"Gonnegtions" : the U.S. in Vietnam in the U.S.
Thesis DisciplineAmerican Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This Thesis analyses the form and content of the US' re-examination of its involvement in Vietnam. Commencing in the late 1970's this "coming to grips" with Vietnam is widely perceived by cultural institutions within the US as a confrontation with some of the darker aspects of its history. Vietnam Vets, once beyond the pale, have gained a new recognition based on an acceptance of the re-adjustment problems which they faced as a result of the effects of heavy combat. The US is also widely perceived as being a changed nation after Vietnam: there has been a breakdown in social and foreign policy consensus, and Americans are now a lot warier of foreign intervention.
However there is enough evidence to suggest that this "New America" is no more than skin deep. The confrontation with history is taking place in a cultural context that is characterised by a new sense of national pride, with an affirmation of US history as one of its major characteristics. As far as foreign policy is concerned the influence of Vietnam seems to have altered only the character of military intervention abroad without changing a fundamental US willingness to arbitrate in the affairs of other countries - by force if necessary. Overall, the resurgence of interest in the period of the Vietnam War seems to be less a confrontation with the past than an attempt to incorporate a "difficult" period in US history within a set of traditional US myths and cultural processes.
The key to understanding the US relationship with Vietnam is an awareness of US' culture's unwillingness to acknowledge its own changing structure in anything more than a superficial manner. The Introductory chapter discusses US culture within the framework of the development of a postwar, postmodern cultural environment. This section demonstrates that although the cultural processes of the US may be postmodern, the cultures perception of itself continues in the vein of an unproblematic modernism. The Second section, "Mentioned in Dispatches" discusses Vietnam's relationship to postmodern culture as expressed in Michael Herr's Dispatches, with special emphasis on communication and representational theory. "Revelations - Revaluations" explores some of the literature written by Vets and the way in which US culture is trying to incorporate their experience, and the experience of Vietnam in general, into a wider traditional cultural description of itself. "We Gotta Get Outta This Place ... " looks at the phenomenon of the Vietnam film and its relationship to the production of film since the Vietnam war and to wider issues of the modes of cultural representation.