Why is Born on the Fourth of July a strong medical-psychological study of post-traumatic identity destroyed and rebuilt? Examine how Ron Kovic slowly and painfully understands his disability, discovers his anger, deals with his guilt, and gropes his way toward wholeness through a prominent role within the growing war-protest movement.
One reason why Born on the Fourth of July is a strong medical and psychological study of post- traumatic identity destroyed and rebuilt is because it shows how individuals can pivot from self- blame to developing internal strength.
Stone's film is powerful in its depiction of how Ron Kovic embraces the institutions around him without question. As a young man, Kovic does not hesitate in accepting the structural tenets of Catholicism and the military. He believes that both institutions are right in affirming the need to fight in the Vietnam War on the grounds of stopping Communism. Kovic perceives the Catholic institution condemning Communism as it is "godless" and believes the American military's suggestion that national interests are threatened if Communism emerges in the region. Kovic defines his own identity in convergence with these institutional notions of right and wrong. There is a moment, the night before Ron is scheduled to head out, where he is worried and nervous about what he is to undertake. However, he does not question the institutions and his role in them.
Even when Kovic is in Vietnam and experiences the chaos around him that is the war, he does not question the institution. He does not question his Commanding Officer's dismissive behavior when he says that he killed a fellow soldier and while he recuperates from his injury, Ron never suggests the mistake in the Vietnam War.
When Ron comes back home, his questioning of institutional based identity begins. This is where his previous identity is destroyed. He rejects the belief that the war was just, suggesting that a good and just war would not have made him so physically incapacitated. He also questions the Catholic structure, suggesting that what happened to him is not fair. Kovic sees his disability as a confirmation of how both structures have let him down and essentially lied to him. In both of these questioning modes, Kovic's old identity is "destroyed." It is for this reason that he is asked to leave home, another example of how his identity is reconfigured.
In leaving home and going to Mexico, Ron is forced to establish a new identity. He must come to terms with what he did in Vietnam and what was done to him. His questioning of identity emerges from post- traumatic realities. As a result, Ron is able to develop a new identity. He emerges as one who speaks out against the war. Kovic's passionate intensity in the antiwar movement fuels his new identity, one that brings him to the floor of Republican National Convention in 1972.
Kovic believes that he can operate as a type of "living reminder" of the immorality and unfairness of the Vietnam War. His new identity is one that questions authority, forcing those in the position of power to publicly acknowledge what has been done in the name of war and national security. In doing so, he sees his condition not as a curse, but as a source for others to join him in seeking to make government more responsive to the needs of veterans.