Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-4hhp2 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-22T08:48:00.083Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

1 - Introduction: Cultural Trauma and the American-Vietnamese War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 November 2023

Ron Eyerman
Affiliation:
Yale University, Connecticut and Lunds Universitet, Sweden
Todd Madigan
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Magnus Ring
Affiliation:
Lunds Universitet, Sweden
Get access

Summary

Abstract

There is continuing conflict over how the American-Vietnamese War ought to be understood, represented, memorialized, and learned from, and this struggle over its memory has been waged within the communities of all those who were touched by its hostilities. And precisely how the war is remembered is of ongoing concern, for when a collectivity understands itself to have been fractured by some calamity, then if it is to persist as a collectivity, it must reconstitute its identity. This process of collective identity reconstruction is indicative of cultural trauma, the traumatization of an entire society. The present chapter develops the conceptual tools necessary to trace this process within the societies of each of the war’s primary belligerents.

Keywords: Vietnam War, cultural trauma, collective memory, cultural sociology, Vietnamese American, narrative identity

One day, Vietnam may become a country; for now, it remains a war….

The Nation, 1990

At the close of the twentieth century, Vietnamese-American novelist Monique T.D. Truong claimed that “For the majority of Americans, Vietnam as a self-defined country never existed,” that its existence in the U.S. national consciousness emerged only when it became “defined by military conflict”—as the site of American warfare (1997: 220). Through the opening decades of the twenty-first century, little has changed to challenge this assertion. Twenty years after Truong made this statement, another Vietnamese-American writer, Pulitzer-Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times where he asserted, “For most Americans and the world, ‘Vietnam’ means the ‘Vietnam War,’ and the Vietnam War means the American war” (NYT, 5/2/2017). This fact is also highlighted by the editors of a 2016 book on the war when they claim that “‘Vietnam’ is used as shorthand in the United States for the war, not the country” (Boyle and Lim, 2016: xv). And as if to illustrate this point, Karl Marlantes, the author of Matterhorn and a veteran of the American-Vietnamese War, titled an article in such a way as to make this equivalence of Vietnam-as-war explicit: “Vietnam: The War That Killed Trust” (NYT, 1/8/2017).

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×