Rhetorics in Comparing the HIV AIDS Epidemic to the Vietnam War


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In the 1980’s, the HIV/AIDS Epidemic began, which would lead to the death of “6 Million” by 1996 and would affect millions more. The film, United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, follows the activist group in their mission to procure national recognition- by creating their own media outlet, and protesting-, and to ultimately obtain a fully functional and effective cure. In the groups attempts, one of the members, Ann Northrop, had come to the realization that the culture surrounding the government was similar to the culture during the Vietnam War.

This was due to the “negligence” of the government, as they were not listening to the demands of the people especially those in need. In this time the government were “not caring about the lives of people who didn’t have power”. This analogy to the Vietnam War enhances the argument of ACT UP as she is comparing the lives lost in the widely unpopular war, to the lives of those in danger due to the virus. The similarities between the two circumstances do not end there, as the activist group had used the exact same tactics that were used in the war protests. The film is a representation of the epidemic, in which ACT UP is conveyed as the protagonists in their fight.

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The film choose to represent the group in order to convey the importance of the issue. Ann Northrop’s comparison to the Vietnam War conveys how ACT UP wanted to be perceived in the public view. I am exploring how the comparison to the Vietnam War enhances the arguments made by ACT UP, and will explore the similar tactics used during both protests. By exploring the rhetoric of the comparison, Northrop wanted to portray the epidemic as a real crisis, which was conveyed through various similar protest methods, that enhanced the movement led by ACT UP. Ann Northrop’s comparison of the AIDS Epidemic to the Vietnam War portrayed the need for the Epidemic to be recognized on a national level as a crisis. The AIDS Epidemic was widely unknown at the time of ACT UP, it is still largely unknown and unrecognized by the government. One of the reasons being the sense of shame felt by the people in power. One example of this idea in today’s world is the AIDS Memorial and how it compares to another remembrance memorial such as the 9/11 one. The AIDS Memorial lacks the attention and size compared to the 9/11 Memorial “yet more people were affected during the AIDS Epidemic”.

There was a similar sense of this during what was labeled as a “crisis”. Even during the time of the epidemic, the victims were being misrepresented, and it wasn’t a major issue until ACT UP started to protest. In the movie, United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, Ron Goldberg, who had the disease claimed that at the time there was “no information” on the virus and that the information was “shrouded”. What Mr. Goldberg is trying to portray is that there was no way of knowing how to live with the virus; while there were political leaders and religious leaders who condemned the victims for being different than their own values, such as looking at the virus as the “Gay disease”. This put a hinder on the goals of ACT UP as the church was and still is a major dividing force in society. To inform the public of the falsehood of the teachings by the Church, the activists had began to use similar methods to protest and bring awareness to those who protested the Vietnam War. In order to gain the publicity ACT UP wanted, they needed to get there name out there, and they were able to achieve this through their protesting.

One way the comparison to the Vietnam War enhances the argument of ACT UP is through the. The essence of ACT UP was to provide victims with information and a cure, while challenge those in power to find an effective cure at a reasonable price. Another the way comparing the HIV/AIDS Epidemic to the Vietnam War enhances the arguments of ACT UP is through the similar protest method of a “sit-in”. A “sit-in” is a form of “no violent civil disobedience”, where the protesters “ enter a business or public place and remain seated until forcibly evicted”, (3). The tactic of using this “sit-in” has been used in the most prolific protest throughout the history of the United States. The protest form began with the Civil Rights Movement and has been recently used in 2016 to protest gun safety. In the film, United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, one of the main and most effective protest they used to bring awareness.

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