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The Warrior Image

Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era

Andrew J. Huebner

Publication Year: 2008

Images of war saturated American culture between the 1940s and the 1970s, as U.S. troops marched off to battle in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Exploring representations of servicemen in the popular press, government propaganda, museum exhibits, literature, film, and television, Andrew Huebner traces the evolution of a storied American icon--the combat soldier. Huebner challenges the pervasive assumption that Vietnam brought drastic changes in portrayals of the American warrior, with the jaded serviceman of the 1960s and 1970s shown in stark contrast to the patriotic citizen-soldier of World War II. In fact, Huebner shows, cracks began to appear in sentimental images of the military late in World War II and were particularly apparent during the Korean conflict. Journalists, filmmakers, novelists, and poets increasingly portrayed the steep costs of combat, depicting soldiers who were harmed rather than hardened by war, isolated from rather than supported by their military leadership and American society. Across all three wars, Huebner argues, the warrior image conveyed a growing cynicism about armed conflict, the federal government, and Cold War militarization. Huebner examines renderings of soldiers in American culture from the 1940s through the early 1980s. While previous historians have argued that the late 1960s saw a sharp decline in sentimental depictions of the military, Huebner contends that the cynical imagery of the Vietnam era had its roots in late WWII and in media coverage and Hollywood treatments of the Korean War. He demonstrates how the image of the soldier as a loyal, tough masculine hero fulfilling his duty as a citizen that was prominent in the 1940s started to give way to images in the 1950s of a stoic, suffering soldier enacting great sacrifice. Images of the 1960s and 1970s portrayed soldiers as victims not only of the horrors of war, but of military superiors, government neglect, an ungrateful public, tortured memories of combat, and soldiers' own officially encouraged brutality. Huebner argues that portraits of servicemen from the 1940s through the 1970s conveyed considerable and growing cynicism about armed conflict, the federal government, and Cold War militarization. Exploring representations of servicemen in the popular press, government propaganda, museum exhibits, literature, film, and television, Huebner traces the evolution of that storied American icon, the combat soldier. He challenges the pervasive assumption that Vietnam brought drastic changes in portrayals of the American warrior. In fact, Huebner shows, cracks began to appear in sentimental images of the military late in World War II and were particularly apparent during the Korean conflict. Across all three wars, Huebner argues, the warrior image conveyed a growing cynicism about armed conflict, the federal government, and Cold War militarization. Images of war saturated American culture between the 1940s and the 1970s, as U.S. troops marched off to battle in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Exploring representations of servicemen in the popular press, government propaganda, museum exhibits, literature, film, and television, Andrew Huebner traces the evolution of a storied American icon--the combat soldier. Huebner challenges the pervasive assumption that Vietnam brought drastic changes in portrayals of the American warrior, with the jaded serviceman of the 1960s and 1970s shown in stark contrast to the patriotic citizen-soldier of World War II. In fact, Huebner shows, cracks began to appear in sentimental images of the military late in World War II and were particularly apparent during the Korean conflict. Journalists, filmmakers, novelists, and poets increasingly portrayed the steep costs of combat, depicting soldiers who were harmed rather than hardened by war, isolated from rather than supported by their military leadership and American society. Across all three wars, Huebner argues, the warrior image conveyed a growing cynicism about armed conflict, the federal government, and Cold War militarization.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. 8-9

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

In the course of writing The Warrior Image I benefited from the accessibility, kindness, and support of several mentors. First and foremost, I was fortunate to have James Patterson as my thesis adviser at Brown University. From the beginning, Jim was the model of a superior teacher, scholar, and friend. His careful editing, probing questions, and moral support have made this book immeasurably better, and I thank him ...

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Introduction: Beyond Telling or Imagining

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pp. 1-12

Reflecting on more than two decades of experience covering conflict, the eminent war correspondent Martha Gellhorn wrote in 1959, “War is a malignant disease, an idiocy, a prison, and the pain it causes is beyond telling or imagining; but war was our condition and our history, the place we had to live in.”1 Gellhorn’s words suggest that capturing ...

PART I: THE WORLD WAR II ERA

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1 Here Is Your War, 1941–1945

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pp. 15-49

Walking through New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in the summer of 1942, visitors would be sure to see the exhibit Road to Victory, a photographic account of the American people’s reluctant entrance into the Second World War. Beginning with serene pictures of the American West and small-town life, the sequence took a dramatic turn with a large photograph of the attack on Pearl Harbor just months earlier. Nearby was a photo ...

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2 Little Guys with Golden Eagle Badges, 1945–1950

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pp. 50-69

By the fall of 1945, the euphoria of America’s triumph in World War II was receding behind a host of acute national crises. Simmering labor disputes, rising racial tensions, a housing shortage, and the enormous task of demobilization, all repressed by the war, finally boiled over. In late 1945 a heated battle raged in Washington over who among the military brass had been responsible for negligence leading ...

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3 The Idea of Me, 1945–1950

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pp. 70-93

Three years after the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibit Road to Victory had toured the country in 1942, a new war-related photographic display rolled into towns across the United States. Starting at MoMA in New York City in early 1945, two versions of the exhibit Power in the Pacific traveled the country through the late spring of 1946, hitting towns such ...

PART II: THE LONG 1950S

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4 Kilroy Is Back, 1950–1953

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pp. 97-131

In the early, dark days of the Korean War, an anonymous American gi announced the return of a cultural hero: himself. The fictitious soldier “Kilroy,” whose name had been scrawled on walls across every theater of World War II, reappeared in the deserted, war-ravaged town of Yechon, South Korea. If “Kilroy was here” during the last war, now, this weary American soldier scribbled, “Kilroy is back.”1 ...

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5 The True Story of the Foot Soldier, 1951–1966

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pp. 132-167

To children of the 1950s, it seemed that every uncle or neighbor was a veteran of the armed forces. Almost all able-bodied young men had entered the service during World War II, and from the Korean War through the late 1950s roughly 70 percent of all draft-age males served in the military.1 By 1954 there were more living veterans in the United States, some 20 million, than ever before in American history. 2 ...

PART III: THE VIETNAM ERA

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6 The Perplexing War, 1964–1968

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pp. 171-206

It was not the sort of beach landing so many young men endured in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. The marines who came ashore in a drizzling rain at Danang, South Vietnam, on March 8, 1965, met neither bullets, barbed wire, nor concrete but flowers and pretty girls. And they were not the first American ...

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7 I Gave Them a Good Boy, 1969–1973

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pp. 207-240

Just three years after American ground troops had come ashore at Danang, Lyndon Johnson made the stunning announcement that he would not run for reelection in 1968. In those thirty-six intervening months, between March 1965 and March 1968, Vietnam ruined the president. Funds for the social programs of his Great Society ...

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8 A Dark Side to Man’s Soul, 1967–1978

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pp. 241-271

When the television network FX premiered the short-lived Iraq War drama Over There in 2005, cultural critics noted that it was an unprecedented attempt to depict an ongoing American conflict on TV.1 A similar reluctance to tackle current wars had prevailed in Hollywood since the 1960s. Yet it was not always so. ...

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Conclusion: The Warrior Image

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pp. 273-282

Between 1982 and 2004, public and private interest groups funded and built three major memorials to the soldiers of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. With a measure of incongruity they went up in reverse chronological order. Yet if advocates erect memorials partly to honor ...

Notes

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pp. 283-331

Bibliography

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pp. 333-353

Text Credits

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pp. 355-356

Index

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pp. 357-371


E-ISBN-13: 9781469602486
E-ISBN-10: 1469602482
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807831441
Print-ISBN-10: 0807831441

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 18 illus.
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History, Military -- 20th century.
  • United States -- History, Military -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • Soldiers in art.
  • Soldiers in literature.
  • Soldiers in motion pictures.
  • United States -- Civilization -- 1945-.
  • United States -- Civilization -- 1945- -- Pictorial works.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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