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The Scar That Binds

American Culture and the Vietnam War

Keith Beattie

Publication Year: 1998

At the height of the Vietnam War, American society was so severely fragmented that it seemed that Americans may never again share common concerns. The media and other commentators represented the impact of the war through a variety of rhetorical devices, most notably the emotionally charged metaphor of "the wound that will not heal." References in various contexts to veterans' attempts to find a "voice," and to bring the war "home" were also common. Gradually, an assured and resilient American self-image and powerful impressions of cultural collectivity transformed the Vietnam war into a device for maintaining national unity. Today, the war is portrayed as a healed wound, the once "silenced" veteran has found a voice, and the American home has accommodated the effects of Vietnam. The scar has healed, binding Americans into a union that denies the divisions, diversities, and differences exposed by the war. In this way, America is now "over" Vietnam.

In The Scar That Binds, Keith Beattie examines the central metaphors of the Vietnam war and their manifestations in American culture and life. Blending history and cultural criticism in a lucid style, this provocative book discusses an ideology of unity that has emerged through widespread rhetorical and cultural references to the war. A critique of this ideology reveals three dominant themes structured in a range of texts: the "wound," "the voice" of the Vietnam veteran, and "home." The analysis of each theme draws on a range of sources, including film, memoir, poetry, written and oral history, journalism, and political speeches. In contrast to studies concerned with representations of the war as a combat experience, The Scar That Binds opens and examines an unexplored critical space through a focus on the effects of the Vietnam War on American culture. The result is a highly original and compelling interpretation of the development of an ideology of unity in our culture.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-9

It had come to this. Two presidents from two different political parties had spoken, as if in unison, on what was once a fiercely contentious topic. During his presidential inaugural address, George Bush pronounced that "the final lesson of Vietnam is that no great nation can long...

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1. The Healed Wound

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pp. 11-57

It is inescapable: an object of war is to wound. War is blood, war is body fragments, war is the dismemberment of the body—though not the body's absence. Mortally wounded bodies are present on the battlefield in a display that attests to the dreadful power of war. ...

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2. The Vietnam Veteran as Ventriloquist

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pp. 58-105

Metaphors and similes related to the act of speaking and to the absence of speech surround the Vietnam veteran. Young men and women were "called" to Vietnam (whether they answered that call was, of course, another matter).1 Among U.S. troops in Vietnam the collective response...

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3. Bringing the War "Home"

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pp. 106-150

"The home front." "The living room war." "The war at home." Evocations of home resonate in descriptions of the impact upon American culture of the Vietnam War. In a variety of assessments the connotations of home as the site of the family, community, or the nation...

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pp. 151-156

The Scar That Binds is a study of contending representations of America at the site commonly referred to as "Vietnam." On the one hand the presence of the impact of the war in Vietnam produced the notion of cultural division; on the other hand it resulted in the assertion...


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pp. 157-194


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pp. 195-220


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pp. 221-229

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About the Author

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p. 230

Keith Beattie is the editor of the Australasian Journal of American Studies, and a member of the editorial collective of Sites: A Journal of South Pacific Cultural Studies. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814709108
E-ISBN-10: 0814709109
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814713266
Print-ISBN-10: 0814713262

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 50724102
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Scar That Binds

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Influence.
  • United States -- Civilization -- 1945-.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- United States.
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