Okay, so war isn't happening on the fields of North Dakota, but the Vietnam War happens during the span of Love Medicine and that conflict definitely has a major impact on Henry Lamartine Junior, who suffers some gnarly PTSD after coming home (and eventually commits suicide—well, we think that's what happens, anyway).
But really, references to soldiers and joining the service extend even beyond Henry Junior or even the Vietnam conflict as a whole. Sometimes it seems like joining up seems like an appealing option, given the troubles these characters have on the home front.
Questions About War
Why is Erdrich so interested in soldiers? What do you think they represent, and why is that important in her book (which is mostly about a group of families)?
What do you make of the passing references to Albertine's father, who was a soldier?
What about Henry Junior? We don't learn a ton about him, other than some patchy details about his war experience and its aftermath—what role does he play in the lives of other characters/the novel as a whole?
Chew on This
The figure of the soldier kind of brings up images of service and violence, and Erdrich definitely wants you thinking about both when you consider the relationship between Native Americans and those who surround and have power over them. After all, these soldiers are fighting for a country that, in the past, massacred their people.
Even though war isn't central to the actual plot, Erdrich makes consistent references to soldiers/violence to emphasize the ongoing tension between Native Americans and non-Native Americans.