Between Cultures: Sioux Warriors and the Vietnam War – Dan Crosson

For our discussion on historiography and its forms and methods, I discovered an interesting article on the Sioux Native American perspective of the Vietnam War experience, both at home and on the front lines. John A. Little’s “Between Cultures: Sioux Warriors and the Vietnam War” focuses heavily on social and cultural aspects of the Sioux people, utilizing a great deal of oral history.

Like many other racial minorities who served in Vietnam, many young Sioux men felt a great deal of patriotism and a sense of duty to their country. Yet culturally, the Sioux had another great motivator that drew them towards service. As a people, the Sioux have a proud warrior culture. Much of their history is structured around great battles and iconic warriors such as Crazy Horse. Sioux men carry the cultural expectation to embrace and honor this warrior legacy, so when the conflict in Vietnam intensified, many Sioux saw combat service as a necessary choice. Some of the Sioux mentioned in the article are quoted as hating military service, yet they felt the pressure and cultural importance of proving themselves as a true battle-tested warrior.

Once again in similar fashion to other minority service members,  the Sioux faced numerous racial stereotypes, particularly that Native Americans were inherently lazy and alcoholics. Many Sioux soldiers were given nicknames, especially “Chief”.  All of the men quoted in Little’s article recall a near constant battle with racism and prejudice. A point I found especially interesting was the impact of a racist belief the Sioux encountered that while meant to have a “positive” connotation, still had a negative and often deadly impact. Other soldiers, including GIs of other minorities like African Americans, held the belief that Native Americans were natural “super soldiers”, universally possessing advanced skills in combat, scouting, and tracking. As such, many Sioux soldiers were automatically assigned the position of point man in patrols, a role that is both extremely exhausting and carries a high risk of injury or death. Nearly all of the Sioux quoted in Little’s writing noted a near constant posting in the point man position, along with the somber question of how many may have died as a result of this prejudiced assignment.

Homecoming for the Sioux warriors of Vietnam also carried its own unique cultural and social elements.  While soldiers of other races were often met with scorn and contempt upon returning home, in Sioux culture a warrior’s homecoming was a standard practice. Respect was given almost unanimously in all cases, with special ceremonies given to servicemen when they returned to their respective reservations. Despite this positive reception,  when the war was over, many Sioux were left struggling. Some recognized the problems of the reservation lifestyle and made careers out of military service. Others fell into vicious cycles of PTSD, problems related to the poverty of tribal lands, and alcohol/substance abuse.

Little’s article paints an intriguing portrait of Sioux culture, especially that of the warrior, during the Vietnam War period. It shows that while they shared many hardships with GIs of various races, the Sioux carried burdens unique to their culture and racial oppressions. The use of rich oral history from various Sioux veterans provides a very detailed view into the military life of these brave men, outlining a proud tradition of Sioux warriors that continues to this day.


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