopf, 1985.

Robert Olen

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