On May 9, 1990, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a ring with letter, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, a baseball, a photo album, an ace of spades, and a pie were some of the objects left at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. For Kristin Hass, this eclectic sampling represents an attempt by ordinary Americans to come to terms with a multitude of unnamed losses as well as to take part in the ongoing debate of how this war should be remembered. Hass explores the restless memory of the Vietnam War and an American public still grappling with its commemoration. In doing so it considers the ways Americans have struggled to renegotiate the meanings of national identity, patriotism, community, and the place of the soldier, in the aftermath of a war that ruptured the ways in which all of these things have been traditionally defined. Hass contextualizes her study of this phenomenon within the history of American funerary traditions (in particular non-Anglo traditions in which material offerings are common), the history of war memorials, and the changing symbolic meaning of war.
Her evocative analysis of the site itself illustrates and enriches her larger theses regarding the creation of public memory and the problem of remembering war and the resulting causalities - in this case not only 58,000 soldiers, but also conceptions of masculinity, patriotism, and working-class pride and idealism.
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(229mm x 152mm x 16mm)
University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A dissertation-like examination of why people leave many and varied objects at the Veterans Memorial in Washington. Hass (American Culture/Univ. of Michigan) sees several reasons behind the outpouring of objects - what she calls a "strong, multivocal, contradictory, unsolicited public response" - that have been left at the wall since it was dedicated on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1982. Some of the reasons are obvious: the emotional need to remember the dead; the patriotic and nationalist impulses to honor their service; the reaction by Vietnam veterans against the national cold shoulder given to them after they came home from America's most controversial overseas war. Others are less obvious: the fact that the memorial's simple design "tacitly asked people to respond" with "their own interpretations," and the grave-decorating traditions of African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Italian-Americans, and some American Indians. In her chapter on American military memorializing history, Hass places great import on the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, when for the first time "common American soldiers were buried individually in graves marked with their names." Hass ties these varied themes together well. Her writing, for the most part, is clean and clear. Only occasionally does she slip into turgid academes. Hass seems to have done a thorough job of researching this multidisciplinary topic. There is, however, one glaring error. Hass repeats the myth that more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war. In an otherwise profusely documented book, she offers only an ambiguous citation for this assertion. But the truth is that the suicide statement has no basis in fact. Hass proves much better at examining and explaining the reasons behind the myth that Vietnam kept American POWs after the war. A sometimes illuminating look at a unique national phenomenon. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Kristin Ann Hass
Kristin Ann Hass is Lecturer in the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.