Recovering the waste: Recognition in the texts of American Civil War and Vietnam War veterans

Susan Harris Andreas, Fordham University


In Recovering the Waste, I argue that the realist texts of four American war veterans—John W. De Forest, Ambrose Bierce, Tim O'Brien, and Philip Caputo—dramatize the need for recognition of the identity and humanity of American soldiers. I employ various aspects of recognition theory that are based in the Hegelian master/slave dialectic, which essentially states that in order to be human (or to possess an "independent self-consciousness") one must be recognized by another human. Contemporary philosophers Nancy Fraser, Axel Honneth, and Charles Taylor have since modernized the dialectic in their current discussions of identity politics. While Honneth and Taylor privilege the importance of identity and integrity in their arguments about recognition, Fraser upholds what she calls a "status model of recognition," which she argues is a more quantifiable way of analyzing the problems that unrecognized or misrecognized groups face. I apply these theories of recognition (otherwise used to describe recognition of cultural or other social groups) to soldiers and veterans as they are represented in these American war authors' texts. Focusing two chapters on the texts of the American Civil War (De Forest, Bierce) and two on America's involvement in the conflict in Vietnam (O'Brien, Caputo), I argue that these authors show a desire for recognition of the manhood, humanity, and very identity of their textual selves and of the men with which they served. This need for reader recognition is, I argue, the most realistic element of these fictional and nonfictional texts, many of which are commonly evaluated in terms of their realism.

Subject Area

American studies|American literature|Military studies

Recommended Citation

Andreas, Susan Harris, "Recovering the waste: Recognition in the texts of American Civil War and Vietnam War veterans" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3544393.