Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War

Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War

by Meredith H. Lair

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469619033
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 08/01/2014
Edition description: 1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 274,180
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Meredith H. Lair is associate professor of history at George Mason University.

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Meredith Lair's fascinating analysis of rear-echelon life among American G.I.s dramatically challenges our most common conceptions of U.S. military experiences in Vietnam. From steaks to steambaths, swimming pools to giant PXs, the amenities provided on large bases not only belie conventional images of that war, but also stand as dramatic testimony to the desperate and unsuccessful effort of American officials to bolster flagging troop morale as the war lurched toward its final failure.—Christian G. Appy, author of Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam

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Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
rivkat on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This excellent book is apparently under attack in some conservative corners for recounting that most Americans who served in the armed forces in Vietnam didn¿t fight (75-90% depending on time/how you count), and that even the ones who did see combat generally had access to many material comforts; only a small minority experienced the Vietnam War of American popular culture. The military used consumerism as a deliberate strategy to deal with soldiers¿ discontent, and in the process helped redefine soldiering as a path to individual wellbeing rather than as service to the state, which coincided (not accidentally) with the transition to an all-volunteer force. Material comforts were, Lair suggests, ¿poor substitutes for a just and winnable cause.¿ Still, ¿[u]pon discovering that the Vietnam War would deliver relatively few opportunities for heroism and glory, American soldiers adjusted their John Wayne expectations to demand comfortable living conditions, time for leisure activities, abundant recreational facilities, and easy access to mass-produced consumer goods.¿ Ice cream, craft shops, swimming pools, and shopping opportunities were abundant, in part because ¿[t]he war on boredom was the only facet of American strategy in Vietnam in which the U.S. military went all out, and the resources directed toward it were staggering.¿ Among other things, the U.S. built bakeries and milk production facilities on a huge scale so that Americans wouldn¿t be deprived of the comforts of home. This also went along with the privatization of war: for-profit contractors, including businesses familiar from Iraq like KBR, provided many of these services.And of course sex, alcohol and drugs were also a big part of the experience: ¿young men raised at economic and social disadvantage in the United States suddenly found themselves empowered by American guns and dollars, yet without the behavioral restraints imposed by family, religion, and law.¿ The ¿fundamental weirdness of Vietnam¿ (material abundance but no clear objectives) also represented a crisis of masculinity: ¿the war¿s refusal to make [a soldier] a hero and its inability to make him a man.¿ This was one source of ambivalence about the material benefits of service: abundance made it harder to prove one¿s masculinity.Meanwhile, the rhetoric of sacrifice and suffering allowed Americans to maintain the idea of noble forces going to war only when absolutely necessary, keeping the image of the scrappy underdog even though American resources far outclassed those of their opponents. ¿[W]hen abundance is understood to permeate a war zone¿enough food, ammunition, and creature comforts to stay in the fight forever¿the violence suddenly appears less restrained, the charity seems less ennobling, and the men who mete out both appear, somehow, less heroic.¿ Lain concludes that ¿the erasure of abundance from old war stories helps the United States to create new ones because it allows the American public to revel in the idea of wartime hardship without actually having to experience it.¿ ¿[B]ounty¿s absence in war narratives ensures that the American people continue to think of their country not as a superpower capable of fielding a massive army of professional killers anywhere in the world, but rather as an exemplar nation that deploys its citizen soldiers only when absolutely necessary.¿ American resources vastly outstripped those of the Vietnamese, but erasing that allows Americans to think of themselves as the ones who suffered, which also makes it easier to ignore the atrocities suffered by the Vietnamese. A sobering and useful book.Side note: Lain¿s chapter on how similar dynamics played out in Iraq has a vidding hook. She discusses how American soldiers in Iraq often created videos/slideshows set to music, something that could only occur because of the access they had to music, computers, editing software, and so on during the war itself. ¿Visual evidence of one¿s proximity to danger¿explosions, fires