You’ve Heard of the Military Industrial Complex, But Have You Ever Heard of Empathy?

By: Kacy Jones and Scott Douglas

I’ve never been asked, “Hey Kacy, do you know any musicals that are critical indictments of toxic masculinity and the concept of American heroism?” but I sure wish someone would.

Okay, go on. Ask me. Ask me.

Well, my my, I have never thought about it before, I’m gonna have to think – Dogfight. Yeah. It’s Dogfight.

Sure, it’s based on a 1991 movie written by Bob Comfort and the musical’s book was written by Peter Duchan and the music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are all men. And, yes, its 2012 Off-Broadway run was directed by Joe Mantello who is also . . . a man. And, uh-huh, there are only four women actors in the cast and the titular “dogfight” is Marines trying to win money by bringing the ugliest girl they can find to a party BUT I swear it’s actually about why dudes suck. Specifically white American dudes who revere the military.

Set before and during Vietnam, Dogfight encourages us to think critically about the concept of American heroism by disengaging from the public perception of Vietnam veterans as being monsters, depicting the harmful effects looking up to the military has on men, and by offering up a new idea of what an American hero really is.

Unfortunately, I cannot write with authority on men and their psyches. I wish I could; it would make my love life a lot easier, but I digress. So, instead of me writing “men are sexy trash” over and over, Scott Douglas and I are working together to break down these larger Dogfight themes. I will be bringing you that sweet historical context, Scott will be analyzing the complexity of the men, and then I will tie it altogether by presenting the musical’s idea of a real hero.

First things first: The history and what makes a “hero”.

Dogfight is set primarily on November 21st, 1963 and follows a group of Marines on their last night in the States before they ship out to Okinawa, Japan, but they aren’t slated to actually fight. Mostly they’ll just be sitting around a military base and then they’ll be home in a year and lauded as heroes, or so they think.

Eddie is the first in the musical to express a desire to fight. He says to Rose early on that he wants to go to Vietnam and “kick a little ass, take a few names, be back in a couple of months”*. When Rose presses him on the danger, Eddie clarifies and states that if they were to go to Vietnam, they’d be “there as advisors more than anything…[teaching] ‘em how to take care of the Commies.”

He’s not wrong. In 1963, there were a few thousand American advisors in Vietnam, working with the country to stop the spread of Communism. The President at the time, John F. Kennedy, had put an American presence overseas due to the public’s demand that the spread of Communism should slow in countries that weren’t our own to govern. This was the Cold War, on the heels of WWII, and America was seen as the world’s protector. We became this hero through military intervention, so the implication was that we could only stay this hero by continuing that path.

JFK didn’t see it that way. He saw unnecessary force in other countries as being a precursor to colonizing, so he had plans to pull everyone out of Vietnam once he was safely reelected.

But JFK never was reelected. On November 22nd, 1963, the day Eddie and the other Marines ship out to Okinawa, JFK was assassinated. Vice President Lyndon B Johnson took over, was elected the following year, and on March 8th, 1965, LBJ started the Vietnam War by sending the first aggressive ground troops to Vietnam. LBJ sent the 3rd Marine Division who were previously stationed in Okinawa. Eddie’s Division.

JFK was correct and the public stopped believing in American heroism by way of the military quickly. There was public unrest over Vietnam and when those who survived made it back to the States, they were seen as murderers rather than as heroes.

The Act 2 opener is called “Hometown Hero’s Ticker Tape Parade” and features the Marines singing about what they can expect when they get home from their time overseas. It’s mostly what they’ve seen in year’s past – parades, sex, and lemonade. They’ll go from being a “no-name schoolboy” to being a “hometown hero”. A dream. In the 2013 Off-Broadway cast recording, the harmonies are beautiful, the music sounds like a cheery marching band’s drumline, and the beat is fast and fun. You can tell these men are yearning to leave normal life behind as their voices soar over the music on “You’re a goddamn hero” with Nick Blaemire’s Bernstein reaching the highest falsetto, as he wants to go farther and be better than the Marines around him. It’s a celebration of things to come because, well, it’s November 21st, they have nothing to fear.

The eleven o’clock number is “Come Back,” in which Eddie arrives back in San Francisco in 1967. He is the only Marine introduced in the musical that survives the war. He’s grieving, homeless, has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Survivor’s Guilt, but immediately gets spit on by a passerby. There will be no parade, no sex, and no lemonade. His violence is no longer celebrated or even tolerated and Eddie is left standing alone in a city that he barely knows. This song is a cry for help and Derek Klena belts painfully high notes as if he’s screaming as loudly as he can. He understands mortality so well now that he doesn’t know how to live – all he has are the horrors of war.

The musical easily could’ve sided with the public perception and claimed Eddie and the other Marines who served in Vietnam were not heroes like the men who served before them. Instead, the musical portrays the male characters as kind of terrible people even when they thought they were just going over to be advisors, effectively saying the old version of American heroism didn’t create heroes after all. Dogfight shows us the military doesn’t turn people into wonderful people or scum. They’re all just people. Toxic awful people, perhaps, but not the monsters the public thought they were.

But who am I to discuss men? I’m going to turn it over to Scott, a creature man himself, to explain how Dogfight goes beyond military stereotypes to depict real human beings.

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Hello, Scott here! Before I begin, please allow me to clarify that I will be defining toxic masculinity as the view that men should adhere to traditional male gender roles characterized by a perpetual “toughness” in their appearance and attitudes, that they should have a need to assert dominance, and that an inability or refusal to maturely or openly express one’s deeper emotional states is a requisite for manhood. There is an abundance of psychological research literature which provides evidence for the harmful effects of toxic masculinity both on the men who adopt this view and those individuals (friends, family) who are close to them.

Toxic masculinity has become a popular topic of engagement across many artistic mediums over recent years. And this is a good thing! Resultantly, our openness as a culture to discussing this concept has grown, and more and more people have been made aware of the inherently harmful nature of this repressive conception of the male identity. Through our collective exposure to art pieces which demonstrate the damaging effects of toxic masculinity, we have grown more apt as a society in recognizing and reacting to systems and individuals who endorse and exhibit the ideals of this view of masculinity. However, a common trend in many contemporary art pieces that examine this subject matter is that toxic masculinity tends solely to be condemned, rather than understood. Yes, audiences are often imparted some greater understanding of how to recognize its symptoms and perhaps are offered a model of how to respond to it, but rarely are audiences asked to do something far more challenging – to empathize.

As Kacy said, the male characters in Dogfight are people. Yes, the Marines are aggressive, harmful, self-infatuated, and extremely belittling to women. The audience is intended to be made fully aware and maybe even repulsed by the actions and intentions of the Marines whenever they are together. Key aspects of the leading lady Rose’s character, such as her abundant trust, empathy, and tenderness, serve as a foil to the Marines, and we the audience gain an understanding of just how damaging the Marines’ display of toxic masculinity is when we see the effect it has on Rose specifically. I mean, this sweet person who embodies the pacifist perspective and explicitly denounces violence is so hurt by Eddie and his friends after she finds out about the dogfight that she says, “I hope you die, Eddie Birdlace. I hope there’s a war and you get killed, all of you, that’s what I hope.” You think the writers were trying to drill home with this line the fact that when these marines enable each other to embody the traits of toxic masculinity, they fucking hurt people? I do! These toxic assholes? Are assholes.

“But Scott, you tastefully vulgar 21 year old male undergraduate student,” I hear the voice in my head say, “How does Dogfight both condemn toxic masculinity and offer the audience a means of empathizing with and understanding the men in this show? Should we even bother to? I mean, you just said they were assholes!”

Well, my cognitive companion, here’s why Dogfight is special. Yes, it takes responsibility in vilifying the Marines’ actions and explicitly demonstrating to the audience the damage that toxic masculinity imparts on others, especially within a patriarchal social hierarchy in which men – and soldiers – expect to be revered. But what is so daring about Dogfight is that it actually implores its audience to understand and empathize with its male characters: it asks its audience to be willing to see why these men are who they are, and it is very selectively effective in doing so, without abandoning its condemnation of their actions.

This exploration in pursuit of understanding is centered upon Eddie Birdlace, the Marine with whom the audience spends the most time. Yes, when we meet Eddie, he too is an asshole, believing himself to be ordained to something great because he is a marine who will use the force of his manhood to, as he sees it, improve the world and his country. He thinks force and violence is the answer, not because it is a conclusion he has come to on his own accord, but because that is the rhetoric of the armed forces and American international affairs. He joined the marines because that is how he understands the duty of his manhood. He has been reared to believe that men must be strong, tough, dutiful, immovable. He has had no model otherwise, as his father abandoned his family when he was only 6 years old. So, what does becoming a Marine offer him? Eddie sees it as a chance to prove his manhood, not only to himself, but to some extent the father who abandoned him too. The fraternity of the marines offers Eddie a sense of stability through his “friendships” with his brothers in arms. American society has convinced him, a 21 year old man, that this is the way to be.

The Marines in this show don’t want to be killing machines, they want to be heroes. They want to be something great, and this is the only way they’ve been shown that they can accomplish greatness. They are incapable of processing their personal insecurities because they have been raised to think that men should not engage with or express such thoughts, so in search of security, they become brothers in the Marines. And together, they become something far more dangerous.

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…A haunting look at the inside of a man’s mind, Scott! I rarely want to think about the abuses men do to women because of gross societal pressures, so let’s transition to Dogfight’s final point about American heroism. Since they’ve established the hero wasn’t destroyed by the Vietnam War since the American military hero never actually existed in the first place, they have to give the audience some sort of hero to root for, right?

Lucky for this essay, they do! That’s where Rose comes in.

Although Rose, like Eddie, was raised by a single mother during wartimes, Rose is not a man and is therefore not subjected to the same notions of manhood. As a result of her femininity, father’s death in war, and her love of folk music, Rose becomes a pacifist who longs to work with the Peace Corps. She mentions loving artists such as Woody Guthrie, Odetta, and Bob Dylan, so it can be assumed Rose eventually supports the anti-war movement, as well as the Civil Rights Movement, working to bring about peace and growth in America.

This does not mean that Rose does not understand the world or isn’t critical of what is going on around her. Rather, like the musical itself, she tries so hard to understand why Eddie thinks the way he does and attempts to talk him out of his violent thoughts and behaviors without simply vilifying them. In the first scene in which Eddie starts to see Rose as a human with a soul, Rose is criticizing his love of guns. Eddie, after saying guitars aren’t equal to guns, says, “There’s talking and there’s doing – and that’s a pretty big difference.” Rose asks back, “But why’s the doing always gotta be done the same way?”

Of course, we know today that Rose was right. The folk revival did much more for the country than the Vietnam War did, especially considering it was one of the reasons the war ended. So through the laws of dramatic irony, we know that Rose and Eddie will switch roles by the end of the musical. She will be the hero and he the ugly one – at least in the public eye.

Through her empathy and love, the same empathy and love the musical holds at its core, Rose helps Eddie see the problems in his behavior and work against them. Ultimately, Eddie and the world discover that being a hero has nothing to do with putting people down, but it’s people like Rose, who lift others up, who are the beautiful ones. The ending where Eddie chooses to tear up Rose’s address and not write her during the war is a tragic one, but it’s not presented as a flaw on his part. It’s a flaw that the American military system requires men to, as Scott put it, become brothers in the Marines and therefore become something much more dangerous. He is a victim of a system that churns out horrible people and all too often hurts the world – a system that is in direct opposition with everything Rose stands for. And if Eddie isn’t the hero, clearly Rose is.

We should take responsibility for our actions, and many characters in this musical do, but Dogfight also wants the audience to see that the choices we make are usually some byproduct of our upbringing or society and that the American society can be a particularly compelling and toxic one. Through Rose, though, there’s hope that our pasts don’t have to define us and we don’t have to stay tied to systems that don’t serve us. All it takes is what she has – trust and compassion for others.

The public didn’t have compassion for those who served in Vietnam like Eddie, Eddie didn’t have compassion for women like Rose, and the world now rarely has compassion for men who might not have been exposed to different, better ways of living. Scott is right in saying that Dogfight is special. It asks for us to throw out all concepts of American heroism, old and new, and instead revere the people looking to love the unlovable and raise up the voices of those so far unheard. Those are the people who have made America great and will continue to keep doing so.

* – All quotes are from the publicly available libretto and the references to the songs are all from the 2013 Off-Broadway Cast Recording.

You (Don’t) Belong with Me: Senseless Racism in the Face of Eastern European Jewish Culture

By: Kacy Jones (the token goy on the Hillel Jewish Life Committee)

The simplistic plot of Fiddler on the Roof in five words would go something like: tradition, family, love…pogroms…exile? Historically, not an unexpected twist, but a truly heartbreaking one as the show places viewers alongside Tevye and we follow life as he does – loving with him, learning with him, and, eventually, leaving with him. We experience firsthand the acceptance the community finds in new expressions of cultural values and people foreign to their belief system. Though the Jewish men and women of Anatevka should not be expected to be kind to their oppressors, they make a point to not rock the boat between cultural divides out of kindness and fear of harm. However, this outpouring of love and goodness from the Jews is not reciprocal and the respect they give is met with purely racially motivated violence and death – physical death from outside antisemitism and the looming Holocaust, as well as death of their lifestyle. It’s perhaps surprising that the quintessential musical celebrating the beliefs and open-mindedness of Eastern European Jewish culture ends with the characters being stripped of their identity as they’re forced to move to countries that will refuse to acknowledge their religion and ways of life, but when you’re the minority, you don’t get to choose when and how you belong.

            For the Jews in Anatevka, there is no right way to belong. Sure, Fiddler on the Roof, specifically the 1971 movie musical by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein and directed by Norman (Not-Actually-A)Jewison, starts with a song called “Prologue/‘Tradition’,” but the musical makes clear that these are traditions that can be altered if anyone wants to do things differently. It’s also a bit of a joke, as Tevye posits that the papa has “the final word at home,” but he invents wild schemes so that his wife Golde will accept his opinions and he always lets his daughters do what they wish. This is not to say that tradition does not have a place in Eastern European Judaism or in Fiddler. It does, as shown by many of the main characters and the Jewish ensemble. The main characters also change certain customs, but tradition is not the enemy of change and neither is depicted as being more valid than the other. Golde married Tevye via a matchmaker and yet they still have a loving marriage and wonderful partnership full of respect. In the song “Do You Love Me?” we learn that Golde is very happy with the life she has created, in the same way her daughter Tzeitel is, despite the fact that Tzeitel found love with Motel rather than marrying Lazar Wolf. Tevye’s anger at Tzeitel does not come from a place of sticking to tradition only, but from a place of care and concern for his daughter. He wants her to live comfortably in a way he could not provide for Golde, but once Motel says Tzeitel will not starve, Tevye relents. Similarly, the initial concerns Tevye has for Hodel’s marriage also come from a place of fatherly love rather than nonexistent overbearing religious and cultural values. Hodel plans to get married with or without her father’s consent, which breaks convention, and then she moves away from their insular community, which could be dangerous, but her father simply asks her to stay Jewish, and therefore still herself and safe, and asks God to keep her warm. Hodel also doesn’t go to Siberia in order to leave her culture. She expresses sadness about all of the things she must leave behind, but she goes for love. This is not depicted as heroic or more important than what Tzeitel or even Golde have done. It is simply a choice, one Hodel is free to make, as is everyone in the town while still belonging to Jewish culture and to each other.

            This bond between custom and innovation is encapsulated in Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding scene where each member of the ensemble creates their own way of celebrating their culture, while not invalidating anyone else’s. Lazar Wolf’s anger at not being able to marry the 19 year old of his choosing aside, the rest of the community is happy to support the couple and the family at the wedding. And when Perchik, a man from outside the specific Anatevkan community, encourages men and women to touch and dance, most everyone does. However, again, this is revolutionary in that people who believe unmarried men and women should not touch are dancing together, but it is not portrayed as growth or better than the old way. It is simply a choice one could make and one everyone makes differently. The Rabbi is pulled onto the floor and unknowingly dances with Hodel, but as soon as he realizes, he backs away. Tevye prompts him joyfully to dance and the Rabbi brings out a piece of fabric so that he can dance with the women without compromising his personal beliefs and everyone looks on in glee. Tevye also asks Golde to dance and, when she hesitates, he slaps his hands together and she takes them. Before this clap, Topol’s Tevye gives a very telling glance to God. In it, he seems to convey “I hope I made the right choice. I hope you will not smite me” and then you can see him make the decision that if God will smite him for encouraging men and women to dance, he may as well dance with his wife. So his clap is out of fear for possibly misjudging the balance between tradition and change, but also excitement at something new. These reactions to the dance represent what every Jewish person in Anatevka goes through over the course of the musical. They must find the ways in which they want to embody their values, but they also allow for the new and respect the choices others make.

            The Jewish people are incredibly loving and open minded, even to the Russians around them, and yet the wedding scene is broken up by a violent attack from the Constable and his non-Jewish companions. The Jews have done nothing wrong nor have they disturbed their gentile neighbors and yet it is their Star of David marked buildings that go up in flames. The camera lingers on the smirks of the men before they tear the wedding hall to shreds, but during the destruction we are only allowed to see the screams of the victims and the destruction of property. We do not need to see the face of the oppressor as they destroy because this is not a story about how individual men have targeted anger. The Russians are just a racist hive mind, unable to respect other ways of living. Instead, glass shatters and we get a close up of the Rabbi who minutes earlier found joy in change and acceptance, only now his face is appalled at the unexplainable hatred of his peers. Although the Jews were nothing but respectful to those in the village who “make a much bigger circle” and Tevye even formed a close bond with the Constable, it is not enough to save them from the racism of the Russians. When the Constable tells Tevye there is to be a pogrom, Tevye responds “You are a good man. If I may say so, it is a shame you are not a Jew.” The most good a man from outside the Jewish faith in Anatevka can do is let him know of future violence. The bond between the Jews and the Russians is not a symbiotic one. Rather, the Russians have all of the power and they decide under what circumstances the Jewish people can stay there unharmed.

            The Jews in Anatevka even try to assimilate to the best of their ability when in public with the Russians, but it does not change how they’re viewed in greater society. In “To Life,” the Jewish men dance traditionally with spinning and high arm movements before being stopped so that the Russians can show off their own cultural dances, backing the Jewish men to the wall. They only invite Tevye in to dance when he is accidentally pushed onto the dance floor and you can see the apprehension in his fellow men when the Russian extends his hand. Topol in his portrayal of Tevye takes the hand with a devilish raise of his eyebrow, a sign that he does not know what is going to happen but he certainly would not be allowed to refuse. The Jerome Robbins choreography that follows (adapted for the screen by Tom Abbott) is not a collaboration between cultures, but a brilliant depiction of coercion and assimilation at play. The Russians rush towards the Jews with kicks and sprints, which are part of their own traditional dances, but take on new aggressive meaning when being performed towards the minority group they hate. The Jewish men eventually go back into their own raised arm dance, while the gentiles snake between their legs. This does not last long, though, and soon the Jews are back to copying the Russian moves. This scene and the choreography explain the power imbalance between the two groups. One group belongs, while the other must pretend to be something they aren’t to fit in and avoid danger for as long as they can.

            Fiddler on the Roof is an important look at an oft-misunderstood culture, and spends much of its runtime focusing on both the beauty of the long historical traditions and the willingness of the Eastern European Jewish people to adapt and change when members of the community see fit. The musical takes care to show exactly how the Jewish people belong among each other, which is with respect for differing beliefs and customs, and also depicts how the Jewish community fit within Russia, which is to say it didn’t. Not because of the Jewish community itself, but because the majority group was unwilling to see the humanity of the community right under their noses. The ending of  Fiddler where everyone loses not only their personal cultures they’ve worked so hard to cultivate and define, but also lose each other and other living remnants of their way of life is a heartbreaking one. It is proof that belonging within your own community can only get you so far when you are in the minority and that no amount of goodness, love, and respect can save you from hatred from people who do not wish to understand you or see you as an equal.

American Man Discovers a Vietnamese Woman is a Human (Not Clickbait)

By Kacy J

She’s your (manic pixie) dream girl: hot, young, innocent, full of deep trauma, the physical embodiment of moonlight and warmth, in dire need of protection, unconditionally in love with you despite your many flaws, and across the sea, making her easy to leave once she’s served her purpose of helping you realize you’re capable of feelings. And, sadly, your love is doomed. That should have been obvious from the start for Miss Saigon’s protagonist Chris Scott and his love for seventeen year old Kim. After all, he is a sensible white American GI and she is a mysterious Vietnamese teenager he could never possibly hope to understand. In this tragic “love story,” musical writers Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Richard Maltby Jr make it clear that since Chris cannot save Kim with his Western influence, she is condemned to spend the rest of her life in Asia alone, rendering her life worthless.

Chris first sees Kim in a house full of prostitutes, but while the other women are experienced and older, Kim is only seventeen and a virgin. Her untouched virtue and wary eyes prompt Chris to want to protect her from being corrupted by The Engineer and the other more morally bankrupt GIs. Every sex worker in the club wants to escape Vietnam through marrying one of the soldiers, but the direction of Miss Saigon shows us that every woman except for Kim is already a firmly rooted stereotype of the East – sensual in a way American girls can never be. These women could never leave Vietnam, as they are too far gone to be assimilated to Western culture. Kim, on the other hand, is innocent and untouched, leagues separated from the women around her. She wears a long dress that is ripped without her consent, but, in Eva Noblezada’s interpretation of the character, holds herself tightly guarded even after, as if she longs to become invisible. She is not a paradigm of Asian stereotypes, like the others, though she is also not just an American character with a Vietnamese face. Kim still is a representative of some stereotypes as her youth plays into the way the West infantilizes Asia. She is only seventeen, how could she know what is good for her without an older mentor showing her the ropes? Since the women around her are all hopeless and the Asian men are heartless and unfeeling, wanting her to be more like the others in the club, good guy Chris is all Kim has. If Chris is a representation of the West, Kim is “the ideal” East – not overtly sexual, but still subservient and in need of protection.

Chris is clearly a good man because he is an American who is able to love a Vietnamese girl. He falls in love with her under completely normal circumstances – by having a friend pay so that Chris can take her virginity because he can’t stand to see someone else do it and then discovering Kim’s inner worth when he finds out she is an orphan (as her village was burned in the unnecessary war he is fighting) and therefore more of an “April moon” than a whore. Kim is not unlike the other sex-workers at the club who have had equally hard lives, but her virginity (pre-Chris) paired with her willingness to speak on her pain makes her easy for Chris to save. He is an American, how could he fail to do good? But just as America couldn’t “save” Vietnam, Chris cannot save Kim, so he chooses to leave her and move on with his life.

While Saigon was “a place full of mystery that [Chris] never once understood,” America is the one place where Chris thinks things make sense. Asia is a land of mystery with mysterious women, like Kim, but once Chris starts treating Kim like a human with a history and an inner life beyond her prostitution, he realizes there is more than he has been told. Chris sings that Vietnam is bearable “just as long as you don’t believe anything,” but that through her suffering, he learned to believe in her. This knowledge that Saigon contained at least one real human being in the form of Kim sticks with Chris and tortures his soul when he is back in America. He does not understand, even three years later, how an indescribable place could hold someone so authentic. Instead of working on humanizing the others he met in his head or going back to find Kim, Chris chooses to forget her and move on. He marries Ellen, a blonde white woman who makes complete sense because of her American citizenship. He thinks that with Ellen his life will make sense and he will avoid having to answer the questions of his past. Questions like: Were the Vietnamese actually human? Do their lives have worth? And although Chris never grapples with these, the musical sure makes their answers known.

Kim, still in love with Chris after three years, does not want to raise her son Tam alone for many reasons. However, when it becomes clear that she cannot have the happy family with Chris that she dreamed of, Kim decides that having a white American father in her son’s life is more important than having a mother. Although Chris tells Ellen they can send Tam to American schools in Bangkok and support him from afar, this is not the Western influence Kim wants for her son. After all, with racist men like Thuy who despise the white genetics of her son, what is there for him in Asia? Rather, he should go to America where no one is racist and his life can have worth. The promise of America is so big and bright and beautiful that is supersedes the influence Kim could have as the boy’s mother. The musical makes no attempt to hide its distaste for Vietnam and Bangkok. No opportunities can lie there and it is such a terrible place that growing up there would be worse than seeing your mother kill herself in front of your eyes and being forced to live with a father who was ready to abandon you just a song earlier. Even Kim, the representation of the ideal East, is nothing when compared to Chris’s American machismo.

The ending, though, is not a tragedy because she feels her life is so worthless that her only course of action is to kill herself. Rather, the audience is meant to cry because of how worthy she was of being saved by Chris and the American Dream. She was pure and only worked as a bargirl and dancer because she had to, unlike the other women who obviously were sex-workers for fun. Kim possessed a strong motherly instinct, just as we hear Ellen does. Kim is also the only Asian character to have any semblance of backstory or feelings beyond being upset about living in Vietnam. She feels love and is something special in the eyes of the Americans. Thus, she should have had worth. Kim could have had worth, if only she had been taken to America to be more fully assimilated. We as the audience are meant to cry because she was a hopeless case solely because she was born in Vietnam. If she had been American, she would have been a perfect woman without a tragic end. But it ends with her death, a sure sign that the East and West can never truly blend, except in this child Tam, though he will only be okay if he is fully Americanized.

The plot of Miss Saigon is not the racist idea that someone from Asia and someone from America can fall in love but perhaps are ill-fated from the start. Rather, by ending the musical with Tam going to join Chris in America, the musical is suggesting that love between an Asian woman and an American man can work, but only if the Asian woman becomes fully subservient to the man and the ideals of the Western nation. It’s important to note, however, that this cannot happen with just any Asian woman. She has to have pain incomprehensible to any man and yet still has to be naïve and not world-weary. She cannot turn to her sexuality willingly and must be tender to men who treat her like an object to pay for. The man, also, cannot be any man. He must be willing to see her as a human being. That is about the end of the list for the man, as long as he is a white American who knows that his job as an American is to “do good” by protecting those poor Asians who need to be saved. Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr want you to know by watching Miss Saigon that some lives have immense worth and perhaps more lives should be more valued, though it’s a shame these authentic human beings were not born in America.