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The Scar That Binds

The Scar That Binds: American Culture and the Vietnam War

Keith Beattie
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Scar That Binds
    Book Description:

    At the height of the Vietnam War, American society was so severely fragmented that it seemed that Americans may never again share common concerns. The media and other commentators represented the impact of the war through a variety of rhetorical devices, most notably the emotionally charged metaphor of "the wound that will not heal." References in various contexts to veterans' attempts to find a "voice," and to bring the war "home" were also common. Gradually, an assured and resilient American self-image and powerful impressions of cultural collectivity transformed the Vietnam war into a device for maintaining national unity. Today, the war is portrayed as a healed wound, the once "silenced" veteran has found a voice, and the American home has accommodated the effects of Vietnam. The scar has healed, binding Americans into a union that denies the divisions, diversities, and differences exposed by the war. In this way, America is now "over" Vietnam. In The Scar That Binds, Keith Beattie examines the central metaphors of the Vietnam war and their manifestations in American culture and life. Blending history and cultural criticism in a lucid style, this provocative book discusses an ideology of unity that has emerged through widespread rhetorical and cultural references to the war. A critique of this ideology reveals three dominant themes structured in a range of texts: the "wound," "the voice" of the Vietnam veteran, and "home." The analysis of each theme draws on a range of sources, including film, memoir, poetry, written and oral history, journalism, and political speeches. In contrast to studies concerned with representations of the war as a combat experience, The Scar That Binds opens and examines an unexplored critical space through a focus on the effects of the Vietnam War on American culture. The result is a highly original and compelling interpretation of the development of an ideology of unity in our culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0910-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    It had come to this. Two presidents from two different political parties had spoken, as if in unison, on what was once a fiercely contentious topic. During his presidential inaugural address, George Bush pronounced that “the final lesson of Vietnam is that no great nation can long afford to be sundered by a memory.”¹ Speaking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1993, President Bill Clinton stated, “Let [the war in Vietnam] not divide us as a people any longer.”² In the two statements “Vietnam” is foregrounded as a rupturing presence within American culture whileat the same timeit is...

  5. 1 The Healed Wound
    (pp. 11-57)

    It is inescapable: an object of war is to wound. War is blood, war is body fragments, war is the dismemberment of the body—though not the body’s absence. Mortally wounded bodies are present on the battlefield in a display that attests to the dreadful power of war. Censorship, however, attempts to obscure this fact by concealing the presence of the injured, wounded body. In the case of the Gulf War, Pentagon censorship functioned to deny the essential object of the conflict. In this war there was no shortage of information relating to the deployment of weapons, the nature of...

  6. 2 The Vietnam Veteran as Ventriloquist
    (pp. 58-105)

    Metaphors and similes related to the act of speaking and to the absence of speech surround the Vietnam veteran. Young men and women were “called” to Vietnam (whether they answered that call was, of course, another matter).¹ Among U.S. troops in Vietnam the collective response to devastating action was the ironic expression “Don’t mean nuthin’,” suggesting that further comment on violence and its motives was futile. Equally as popular for such circumstances was the laconic “There it is,” a line that implies that “nothing more … needs to be said, or indeed can be said.”² The U.S. foot soldier in...

  7. 3 Bringing the War “Home”
    (pp. 106-150)

    “The home front.” “The living room war.” “The war at home.” Evocations of home resonate in descriptions of the impact upon American culture of the Vietnam War. In a variety of assessments the connotations of home as the site of the family, community, or the nation, and descriptions of the effects of the war in terms of trauma to each site intersected to reinforce the notion that the war had “come home.” The emphasis in this intersection upon home, singular, is telling. John Fiske has noted that “those who experience most acutely the crucial contradictions that we often set up...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 151-156)

    The Scar That Bindsis a study of contending representations of America at the site commonly referred to as “Vietnam.” On the one hand the presence of the impact of the war in Vietnam produced the notion of cultural division; on the other hand it resulted in the assertion of unity. The paradox resulting from the opposing sets of representations has been resolved within American culture through the privileging of certain positions and notions that have reconstructed “Vietnam” as a sign of homogeneity and collectivity. The resolution does not mean that the notion of cultural division has been erased by...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-194)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-220)
  11. Index
    (pp. 221-229)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 230-230)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)