This book revisits the American canon of novels, memoirs, and films about the war in Vietnam, in order to reassess critically the centrality of the discourse of American victimization in the country’s imagination of the conflict, and to trace the strategies of representation that establish American soldiers and veterans as the most significant victims of the war. By investigating in detail the imagery of the Vietnamese landscape recreated by American authors and directors, the volume explores the proposition that Vietnam has been turned into an American myth, demonstrating that the process resulted in a dehistoricization and mystification of the conflict that obscured its historical and political realities. Against this background, representations of the war’s victims—Vietnamese civilians and American soldiers—are then considered in light of their ideological meanings and uses. Ultimately, the book seeks to demonstrate how, in a relation of power, the question of victimhood can become ideologized, transforming into both a discourse and a strategy of representation—and in doing so, to demythologize something of the "Vietnam" of American cultural narrative.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Secret Histories
Chapter 1: Vietnam Syndromes
Chapter 2: Myth and Representations of the Vietnamese Landscape
Chapter 3: Representations of the Victims of "Vietnam"
Conclusion: Don’t Support the Troops
Aleksandra Musiał is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Literary Studies, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. She is the author of articles on the American war in Vietnam and American representations of World War II, and the co-editor, with Justyna Jajszczok, of The Body in History, Culture, and the Arts (Routledge 2019).
"In this well-researched and engagingly written book, Aleksandra Musiał weaves an indispensable narrative of a nation’s wasted learning opportunity. Exploring the canon of multigeneric American texts on Vietnam – or rather “Vietnam” – the author reveals the erasures of historical context and other obfuscations which gave rise to the paradoxical construction of the US as the main victim of its own atrocities. A timely and courageous investigation of large-scale self-mythologizing, this is an urgent call to rethink a major historical event for the benefits of a post-heroic age."
Krzysztof Majer, scholar of North American literature at the University of Łódź and Polish translator of Michael Herr’s Dispatches
"In a clear, jargon-free prose, Aleksandra Musiał dissects the rhetorical strategies through which the Myth of the Vietnam War was constructed, and aggressors turned into victims. Moving deftly between history and literature, Musial offers a definitive debunking of constructions of the war as an American tragedy."
Giorgio Mariani, author of Waging War: Peacefighting in American Literature
"Over forty years later, the Vietnam War continues to loom large in American cultural narratives. Victimhood in American Narratives of the War in Vietnam explains how this war that devastated Vietnam and split the American public came to be mythologized and depoliticized in such a way that it has been uniquely available for U.S. leaders of both political parties to bolster support for subsequent military action."
Gina Weaver Yount, Associate Professor at Southern Nazarene University