Apr 27, 2020 • 41M

Beer, Napalm & Hookers: Vietnam War & Hedonism with Meredith Lair

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Robert Granniss
You are listening to Historic.ly: a show where we decolonize history and debunk myths taught in school and on corporate media.
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Today, Meredith Lair, professor at George Mason University and the author of Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War examines the consumerist side of war that is hidden from most American’s views.

During the episode, we mention the Long Binh Post, which currently looks like this:

Excerpt from “Armed with Abundance”

Traditional war stories foreground suffering, not satisfaction, enabling readers or moviegoers to indulge their appetites for sentimentality, and to romanticize—and cheapen—the sufferings of soldiers and civilians at war. The Vietnam War I have re-imagined in these pages instead foregrounds satisfaction, pressing suffering into the background, like a shadow cast by something ominous and far away. In this new telling of the Vietnam war story, soldiers arrived in-country with expectations of storming the beaches, but found instead a vast network of heavily fortified and elaborately adorned American bases.

Cold beer and clean sheets, not foxholes and firefights, were  often the norm, and most of the meals were served hot, except, of course, for the ice cream. At work, they settled into wearisome routines, shuffling paper and equipment from one side of Vietnam to the other, and at night, they looked for ways to while away the hot, sticky hours until dawn. Just like the folks at home, they relaxed to music or in front of the T.V., and time off was given to sports and home improvements, though many also found satisfaction in the seedy bars and brothels that sprang up all around them. For most, R&R was a reprieve not from danger but from hard work and boredom, and some lucky G.I.s stationed near the beach got to have it all the time.

Beach on Da Nang, March 1966

Everywhere, in this version of the Vietnam War, there were things to buy: silks, statues, house wares, electronics, war trophies, and especially the camera to document it all. Through its lens, American soldiers recorded the quaintness of Vietnamese village life, the verdant beauty of the countryside, and the carnage wrought by high-tech warfare. Returning home, once-provincial boys were transformed into men of the world, and they had the goods—custom suits, flashy watches, and war trophies—to prove it. They had the stories, too. These conquering warriors could boast of all that they had seen of war, even if they saw it on the nightly news or read it in their unit’s newspaper. No one doubted their John Wayne claims, because the burnished tales fit so well with what a war was supposed to be. And yet, for all the abundance pervading them, American war zones would seldom ever be that way again.

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