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Reviews123 of separate schools coupled with African American control over their own children's education , but few believed that whites would ever approve such an arrangement. At one level, then, Pratt may have missed the successes that inadvertently resulted from the failed policy of school desegregation. In Richmond and in Memphis, white flight meant that these southern cities achieved African American control of the schools and, in many ways, of the cities themselves. Among other things, this also meant that employment for African Americans could be better assured. The failure of a tactic does not mean that a war is lost. The promise of Brown v. Board ofEducation was betrayed, but African Americans were not, and are not, solely dependent on public policy to remedy racism. Vietnam and the Southern Imagination. By Owen W. Gilman Jr. University Press of Mississippi , 1992. xii, 204 pp. Cloth, $35.00. Reviewed by Melton A. McLaurin, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He is coeditor of Celia: A Slave and You Wrote My Life: Lyrical Themes in Country Music. The southern imagination, Owen Gilman contends, is alive and well and busily contemplating the tragic experience of Vietnam. Gilman limits his definition of imagination to creative writers, essentially novelists, although he examines several short stories and devotes a chapter to "the southern poet's Vietnam." His thesis is straightforward: Southerners have produced a literature on Vietnam that "has a unique character" because their sense of history provides them with "knowledge carried to the heart." Having established that claim (for which he relies heavily on the work of Allen Tate), Gilman proceeds in subsequent chapters to show how the southern past has shaped the way contemporary southern authors have dealt with Vietnam. Gilman has little trouble convincing the reader of the South's, or at least the southern white male's, devotion to the myth of the warrior. This he accomplishes in his second chapter, primarily through the work ofJames Webb, especially Fields ofFire. A code of personal honor, he contends, leads to the southerner's willingness to accept physical combat as a means of settling differences, both within and among cultures. Gilman is also effective in demonstrating how southern novelists Bobbie Ann Mason and Clyde Edgerton use a sense of the past to interpret the Vietnam experience. While Gilman understands the southern white male's glorification of the warrior , he exhibits little understanding of why this cultural trait developed, relying almost exclusively on Bertram Wyatt-Brown's concept of southern honor as an explanation. The role of slavery and segregation in creating the need for and maintaining the myth of the warrior is never explored. Yet, as John Hope Franklin and other historians have noted, race relations were crucial to the development of a warrior mentality, with its emphasis on physical violence. The frequency with which Nathan Bedford Forrest appears as a symbol of the warrior tradition in the novels critiqued should have alerted Gilman to this linkage. Indeed, one less clearly sympathetic with the tradition (although Gilman notes its flaws) might have argued that white southerners went to Vietnam for the same reasons their forefathers gravitated to the military, to keep peoples of a different color in line. 124Southern Cultures This failure to link the warrior tradition to race relations also limits Gilman's interpretation of Vietnam's impact on black-white relations in the South, a topic to which he devotes a chapter. Gilman notes that southern writers come to different conclusions about the impact of Vietnam on race relations but fails to explain why. Harry Crews, the oldest of the four writers examined in this chapter, is also the most pessimistic, which may reflect his personality or philosophical bent but also may reflect a "knowledge carried to the heart," lacking in younger writers, about the strength of racial prejudice in the segregated South. Gilman is at his best when he explores the way fictional characters embody cultural characteristics of the white, male South. His discussion of Luke Wingo in Pat Conroy's The Prince ofTides, for example, deftly intertwines several major cultural themes: a proclivity for violence, the value of honor, respect for physical courage, and a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 123-124
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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