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Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War Hardcover – November 28, 2011
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In this refreshing, original book, Meredith Lair attempts to disrupt and transform traditional narratives of the [Vietnam] war by focusing on the overwhelming majority of American personnel in Vietnam who served in noncombat positions. . . . [Her] bold and courageous book encourages us to ask difficult questions about what this means for traditional and often-outdated ideas about the military, soldiers, and citizens during wartime.--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Lair has laid the foundation stone for a new historiographical approach, a research field that focuses on the other aspect of warfare, the leisure culture during wartime and between battles. This research can serve as a model for the examination of similar phenomena in other wars.--H-War
A valuable work for any student of this war. Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.--Choice
Fluid and engrossing.--A Nota Bene selection of The Chronicle of Higher Education
Break[s] new ground in scholarship on American experiences of the war in Vietnam. . . . Boldly and skillfully venture[s] into new historical terrain, and complicates the war story in the process.--Diplomatic History
Leading a much-needed re-evaluation of Americans' Vietnam War experiences and all the layers of complexity that are buried under public memory and myth.--Journal of Social History
We are entering a new era of Vietnam War scholarship, and Lair's book will be one that leads the way. Lair upsets the traditional combat narrative and reframes it on non-combat experience to devastating effect. With crisp prose and her hands on seemingly every relevant source, she tells the neglected (but fully American) story of a militaristic society's war machine in full bloom.-- Michael S. Foley, author of Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War
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Top Customer Reviews
I found the book a great read and enlightening. It really does give a different view of the war.
I do not know why the book has engendered such hostility. Having grown up on military bases myself, as well as worked on base, there is nothing disparaging here about the military or military life. It is just life as it always has been in every war.
The author is the daughter of a career military officer who served two tours in Vietnam, so she is not totally clueless about the war. And she also writes about her father's experience there as well.
I also talked to some of my friends who served in Vietnam, and they confirm a lot of what the author writes. These were vets who served in the support services rather than in the fields, and they agree with much that is in this book.
So, I think it is quite a good book and deserves to be read.
By the time I arrived in 1970, command had seriously broken down in parts of the rear, and Americans had divided into gangs. My biggest fear was not the Vietnamese. It was other U.S. soldiers. In my unit, we were all armed with illicit weapons. Mine included a Bowie knife. Fistfights were common, and we had to watch our backs.
We now know that this dangerous situation was part of an institutional meltdown throughout the U.S. armed forces that made battle readiness problematic, even in Europe where it really counted. By 1970, soldiers in Vietnam regularly refused orders and negotiated with commanders who had limited control. Despite this disintegration, my medical unit continued to perform at top-notch, but not because of our allegiance to the Overall War Effort. We just did the right thing for sick and injured solders.
I'm not sure of what the the book's point is, other than to document that the rear was awash in consumer products and that we had it a lot easier than the grunts. The book fails to address the apparent strategic function of high American consumerism in the rear, a topic covered by many other historical analyses, nor does it do justice to the vibrant backmarket in the rear. Small fortunes were made, just on illegal money exchanges alone, and we all knew it was going on.
Nevertheless, persons interested in the war's history will find some fascinating points, as long as they do not conclude that this book is the definitive work on the very complex experiences of REMFs and our relationships with the grunts.
Lair has dug deeply into the national archives to document the importance of consumerism to the maintenance of morale "in country." Given that most soldiers were drafted individually, not as part of a unit, and served for only one year, it was difficult to articulate the mission in a meaningful way. Instead of giving soldiers a compelling reason to fight, commanders sought to appease them by providing for their every consumer desire. More and better food, lavish vacations, cut-rate consumer electronics, cars, and loans, "clean sheets and cold beer," all of this encouraged the Boys in Green to think of Vietnam as a holiday from reality, a permissive space where nearly anything was possible or could be had for the right price. Yet, while such extravagance enabled many working class youth to acquire the trappings of middle class life, it still didn't boost morale...why not? A compelling inquiry into the modern dynamics of war-making. Explains a lot about what happened in Iraq 30 years later!
How civilians viewed the Vietnam War and how rear echelon troops dealt with the perception of the war is explored.
The story is similar in Iraq. She points out that there was significant changes with time. This was probably also true in Vietnam.
This book has many citations with significant explanations for some. There are no maps; but, not really a problem for this work.
One thing I found somewhat off putting was the authors sometimes censorious tone.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Meredith H. Lair, Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldering in the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011). Read morePublished on February 9, 2013 by Christian Potholm
having been a grunt in Vietnam, did not receive the benefits of those in the rear...we always did without so they could be safe and spoiledPublished on November 18, 2012 by Mel Heis
A well-written, extensively documented commentary, which begs two large questions: One,why have our military leadership -- from field grade, through flag rank, to the... Read morePublished on June 19, 2012 by Silly Granddaddy