Cover image for Forever Vietnam : how a divisive war changed American public memory
Forever Vietnam : how a divisive war changed American public memory
Kieran, David, 1978- , author.
Publication Information:
Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
xii, 305 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Introduction: "I know what it's like" -- "How far is Andersonville from Vietnam?": Vietnam revisionism and Andersonville National Historic Site -- "We veterans of mass murder and stupidity": older veterans' PTSD and the narration of combat in post-Vietnam memoirs of the Second World War -- "We see a lot of parallels between the men at the Alamo and ourselves": recovering from Vietnam at the Alamo -- "We should have said no": Vietnam's legacy, remembrance of Somalia, and debates over humanitarian intervention in the 1990s -- "It's almost like the Vietnam wall": the legacy of Vietnam and remembrance of Flight 93 -- "The lessons of history": Vietnam's legacy during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- Afterword: "the task of telling your story continues".
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DS559.8.S6 K54 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Four decades after its end, the American war in Vietnam still haunts the nation's collective memory. Its lessons, real and imagined, continue to shape government policies and military strategies, while the divisions it spawned infect domestic politics and fuel the so-called culture wars. In Forever Vietnam, David Kieran shows how the contested memory of the Vietnam War has affected the commemoration of other events, and how those acts of remembrance have influenced postwar debates over the conduct and consequences of American foreign policy.

Kieran focuses his analysis on the recent remembrance of six events, three of which occurred before the Vietnam War and three after it ended. The first group includes the siege of the Alamo in 1836, the incarceration of Union troops at Andersonville during the Civil War, and the experience of American combat troops during World War II. The second comprises the 1993 U.S. intervention in Somalia, the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In each case a range of actors -- military veterans, policymakers, memorial planners, and the general public -- used memorial practices associated with the Vietnam War to reinterpret the contemporary significance of past events. A PBS program about Andersonville sought to cultivate a sense of national responsibility for the My Lai massacre. A group of Vietnam veterans occupied the Alamo in 1985, seeing themselves as patriotic heirs to another lost cause. A World War II veteran published a memoir in 1980 that reads like a narrative of combat in Vietnam. Through these and other examples, Forever Vietnam reveals not only the persistence of the past in public memory but also its malleability in the service of the political present.

Author Notes

David Kieran is visiting assistant professor of American studies at Franklin and Marshall College.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Leaders and citizens concerned about the US's perpetual wars should find Forever Vietnam a must read. Kieran (American studies, Franklin and Marshall College) uses the prism of Vietnam for public perceptions of post-Vietnam interventions. He finds that the Civil War's Andersonville, the Alamo, the debacle in Somalia, and 9/11 (the crash of Flight 93) are all viewed in relationship to Vietnam and attitudes about that conflict in memoirs, novels, and memories of veterans. Memorializing those who died often plays with negative or positive notions of past wars (WW II, Vietnam) and Iran and Afghanistan, which creates a plethora of responses that either praise veterans and what they accomplished or denigrate their efforts. Of particular interest is chapter 5, which dissects the public's view of the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania in juxtaposition with the Vietnam memorial in Washington, DC. Kieran suggests that failure to question the nation's current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan may lead to future interventions. See also Kristin Ann Hass, Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall (2013). Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. --Paul D. Travis, Texas Woman's University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction: "I Know What It's Like"p. 1
1 "How Far is Andersonville from Vietnam?": Vietnam Revisionism and Andersonville National Historic Sitep. 14
2 "We Veterans of Mass Murder and Stupidity": Older Veterans' PTSD and the Narration of Combat in Post-Vietnam Memoirs of the Second World Warp. 52
3 "We See a Lot Parallels between the Men at the Alamo and Ourselves": Recovering from Vietnam at the Alamop. 89
4 "We Should Have Said No": the Legacy of Vietnam, Remembrance of Somalia, and Debates over Humanitarian Intervention in the 1990sp. 127
5 "It's Almost Like the Vietnam Wall": the Legacy of Vietnam and Remembrance of Flight 93p. 161
6 "The Lessons of History": Vietnam's Legacy during the War in Iraq and Afghanistanp. 203
Afterword: "The Task of Telling Your Story Continues"p. 235
Abbreviations Used in the Notesp. 241
Notesp. 243
Indexp. 297