Warrior Image: Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era

Warrior Image: Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era

Warrior Image: Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era

Warrior Image: Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era

Synopsis

Images of war saturated American culture between the 1940s and the 1970s, as U.S. troops marched off to battle in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Exploring representations of servicemen in the popular press, government propaganda, museum exhibits, literature, film, and television, Andrew Huebner traces the evolution of a storied American icon--the combat soldier.

Huebner challenges the pervasive assumption that Vietnam brought drastic changes in portrayals of the American warrior, with the jaded serviceman of the 1960s and 1970s shown in stark contrast to the patriotic citizen-soldier of World War II. In fact, Huebner shows, cracks began to appear in sentimental images of the military late in World War II and were particularly apparent during the Korean conflict. Journalists, filmmakers, novelists, and poets increasingly portrayed the steep costs of combat, depicting soldiers who were harmed rather than hardened by war, isolated from rather than supported by their military leadership and American society. Across all three wars, Huebner argues, the warrior image conveyed a growing cynicism about armed conflict, the federal government, and Cold War militarization.

Excerpt

Reflecting on more than two decades of experience covering conflict, the eminent war correspondent Martha Gellhorn wrote in 1959, “War is a malignant disease, an idiocy, a prison, and the pain it causes is beyond telling or imagining; but war was our condition and our history, the place we had to live in.” Gellhorn’s words suggest that capturing the sorrow of war is something like the journalistic quest for objectivity— rarely, if ever, attainable but always worth the attempt. Despite her own belief that war was “beyond telling or imagining,” Gellhorn told readers about warfare and helped them imagine its consequences for six decades, from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s to the American invasion of Panama in 1989. She and other American correspondents, filmmakers, painters, radio personalities, poets, photographers, and television reporters of the warravaged twentieth century endeavored to convey some small sense of battle to the reading, viewing, and listening public—and many of them were skeptical, like Gellhorn, of their own ability to do so. Yet if they failed to convey the nature of war, they succeeded in doing something else: illuminating the culture and values of their own societies. Consequently, by the late twentieth century scholars were treating war as a cultural event—an opportunity to examine the beliefs and attitudes of human beings through their depictions of warfare.

This merging of military history and cultural history—one something of a pariah in the American academy, the other the heir apparent to the “new social history” emerging from the 1960s—is particularly suited to studying America in the years beginning with World War II. There are few periods richer in war imagery than the four decades in the United States following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In these years portraits of combat became more vivid and widely consumed than ever before in human history. Advancing literacy and technology—along with declining federal control over image making and the press—brought increasingly unvarnished images of war to millions of Americans. The popular press, novels, newsreels, magazines, museum exhibits, photographs, radio shows, television broadcasts, government films, and Hollywood movies carried portraits of war to the American home front during and after three major overseas conflicts: World War II (1941–45), the Korean War (1950–53), and the Vietnam War (1964–73). In this book I will be concerned specifically with American . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.