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The Vietnam War in American Memory

Veterans, Memorials, and the Politics of Healing

Patrick Hagopian

Publication Year: 2009

A study of American attempts to come to terms with the legacy of the Vietnam War, this book highlights the central role played by Vietnam veterans in shaping public memory of the war. Tracing the evolution of the image of the Vietnam veteran from alienated dissenter to traumatized victim to noble warrior, Patrick Hagopian describes how efforts to commemorate the war increasingly downplayed the political divisions it spawned in favor of a more unifying emphasis on honoring veterans and promoting national “healing.”

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xv

This research was completed with the support of grants and fellowships from the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Society; the Arts and Humanities Research Board (UK); Beyond the Wall (a nonprofit organization); the British Academy; the College of William and Mary’s Commonwealth Center for the Study of American Culture; the University of Glamorgan; Lancaster University; ...

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Introduction: A "Noble Cause"

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pp. 1-21

On the afternoon of May 27, 1968, Victor Westphall was operating a mechanical digger, a backhoe, on Val Verde, his ranch in northern New Mexico. A pair of Marine Corps captains in dress uniforms were searching for the ranch, bearing bad news. They drove through...

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Chapter 1: "Never Again": The Vietnam Syndrome in American Foreign Policy

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pp. 23-48

The conflict that surrounded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, drew its energy from Americans’ conflicting views of U.S. actions in Vietnam. Wartime disagreements about foreign policy persisted in the postwar period as Americans debated the proper “lessons” of the war. The arguments about the war were heated and visceral and led Americans to question one another’s morality ...

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Chapter 2: "Something Rather Dark and Bloody": Atrocities, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the Pathologization of Vietnam Veterans

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pp. 49-78

The cultural construction of Vietnam veterans played a central role in shaping the remembrance of the war. The veterans were living embodiments of the war and their difficult readjustment to civilian society became a metaphor for the nation’s problems in integrating the Vietnam experience into the pattern of national life. In the early 1970s, antiwar veterans, the most publicly visible and organized body of ...

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Chapter 3: The Discourse of Healing and the "Black Gash of Shame": The Design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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pp. 79-110

On July 1, 1980, within a few months of the American Psychiatric Association’s validation of the condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), President Jimmy Carter signed the congressional resolution authorizing the creation of a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital.1 The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), the memorial’s sponsors, espoused a depoliticized version of the discourse ...

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Chapter 4: A "Dangerous Political Issue" The War about Memory in 1982

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pp. 111-139

In December 1981, the Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, a one-time supporter of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) who had paid the costs of the design competition, forcefully took up Carhart’s denunciation of Lin’s wall and demanded that the memorial make an affirmative statement of America’s honor. Perot was a fiercely conservative businessman who had enjoyed a special relationship with the ...

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Chapter 5: "Home to America's Heart" The National Salute to Vietnam Veterans

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pp. 140-165

Jack Wheeler said that the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would “mark the end of a phase during which it was more comfortable for Americans to pretend we have no Vietnam veterans among us.” More than mere acceptance, he said, the dedication would show that “America affirms the integrity of her fighting forces without apology or stain.” The National Salute to Vietnam Veterans, he ...

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Chapter 6: "In Unity and with Resolve" The Statue, the Flag, and Political Speech at the Memorial

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pp. 166-201

The dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial did not bring an end to the conflicts between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) and their right-wing antagonists. During the whole of 1983, the memorial fund’s detractors kept up a campaign of obstruction and harassment, first in Congress and through the of-fice of the secretary of the interior, then through a McCarthyite lawyer, and finally ...

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Chapter 7: "No Shame or Stigma" The Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program

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pp. 202-230

Ronald Reagan’s wish to neutralize the “problem” of the Vietnam veteran as outsider is evident in his speeches praising Vietnam veterans’ faithfulness, applauding other Americans for welcoming them home, and observing that America had consequently transcended “the tragedies of the past” and come together “in unity and with resolve.” The Reagan administration’s wish to do away with negative ...

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Chapter 8: "A Confrontation between Faiths" The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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pp. 231-267

In the decade between the completion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in 1982 and its tenth anniversary, scores of Vietnam veterans memorials were constructed around the country.1 Studying them can provide useful confirmation and amplification of the debates surrounding the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital, distinguishing idiosyncratic, accidental ...

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Chapter 9: "Today, We Are One People": The Family Drama of Race and Gender in Commemorative Statuary of the Vietnam War

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pp. 268-308

Healing, as advanced by the VVMF and other memorial planners in the 1980s, was an all-embracing response to a multifaceted phenomenon: the Vietnam “wound,” “trauma,” and “syndrome” that encompassed individual veterans’ psychological experiences and national divisions and uncertainty. These twin concepts of wounds and healing materialized in a striking number of sculptural memorials to the Vietnam ...

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Chapter 10: "Our Offspring": Children in Vietnam Veterans Memorials

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pp. 309-347

An unexpected idea kept coming into the imaginations of Americans considering how to commemorate the Vietnam War: scenes involving American troops helping or saving Vietnamese children. The people who proposed some of these monuments said that they intended them to counter the well-known images of U.S.–perpetrated atrocities, which motivated the “baby killer” accusation. Far from superseding those ...

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Chapter 11: "The Wall Is for All of Us": Patterns of Public Response to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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pp. 348-397

Memorials are not simply the products of their designers’ imaginations and their planners’ motives. Once a memorial is constructed it ceases to be the “property” of those who created it. As visitors enrich the site with their own thoughts and feelings, a memorial becomes a public possession. In this chapter, we obtain some measure of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s reception in American society by looking at public ...

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Conclusion: A "Statute of Limitations": What "Healing" from the War Might Mean

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pp. 399-432

Since the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, the most common forms of commemoration of the Vietnam War in the United States have been inscribed walls of names and bronze statues. After 1982, the rhetoric and ideology of commemoration around the country have also been consistent with the precedent of the national memorial: memorials elsewhere...


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p. 433


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pp. 435-529


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pp. 531-553

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761045
E-ISBN-10: 161376104X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496934
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496939

Page Count: 560
Illustrations: 100 illus.
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War
Series Editor Byline: Christian Appy See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794701602
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Vietnam War in American Memory

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Public opinion -- United States.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Veterans -- United States.
  • Memory -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- United States -- Psychological aspects.
  • Veterans -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • War memorials -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Mental healing -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Mental healing -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Veterans -- Political activity -- United States.
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