The Cult of the Victim Veteran : MAGA Fantasies in Lost-war America book cover
1st Edition

The Cult of the Victim Veteran
MAGA Fantasies in Lost-war America

  • Available for pre-order on June 23, 2023. Item will ship after July 14, 2023
ISBN 9781032490243
July 14, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
136 Pages

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USD $48.95

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Book Description

Trauma. Fiction writers love it. Filmmakers can’t resist it. "The notion of trauma," wrote Parul Sehgal for New Yorker Magazine, "has become all-engulfing."

In this book, Jerry Lembcke argues that trauma now provides the animating imagery for a victim-nation narrative that drives the American political culture and foreign policy, as well. The spectacles of traumatized veterans is used metaphorically to stir the resentments, and anxieties left by a half-century of lost wars. They are the same sentiments that demanded retribution in Europe between World Wars I and II—an unsettling thought.

Lembcke drills into the long durée of failed boundary-constructions between spectacle and science, emotion and rationality, tradition and modern in mental health studies. Shell shock’s diagnostic properties were overshadowed by its cultural and political utility; PTSD medicalized veterans’ dissent; TBI has yet to reveal the AWOL biomarkers promised by its champions. The cultural influence of agent orange and moral injury outweigh their clinical significance.

The MAGA movement birthed in America’s lost-war culture trolls the boundaries of modernism and traditional beliefs. Its skepticism of science is palpable; its lean to tribalism unmistakable; its attraction to conspiracist explanations for national setbacks is evident. This book connects the dots.

Table of Contents


Spectacle and Science: Not So Distant Relatives.

- Spectacle: Bridging Tradition and Enlightenment

- A Visuel Leads the Way in Mental Health Science

- The Camera: Heaven-sent for Spectacle in Mental Health Treatment

- The Great War as Spectacle: When Casualties Become Props in the Story


Shellshock: Political Cultural, Medical Minds, and Moving Pictures


- Catapult to More War: Germany’s Dolchstosslegend

- The Myth of the Hostile Homecoming: Gendered and Medicalized

- The Great War in Triple Spectacle: Machines, Their Casualties, and the Movies  

- Hidden Injuries: The Political Text 

- The “Gold-Star Mother”: The Spectacle of Death as Achievement


The Spectacle of Anti-war Warriors: Political Dissent Made a Medical Disorder

- Sir! No Sir!

- Discrediting Anti-war Veterans: Not Really Veterans, Not Really Men

- Psychologizing the Political 

- Political Spectacle Makes the News, The News Makes Medical Science

- The New York Times Medicalizes Veteran Dissent

- The “Crazy Vet” Movies

- Victim-Veterans and Victim Nations


Agent Orange: As Spectacle and Trope

“Seeing” and Remembering the War   

Imagining Agent Orange

The Quiet Backstory to Agent Orange

“Earth Day was a Snow Job”—I.F. Stone

Veterans and Agent Orange

1978: Agent Orange Comes Out

Agent Orange Goes to The Movies

5. Traumatic Brain Injury: From News to Nomenclature 

World War II: Different War, Different Representations

Korea and The Return of Spectacle

The Battle of Paradigms Resumed: Neurology vs. Psychiatry

The Central Park Jogger and NFL Quarterbacks: Rehearsing for TBI in War Trauma

Recipe for Spectacle: A War Reporter with a War Injury


6. Moral Injury: A Hail Mary in War-trauma Discourse

- Moral Injury: War Trauma de Jure

- Moral Injury: Its Own Spectacle

- Seen Combat? Who’s to Say? 

- What Did You Do in The War, Daddy?

- Atrocities and Moral Injury: A Troublesome Mix

- The Consequences of “Moral Injury”

   - Moral Injury: A Dog Whistle for MAGA


7. Trauma in a Post-truth Era: Back to Charcot’s Salon?


- Billy Pilgrim Psychologized

- Billy Pilgrim’s Creator Psychologized

- Trauma as Spectacle

- Forward: From Modern Rationality to Pre-modern Spectacle

- Steve Bannon: White House Whisperer

- MAGA’s Call: Zion or Nihilism?

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Jerry Lembcke is the author of eight books including The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam (NYU Press, 1998) and Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal (UMass Press, 2010). His coauthored Dissenting POWs: From Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison to America Today with Monthly Review Press was released in April 2021. Jerry’s opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is a regular reviewer for the American Library Association’s Choice and has been a guest on several NPR programs including On the Media. The 2006 film Sir! No Sir! featured his book The Spitting Image. Jerry was drafted in 1968 and served as a Chaplain’s Assistant with the 41st Artillery Group in Vietnam. He is presently Associate Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.