There was actually a bunch of ties for top search of the week. ‘Ranger concierge’ and ‘ranger concierge services’ were tied with ‘infidel’ and ‘Iraq’. At the top of it all was ‘there it is Vietnam’.
A little over a year ago I started reading a bunch of books and articles about the Vietnam War and one of the things I kept picking up on was the language. Soldiers in Vietnam had a unique lingo that has pretty much disappeared. It seemed hip and relevant.
One of the phrases I saw over and over again was “There it is.” That phrase was often used as a way to validate the entire experience of the war in a single moment or event. You come in from patrol and find out the chow hall was destroyed in a mortar attack. There it is. Your new platoon leader gets killed in a helicopter crash before even getting to his platoon. There it is, man.
Over the past few months, I’ve read a number of books about Vietnam. I’m currently reading The Short-Timers which is the book that Full Metal Jacket is based off of (along with Michael Herr’s Dispatches). I’ve come across the phrase “there it is” numerous times and for the most part just glossed over it. Eventually, I realized that it was part of the lingo, but a phrase that has completely fallen out of favor. I’ve never heard any service member or veteran say the phrase. So I started Googling and this is what I came up with.
English phrase, the literal meaning of which is obvious.In American English, the phrase is commonly associated with American servicemen in Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, with American veterans of the Vietnam War. The particular usage of American servicemen varied wildly. While the phrase could be used literally, it was often used in a figurative, and decidedly fatalistic, sense. The meaning was usually something along the lines of, “I cannot put into words what I mean, but this situation/scene/event/dead body/etc contains all the truth necessary to understand precisely what I mean, if you can only see it through the right eyes. I don’t know how to express that truth or I do know the right words but it would be too painful for me to actually express them.”
The phrase was the most common example of “grunt lingo” and was repeated ad nauseum.
There it is, they’d say, over and over, as if the repetition itself were an act of poise, a balance between crazy and almost crazy, knowing without going. There it is, which meant be cool, let it ride, because oh yeah, man, you can’t change what can’t be changed, there it is, there it absolutely and positively and fucking well is.
“There it is….” There is what? you ask. And just where IS ‘there?’ Well no sense in trying to read too much into it. “There it is…” said with a flat tone, mildly strong emphasis building up to “is” was the one lingua franca which all GIs shared. Well, officers, not so much. But if you were under the age of 25, had been drafted, and didn’t particularly want to BE in Vietnam, “there it is” was your key to sanity. The three words which let you express your profound emotional mélange of disgust, annoyance, fear, despair, surprise, acceptance, satisfaction, and occasionally contentment. Once I arrived in Saigon in October, 1970 and began a two year interaction with the world the American GI, it was a phrase which meant so little, yet so much. You could almost say that it meant whatever you wanted it to mean, and be interpreted almost any way. It often just served as a coda in conversation. It was the comment which had the force of finality in a discussion where soldiers were otherwise unable to explain something. “There it is…” was a way of just saying, ‘yeah, that’s how it is here, and this is how we have to deal with it.’ What has always surprised me is that once back home, the phrase seemed to disappear. The context for its usage was gone. Without the very personal, very weird, perplexing, illogical elements of the war lived first hand, it seemed to no longer have a proper context.
Maybe I’m out of touch, but I can’t think of a comparable line that we have in the Army today that has the same resonance.
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