Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
A Harvard Ph.D. graduate, Christian G. Appy now serves as a Professor of History at University of Massachusetts. His areas of focus include the Vietnam War and modern U.S. History. In addition to his professorship, he is the current editor of the series “Culture, Politics, and the Cold War,” which includes over thirty different titles. He has written five books, and one of these books, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, would also be incredibly useful in the study of the Vietnam War. Unlike other works included in this bibliography, this work focuses not on the culture surrounding the war or the perceptions of the soldiers, but it seeks to address who these soldiers actually were.
This book delves into the history of the Vietnam War and the forces who were partaking in the killing, all while highlighting the role of American imperialism in the intervention. However, it does so through a lens that is unique of those I have come across in Vietnam War study. Instead of looking at the war as simply America versus Vietnam, Appy makes an effort to show the reader that it was not all of America that was fighting – it was the poor, the working class, and the minorities. Taking notes from Marx, he looks at the war through social stratification and class conflict and argues that those who were fighting the war were doing so at the bequest of the higher classes. Appy emphasizes the fact that this mobilization of the lower classes was a relatively new phenomenon that did not occur in previous American wars. Therefore, by focusing on the social and economic demographics of the Vietnam War, Appy provides the field of Vietnam War study with information that is generally assumed and yet not articulated enough. These statistics, as well as the personalized accounts and interviews sprinkled throughout the book, illustrates that there was a very specific group of people fighting this war; it was not a collective, unified effort as history may want the American public to believe.
Burns, Ken and Lynn Novick, dir. The Vietnam War. PBS Television Series. Washington DC: Florentine Films and WETA, 2017.
The Vietnam War, an eighteen-hour documentary series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, debuted on PBS in the fall of 2017. The series aired in ten separate parts, each consisting of between 1.5-2 hours of screen time. Burns is a renowned historian and filmmaker who has created numerous documentaries regarding American history. His documentaries have earned him Emmy, Academy, and Grammy nominations and awards, and he has received several awards from universities across the nation. The central focus of this series lies with the numerous interviews from over eighty people who had somehow been involved in the Vietnam War – American military personnel, North Vietnamese personnel, journalists, news correspondents, anti-war activists, war medics, family members of those who fought in the war, or those in the secret services. The documentary serves to give a more complete and comprehensive view of the war than those that permeate popular media, and this view would be given by those who physically experienced it. Furthermore, the series uses songs, images, and video clips from that time period in an effort to fully immerse the audience into the context of the war. Given this, this series combines the fields of history, cultural criticism, interpersonal relations, popular culture, sociology, and memory studies to capture both what happened in the war and how the war affected each person individually and distinctly given their background, position, or personal sentiments.
The advantage to including this documentary in the study of the Vietnam War is obvious. This series has combined historical evidence with personal accounts to create a thorough rendering of the war and how it affected each individual separately. While the documentary does not serve as the ultimate guide for what happened in the Vietnam War, it provides a clear overarching summary, and it provides those studying this topic with a solid foundation upon which to expand their studies.
Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1977.
In his memoir Rumor of War, Vietnam veteran and novelist Philip Caputo seeks to show what war does to men and how it affects one’s perception of war, of humanity, and of himself. Caputo is a novelist and journalist who has written sixteen books, including Rumor of War. The book has been translated into 15 languages since its publication in 1977, and it has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. The year it was published, Caputo received the Hillman Prize for this book – an award given annually to journalists and writers who seek social justice and change. In 1980, it was adapted as a two-part mini-series on CBS.
Through his memoir, Caputo hopes to show the general public – those who were not personally affected by the Vietnam War – the truth and brutality of the war. He provides an authentic account of what happened in the by someone other than an authority figure or leader who did not experience the front lines and Caputo and his platoon did. This book reveals a very dark, evil, intimate side to war that non-veterans are not aware of and aids in the creation of a more comprehensive account of the Vietnam War with all the varying perspectives.
This book is not a standard history book that uses historical surveys as its basis; it combines the fields of history, interpersonal relations, sociology, and psychology to give the reader a complete glimpse into the mind of the Vietnam soldier. Given that it is a memoir, his primary source is simply his own memory, aided by his expertise as a renowned journalist and foreign correspondent.
Dean, Eric T. “The Myth of the Troubled and Scorned Vietnam Veteran.” Journal of American Studies 26(1): 1992. Pp. 59-74.
Unlike many other academic authors on this list, Eric T. Dean is a practicing attorney. However, he also received a Ph.D. in History from Yale University. His most famous book, Shook Over Hell, compares and contrasts the psychological issues faced by Vietnam veterans to those faced by veterans after the Civil War.
In this essay, Dean utilizes research to disprove the notorious image of the scorned Vietnam veteran upon his return from war. Contrary to popular belief and the images perpetrated in the mass media, the Vietnam veteran was not “unusually neglected, scorned, or disadvantaged” (60). He goes on to explain that the image of the rejected veteran that permeates American culture results from four factors: domestic opposition to the war, the demobilization of 1970-1972, the heroin epidemic in Vietnam from 1970-1972, and the parades for the Prisoners of War who returned home (in contrast to the average soldiers who did not receive such publicity). Dean goes on to mention the various ways the government reacted to this image of the veteran, through national holidays, memorials, and subsequent parades honoring the veterans.
This article provides insight into the image of the veteran that dominated the media from the 1970s until the present day. This fabricated image of the veteran illustrates how much control political and social agendas can have over the media and popular opinion. Furthermore, by providing social and political context of these claims, he proves how much control these outside agenda had in perpetrating this image, as well as how trustworthy the American society was of the media at that time. Most importantly, it dispels the most infamous depiction of the veteran and provides statistical evidence verifying its claim that the Vietnam veteran was very rarely treated any poorer than veterans of past wars.
Derber, Charles. The Wilding of America: Money, Mayhem, and the New American Dream. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, 2015.
Charles Derber is an American sociologist and social justice activist who currently works as a Professor at Boston College. He continues to teach courses on his focus areas in political sociology, which include capitalism, globalization, corporate power, American militarism, American hegemony, and the more recent climate crisis and justice movements. He received his Ph.D. from University of Chicago, and he has written numerous scholarly publications, as well as twenty books.
The Wilding of America looks at a sociological concept of individualism. There are numerous types of individualism, or “wilding” as he calls it, but the primary one that applies to the notion of the Vietnam War is that of political wilding. Political wilding is defined as “the abuse of political office to benefit oneself or one’s own social class, or the wielding of political authority to inflict morally unacceptable suffering on citizens at home or abroad” (8). Derber goes on to explain how America has proven itself to be an empire through its selfish actions; however, these actions have been justified under the veil of universal values like freedom or prosperity (119). Later in the book, Derber assesses American foreign policy decisions in times of crisis, such as occupations, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terrorism. It exposes the personal or political motivations behind these military engagements, and it shows how these motivations still affect the American people.
The notion of political wilding is essential to the study of the Vietnam War. This concept could help to explain to the actions of the presidents during the Vietnam War, and it gives the reader some understanding as to why they chose to continue sending troops to Southeast Asia. In this way, this book provides insight into the minds and decisions of the American presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. As articulated in the summary, this book is one of the few sociology books I have included in this bibliography. Sociology is a necessary field to include in Vietnam War research because it allows one to understand why such actions were committed instead of merely reciting the actions through a historical lens.
Felman, Shoshana and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York, NY: Routledge, 1992.
In their book Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, Shoshana Felman and Dr. Dori Laub examine why the process of narrating is necessary for those who have experienced trauma. Felman is a literary critic and French professor at Emory University, as well as a Professor Emeritus at Yale University. She has published eleven works, all focusing upon psychoanalysis, trauma and testimony, law, or literature. Laub is a renowned clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University psychoanalysis. In 1979, he co-founded the Holocaust Survivors Film Project, which later became the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale. The goal of this project was to record all Holocaust survivors and witnesses possible, and subsequently make their testimonies available to other researchers, the academic world, and the general public.
In the case of the Vietnam veteran, the theory these authors postulate regarding the witness’s importance in testimony sheds light upon the prevalence of war memoirs after the conclusion Vietnam War. After the war, veterans returned home to a society that scorned them. By inviting someone to listen to his experience, whether it be an actual person or simply a journal, Laub attests that the veteran may begin to deal with the pain of the war. Finally, the authors conclude by asserting that the common adage among Vietnam veterans, that one cannot understand what the soldiers endured unless they were present, is not unique to the Vietnam War. In fact, this axiom seems to appear in any case of trauma.
Hass, Kristin Ann. Carried to the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.
In her book Carried to the Wall, Kristin Ann Hass seeks to answer the questions of what kind of artifacts are left at the Vietnam Memorial Wall and why are they left there. First, she addresses the significance of monuments in the past and their evolution into war memorials. These first two chapters act like a standard historical book in the sense that Hass looks into the past constructions of memorials throughout the centuries and how ideas surrounding war have shifted. She then outlines that the main reasons for visitors leaving objects at the memorial: responding to the problem of remembering the Vietnam war, forging a bridge between the living and the dead, and honoring those veterans who are still alive. These chapters combine fields of public memory, communication, sociology, and psychology to understand the motivations for visitors at the wall to actively participate in the commemoration, even fifty years after the war has ended. Most importantly, Hass’s book contributes to the field of American Studies by linking the factual, distant history of the Vietnam War with the present. This blurs the line between what is past and what is present, and it highlights the controversies still surrounding the war today.
Hedges, Chris. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2002.
Chris Hedges is an American journalist who served as a foreign correspondent for fifteen years, as well as a Presbyterian minister. After publishing this work in 2002, it was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, it received a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and it was named a national bestseller. Throughout the work, Hedges asserts that, given his firsthand experience, he sees how war can be sexy and thrilling, and he sees cultures around the world being seduced by the lure of war. However, this book is not about belittling war or condemning war; it is about understanding war and why we, as a global people, seem to embrace it so often. As Hedges himself asserts in the introduction, “the only antidote to ward of self-destruction and the indiscriminate use of force is humility and, ultimately, compassion” (chapter 1).
Regarding Vietnam War study, this book is a unique asset. It analyzes why a nation tends to unite in nationalism in times of struggle, and how the collective identity fostered by war allows people (whether they be civilians, soldiers, or government officials) to become easily swept up in the war without necessarily understanding why. This work also looks at the prevalence of conflicts and could help to explain why American history seems so riddled with other instances of this type of “war fever.” Furthermore, his view that each group mythologizes their own nation by putting it on a pedestal of righteousness illuminates America’s collective identity and why we continue to engage in conflicts under the pretense of the global protector, as well as our tendency to unite in nationalism in times of struggle.
Susan Jeffords, “Debriding Vietnam: The Resurrection of the White American Male” Feminist Studies 14(3): 1988. Pp. 525-543
Susan Jeffords received her Ph.D. in English from University of Pennsylvania. Now, she is a professor of both Women’s Studies and English at the University of Washington, as well as the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the University of Washington Bothell. Her focus lies in American popular culture, specifically looking at the effects of feminism and the Vietnam War. Hers is the only article in this bibliography that looks at the image of the Vietnam veteran through the lens of women and gender studies. This article has been cited in numerous other articles regarding the image of the veteran and the media depictions of this veteran in the years following the war.
In this essay, Jeffords argues that the United States went through a period of “cultural debriding” after the Vietnam War “in which foreign matter was removed from the remaining healthy tissue of the body” (525). In order to do this, the soldier was first disassociated with the loss of war. This is when the war began to be blamed upon an “other” who prevented the United States and the US soldier from winning the war. In different contexts, this other could have been the government leaders, the military higher-ups, or the governmental institution as a whole. By removing this blame of war from the veteran, the image of the soldier was restored back to its original being as a hypermasculine, morally-upright, courageous individual who bravely fought our enemy for us. Overall, Jeffords contends that the Vietnam War provides the perfect situation for the soldier to claim victimhood.
This essay is beneficial to the study of the Vietnam War in numerous ways. Firstly, it looks at the soldier and the masculinity associated with the military from the view of someone on the outside looking in; the author is not a member of the patriarchy, and, thus, can critically evaluate it while remaining separate from it. Secondly, it looks at the consequences of the war in terms of how it affected masculinity of the soldiers. As she asserts, “manhood seemed itself to be on trial during the war” (530). In order to defend this manhood, the POW movement emerged. Jeffords further seeks to understand why there was this rise in the POW movement in the decades following the war, and how this movement can be seen as an attempt for the American soldier to reclaim his masculinity, by, ironically, claiming his victimhood.
Kwon, Heonik. Ghosts of War in Vietnam. Boston, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Written in 2008 by Heonik Kwon, Ghosts of War in Vietnam looks at the conflict between America and Vietnam through an anthropological lens. Kwon is now a professor at the University of Cambridge, and, in the past, he has taught at both the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh. This book looks at the collective memory of the Vietnamese people in regard to what they call “the American War.” Specifically, it examines the Vietnamese belief in ghosts from this time and their treatment of these ghosts. By using ghosts as the subject, Kwon tells us much about the Vietnamese population – such as the emphasis they place upon tradition and ritual – and provides us with an inside look into the value system of the Vietnamese people. Kwon riddles the book with his own experiences upon his trip to Vietnam: conversations with locals, folklore of the various regions, and rituals pertaining to ghosts that he witnessed and partook in.
When studying the Vietnam War, the field of anthropology is generally overlooked. This book provides another interdisciplinary avenue that allows for the study of the war to be analyzed by multiple different angles, mindsets, and methodologies. Additionally, this book asks questions that I have yet to see asked in other works on the Vietnam War. It asks how the Vietnamese remember the war and how this memory still pervades their daily lives. Furthermore, it examines the collective memory of the Vietnamese people and how their view of the war differs from that of the United States.
McDermott, Rose. Presidential Leadership, Illness and Decision Making: Risk Taking in International Politics. Boston, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Published in 2007, Rose McDermott’s Presidential Leadership, Illness, and Decision Making provides a unique perspective on how the psychology of American presidents has pervaded every aspect of their presidential tenure. McDermott is a David and Marianna Fisher University Professor of International Relations at Brown University, as well as a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For this book, she uses a plethora of sources, all from distinct yet intersecting disciplines, including history, psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry, and political science. McDermott also utilizes memoirs and newspapers to understand the context in which each decision of the presidents was originally made.
As evidenced by the title, the principle subject of this work are the American presidents. Specifically, McDermott highlights four presidents to examine more in depth: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. Because of the range of themes present throughout this book, it was not written for the intention of one sole disciplinary audience. Instead, it presents sophisticated concepts in a clear, less abstract manner, which allows the average reader the ability to pick up the book and follow its arguments.
In terms of Vietnam War study, this book provides a perspective to understand the war that I have yet to see in another work. It’s psychological background of the presidents, specifically Kennedy and Nixon, allow for a deeper understanding of their actions, policies, and decisions regarding the war. This work does not look at the bureaucratic machine or governmental structures to identify the political pressures faced by these presidents; instead, it focuses on the presidents themselves, how their minds worked, and what they felt. Furthermore, the apparent lack of bias present in the analyses of these presidents provides a feeling of authenticity to the work, allowing it to stand out from other works with this subject matter.
McMahon, Robert J. “Contested Memory: The Vietnam War and American Society, 1975-2001.” Diplomatic History, 26(2): 2002. 159-184.
A Professor Emeritus in History at Ohio State University, Robert J. McMahon is an historian of American foreign relations whose focus area lies with modern US History, diplomacy, and the Cold War. He received his Ph.D. from University of Connecticut, and previously, he served on the faculty at the University of Virginia and University College Dublin. He has published several books and articles, including works that look at the relationship between the United States and India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia.
McMahon focuses on collective memory in this piece. First, he defines what collective memory is and its role in creating national solidarity. Then, he looks at the various ways in which the traumatic memory of the Vietnam War has been transmitted, including monuments, literature, popular culture, rhetoric, and memoirs. He then goes on to explain that we, as a society, choose what aspects of the past we want to remember and whose legacy we want to continue into the future. Additionally, those memories that do not fit with the image society has decided upon will be silenced. When trying to decide how to remember the Vietnam War, American society struggled to come up with a consensus. In order to figure out which consensus was ultimately reached, McMahon decides to focus on rhetoric of government politicians after the war, debates surrounding the America’s role in the world, and popular culture that reflected the Vietnam experience.
This article popped up a few separate times in my research on the collective memory of the Vietnam War. There are two themes that make this article prevalent to Vietnam War study: that of collective memory and that of political rhetoric. The background on collective memory that this article explains why one must question what society remembers and perpetuates about the past. It brings doubt to the forefront, and it shows why we must not believe all that we hear or are told by the government and by the media. Furthermore, the is one of the only articles on this list that delves into how politicians and the government framed the Vietnam War rather than merely how it was received by the American population.
Muse, Eben J. “From Lt. Calley to John Rambo: Repatriating the Vietnam War.” Journal of American Studies 27(1): 1993. Pp. 88-92.
Eben Muse received his Ph.D in English from SUNY at Buffalo. Currently, he serves as the Head of the School of Creative Studies and Media at Bangor University in Wales. He has written one other article on the Vietnam War titled “The Land of Nam: The Vietnam War in American Film” that was published in the Journal of American Studies.
The premise of this article rests upon the contention that popular culture featuring the Vietnam War only shows a specific image of Vietnam, and the image is not necessarily factual. Muse begins by mentioning Lieutenant Calley and the My Lai Massacre. He asserts that after the media became aware of this atrocity and the brutality that occurred, “the violence of Vietnam seemed to be an expression of the masculine psyche running rampant” (88). He continues by illustrating two different versions of the Vietnam veteran in popular culture: that of the psycho vet and that of the romanticized wounded warrior. He concludes by analyzing the character of John Rambo from the Rambo franchise and how he fits (or doesn’t fit) into the molds previously held by Vietnam War veterans in the movie industry.
This article is the first that I found that examined and named the different types of Vietnam veterans illustrated in movies after the war. It connects these depictions with the idea of mythology and American society’s need for a mythical hero in order to “reclaim their proper status and both giants and equals in the geopolitical world” (92). I believe that the media’s portrayal of the Vietnam veteran shaped how the soldiers, as well as the war in general, were positioned in America’s collective memory for decades to come. Thus, this article provides an analysis of these various depictions of the veteran, a comparison between them, and one possible explanation for the emergence of such images.
O’Brien, Tim. If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. New York, NY: Dell Publishing, Co., 1969.
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home is a 1973 memoir by Tim O’Brien that focuses on his time in the army during the Vietnam War. This memoir has been re-published by eight different publication companies and has consistently remained among the top-selling Vietnam War literature since its first publication. While O’Brien did not receive any awards for this book, his memoir continues to receive praise from critics of all kind, as well as others claiming it as a “masterwork of its genre.” Following this memoir, O’Brien did win the National Book Award in Fiction in 1979 for one of his novels, and his other book regarding the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried, was awarded the Prix de Meilleur Livre Etranger and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize.
Throughout this memoir, O’Brien frequently debates the morality of the war, of his service in the marines, and of the actions of both himself and his fellow comrades. O’Brien arrived in Vietnam in 1969 and remained there until he finished his tour of duty in 1970. Unlike many other veteran accounts of the Vietnam War, the narration is straightforward and without frills, almost making it seem like an objective account. Given that it is a memoir, the primary source is his own experience and memory. Not only does this account provide personal, detailed, actual interactions during the Vietnam War, but it allows for a more comprehensive look at a soldier’s life in Vietnam and how the prevailing notion of one type of soldier will not be substantial to understand the complexities surrounding this war.
Phelan, James. Somebody Telling Somebody Else: A Rhetorical Poetics of Narrative. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2017.
James Phelan’s Somebody Telling Somebody Else was originally published in 2017. Phelan is a literary scholar and Distinguished University Professor of English at Ohio State University. His work seeks to address possible confusion over the narration in non-fiction. In this work, Phelan looks at the relationship between the author and the reader and analyzes the rhetoric of testimony and of narration in general. Furthermore, he creates an archetype called the “narrative communication model” that illustrates exactly who is speaking to whom in non-fiction works.
The subjects of this work are the authors of non-fiction works, as well as their intended audience. Due to his sophisticated writing style and the use of literary terms, this book is written for academics who are familiar with the genre of literary criticism or the various selected authors themselves. Consequently, Phelan uses the methods of literary criticism and analysis with specific books to frame and exemplify his arguments in a more concrete way. He also employs the fields of psychology, collective memory, communications, and trauma studies in his quest to provide the most comprehensive understanding of the author as a narrator.
For a genre that is reliant on memoirs, like that of the Vietnam War, this book provides important insight into the minds of the narrator and why he/she chooses the mode of communication that he/she does. In the case of the war memoirs, the reader assumes that he is the real reader and that the real author is the person whose name is on the front of the book. However, this is not always the case. On this topic, Phelan’s main argument is that the narrator usually takes the role of the implied author. This means that the narrator is able to look back at the experience he is recalling while giving additional commentary he has available to him now that he is physically removed from the situation. This notion can, and should, directly apply to Vietnam War memoirs. From his current standpoint – the position from which he is writing the book – the veteran narrator is able to articulate what happened and see connections between events that he may not have recognized while he was going through the event himself. This position of the implied author contributes greatly to the writing of war memoirs and their ability to communicate the lessons they have learned in the time since the trauma.
Prados, John. Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee Publishers, 2006.
John Prados’ book Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA was published in 2009 by Ivan Dee Publishers. Prados is an author and national security analyst in Washington, D.C. He has written numerous articles and published approximately thirty books on the topics of intelligence, international affairs, political science, military history, and diplomatic studies. Safe for Democracy examines the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and their role in American foreign affairs throughout the twenty-first century. It focuses on the specifics of the CIA’s involvement, including how and why they were asked to intervene; however, it also underscores the mentality of fear and anxiety that permeated the American bureaucracy during the Cold War. As with the majority of Prados’ work, this book serves as a standard historical work, but it includes aspects of sociology in order to understand the mindset of these historical actions.
Although the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency in regard to Vietnam are minimal, this book provides a distinct perspective on a few moments that demand more study in the area of Vietnam War research. Most importantly is Prados’ chapter on the CIA’s clandestine coup that led to the overthrow of South Vietnam’s leader Ngo Dinh Diem during the Vietnam War. This chapter examines the actors who advocated the coup, as well as those who opposed it, the thought process behind the coup, and how the coup was eventually carried out. Additional insights that may be helpful for this area of study are those that focus on the cold war mentality of American society and how this mindset ultimately led to the United States involvement in Vietnam. Furthermore, the story of this ousting provides insight into relations between bureaucratic agencies and the importance of personal relations in political affairs at this time. This book uncovers information that is not widely known to the American public, and it implies to the reader to ponder the goals of war from all governmental agencies before making any definitive conclusions.
Ryan, Maureen. The Other Side of Grief: The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008.
The Other Side of Grief: The Homefront and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War was written in 2008 by Maureen Ryan. The purpose of this book is to show varying perceptions surrounding the war and the soldiers and to explore ways in which our dominant narrative of the Vietnam War may be lacking. Her employment of literary analyses also demonstrates how each kind of narrative follows a similar pattern of plot and character development, and how these literary methods are still used in current war literature and film. Ryan wants to prove how deeply enmeshed the Vietnam War is in popular culture today, specifically in literature, and she argues that the war’s legacy will not disappear anytime soon. As a community, this book is written around anyone who has been personally touched and lived through some aspect of the Vietnam War. She further articulates that, although one may not have been born during the war, this does not mean that one has not been affected by the war.
This book serves a crucial role in the study of the Vietnam War. It highlights and examines various different narratives of the Vietnam War – not just the prevailing narratives that dominate literature, movies, and music. Through this, she employs a combination of film studies, literary criticism and analysis, and popular culture analyses to show the varying narratives and how these narratives have left a legacy that still permeates popular culture today. Through her comprehensive cultural analyses, Ryan looks at how the literature about the Vietnam War focuses on the identity formation and the changing relationships of the narrator. This is fascinating due to the fact that, no matter what group of narrators one looks at, all of the groups somehow focus on this theme of personal development. Furthermore, Ryan does something in this book that I have never seen before: she provides a widespread list of both literature and movies that all have to do with personal narratives and experiences of the Vietnam War. This book is incredibly useful as an almanac of sources and analyses of the majority of popular literature that this field of the Vietnam War and its legacies has to offer.
Schwenkel, Christina. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009.
Christina Schwenkel is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. She received her Ph.D. from University of California Irvine, and her research focuses on historical memory, transnationalism, and visual culture in Vietnam. This book is indicative of her first project in which she conducted an extensive ethnographic study in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on the collective memory of the Vietnam War in the Vietnamese people. Additionally, she has published at least twenty-one articles all based upon Vietnam in some way – from religion to urban construction to journalism.
Schwenkel begins the book by introducing Trouillot’s vision of history as a process, as well as Maurice Halbwach’s definition of collective memory, to provide the reader with background. She divides the remainder of the book into three sections: reconciliatory projects, memorial landscapes, and incommensurable pasts. These specific sections were chosen because of the “larger thematic concerns with, images, and tensions that emerged during President Clinton’s historic visit to Vietnam in 2000” (18). The primary goal of these sections is to analyze how memory of the Vietnam War is remembered and portrayed in Vietnam, especially through monuments, art, tourism, museums, and other means of public commemoration. Furthermore, Schwenkel examines the different transitional memories of war held by America and Vietnam, and how the memory of the war is passed down today amongst the Vietnamese people.
This is the second anthropology work in this study, and it also happens to be an ethnography of Vietnam decades after the Vietnam War. However, whereas the previous ethnography looked at how collective memory is transmitted through ghost stories, this work shows how the same memory is transmitted through monuments, commemoration, art, and architecture. It looks at the physical landscape of the Vietnamese people rather than their spiritual landscape. However, the segment that most benefits my research would be part three. This section focuses on the relationship between Vietnam and the United States. Not only does Schwenkel investigate the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, but she goes on to explore the legacy of violence and human rights violations of the United States against the Vietnamese people.
Studlar, Gaylyn and David Desser. “Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: Rambo’s Rewriting of the Vietnam War.” Film Quarterly 42(1): 1998. Pp. 9-16.
Gaylyn Studlar is the Program Director and David May Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. Before this, she received her Ph.D. from University of Southern California in cinema studies and served as a faculty member at both Emory University and University of Michigan. She has written numerous academic publications, but her focus remains on feminist film theory, genre studies, and Hollywood cinema. David Desser is a current lecturer at Chapman University who has previously served on the faculty of University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles, University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois, and University of Michigan. Like Studlar, he, too, received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in cinema studies. However, unlike Studlar, his focuses are primarily on Asian cinema and Jewish cinema. Additionally, he was the former editor of Cinema Journal.
This article begins by presenting the psychology of Freud and his psychoanalysis on how humans deal with guilt. They argue that, in order to deal with both the defeat in Vietnam and the presence of US soldiers in Vietnam, the nation would have had to admit their own guilt. According to these authors, neither American society nor the US government was willing to do this. Thus, in order to displace this guilt, the movie industry decided to create new images of the Vietnam veterans: ones that refocus the attention onto the soldiers rather than the morality of the war itself. Like the Muse article, this, too, compares the two waves of Vietnam veteran depictions, except they classify such as either a “right-wing revisionist movies” or a more “realistic” strain of movies. In this comparison, Studlar and Desser analyze the character of John Rambo in order to segway into the Prisoners of War movement. This movement, as well as the 1980s revisionist movies, proposed that the Vietnam veterans were simply victims of the war: victims of wartime, of government machines, and of the military establishment (13).
This is the second article in this bibliography dedicated to the movie industry’s portrayal of the Vietnam soldier; however, this article brings in additional disciplines in order to understand why these inaccurate images of the veteran dominated the media. It introduces psychology, specifically that of Freud, to assess the reason for these depictions. By bridging the gap between popular culture studies, history, film studies, and psychology, Studlar and Desser create an interdisciplinary article that allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the images of the Vietnam veteran. Additionally, this article benefits Vietnam War studies because it delves deeper into the psychological reasons why the Rambo franchise was so successful and why American society seemed to embrace this specific image. It also connects the film industry’s portrayals with the shifting political tides and makes the reader think about the deeper connection between politics, the popular media, and what the government wants its people to see.
Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 1989.
Neil Sheehan is a renowned American journalist and Harvard graduate. He spent three years acting as a war correspondent in Vietnam for both United Press International and the New York Times. Published in 1989, A Bright Shining Lie won the National Books Award and Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. It’s a combination of history, biography, and memoir. The first section of the book focuses on John Paul Vann, US Lieutenant Colonel who was put in charge of the MACV headquarters in Saigon. The second part focuses on Sheehan himself and his time spent as journalist covering the war. These two sections highlight the discrepancies of the war and allows the reader to see the obvious disconnect between the soldiers fighting on the front lines and those who were commissioning the war and relaying information to the presses. The third section looks at the real reasons why America had wanted to get involved in Vietnam: where colonialism and empire building is hidden behind the guise of anti-communism and benevolence.
This book is unique in that it combines these three separate disciplines so explicitly. Unlike other memoirs on this bibliography, this is the only one that is written by a journalist and war correspondent rather than a soldier. This gives the author almost an outsider’s position rather than being biased by the close emotional ties with the conflict, as the soldiers were. Furthermore, the way in which this book connects personal history to historical lessons in both the past and the future is unlike any other work I’ve seen. It illustrates for the reader that one of the reasons American society cannot come to a consensus on the war today is that they could not come up with one when the war was actually going on. The confusion and misinformation relayed to the American people during the war continued for decades after the last American soldiers had left Vietnam.