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The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Revised Edition with new preface and afterword) Paperback – July 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1558495869 ISBN-10: 155849586X Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press; 2nd edition (July 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155849586X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558495869
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #660,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Freelance writer Engelhardt here traces the roots of American "triumphalism" back to early New England, where the massacre of Indians set the pattern for the self-justified slaughter of external enemies, a ritual that would be replayed endlessly not only in life but also in fiction, movies, toys and comics. In his sprawling meditation, he considers the effect of our "loss of enemy" when the Japanese surrendered in 1945. In his tedious recap of the Vietnam tragedy Engelhardt suggests that the American public's inability to view the Viet Cong as a savage, lesser adversary contributed to our becoming "the world's most extraordinary [because least expected] losers." The desire to create a Third World battlefield with maximum U.S. weaponry and minimum U.S. casualties was briefly satisfied, he contends, by the Gulf War with its seemingly bloodless, machine-versus-machine destructiveness. America, according to Engelhardt, is still yearning for a revival of our national identity via the victory culture, "the story of their slaughter and our triumph."
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Engelhardt, an editor and freelance writer, traces the growth and decline of "victory culture" in American history. A triumphalist myth, unquestioned for years, promoted the belief that America would always overcome its enemies. Engelhardt shows how major events since 1945 have thoroughly eroded this belief, resulting in disillusionment for those over 40 and bewilderment for the post-Vietnam War generation. He focuses on a variety of related themes: Indian captivity narratives; Hollywood's depiction of our "enemies," usually dehumanized Native Americans and Asians; the phenomenon of "GI Joe," the most popular war toy ever created; and the advent of rock'n'roll and the teen subculture that grew up around it. Engelhardt's study is a solid contribution to Cold War literature, especially where it touches upon questions of national purpose and identity. Although scholarly in tone, his book will appeal to anyone interested in American popular culture. Recommended for most libraries.
Gary D. Barber, SUNY at Fredonia Lib.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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91 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Dan Hinman-Smith on June 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Is there an imaginable 'America' without enemies and without the story of their slaughter and our triumph?" (p. 15) This is the question at the heart of Engelhardt's remarkable blending of popular culture studies and military history.
In its outline, the thesis is straightforward: a long-established racially-exclusive national myth of bloody but righteous American retaliation to treacherous foes unraveled in the three decades after World War II. The new limited war strategies of the nuclear age forced awkward "containments" of this myth. The battlefields of Asia and, in particular, of Vietnam, led to "reversals," in which increasing numbers of Americans came to conclude that the familiar patterns that had helped to define national identity had been turned upside down. It is in the details of his argument that the author is at his best, making unexpected but genuine links between Mr. X (George Kennan) and Malcolm X; between the Mary Rowlandson captivity narrative of 1675 and the My Lai massacre of 1968; between the Strategic Air Command and Rod Serling; between V-for-victory signs and peace signs; between Chewbacca and Edward Teller; between Charles Manson and 1950s comic book culture.
Engelhardt brilliantly explores the complex connections between the games of American children and the broader national culture. That Engelhardt himself, born in 1944, was embedded in the post-war childhood culture is simultaneously a source of the book's greatest strengths and its greatest weaknesses. On the positive side, he draws upon autobiographical reminiscence in an understated and thoughtful manner.
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82 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Hamlow HALL OF FAME on January 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Tom Engelhardt's The End Of Victory Culture is a thought-provoking, historical look at how the concept of defeating a less-than-human enemy was part of American culture. Ingrained in that was the mission to defeat that enemy. The trouble was, the enemy was human, be they the Native Americans the colonists and later the American government displaced. We also had this mindset that we were always on the right and they were always wrong, therefore, they had to be defeated.
One element was to exaggerate the atrocities committed, meaning that yeah, some of it happened, but not in the large scale depicted by the white leaders to drive home the point that we had to kill these unholy, ungodly, <insert enemy race here>. Colonist Mary Rowlandson's accounts on her captivity and the massacre she survived was the archetypal demonizing of the "enemy."
Victory culture nestled itself cozily in new visual media--the movies and television. Basically, the enemy performed some horrible atrocity on innocent whites, and it was up to the heroes to punish the enemy. The enemy would be defeated, more often than not killed, and everybody would live happily ever after. Straight and simple. It was in straight black-and-white (the issues as well as the early programs before colour TV and film came into being).
Engelhardt argues that between 1945 and 1975, the ends of WW2 and Vietnam respectively, that victory culture ended
Pearl Harbor gave plenty of opportunity to dehumanize the Japanese as an enemy, along with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
The Cold War was where it all went into overdrive.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Justin Bean on March 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tom Engelhardt's dense but throughly readable cultural history presents the past fifty-six years of American history as an investigation of narrative. A common theme in analysis of nationalism and nationality is the concept of an historical narrative that members of a nationality look to for explaining their present position within their world. Engelhardt investigates a time period that saw, as he argues, a violent uprooting and reconfiguration of the American cultural narrative.

This narrative makes use of a wide ranging set of metpahors and images, such as the frontier and its mythology of American innocence, that have helped Americans understand their position within a complex and ever changing world. World War II provided the last war in which the innocence of America was posited with little debate (although the dropping of the atom bomb indeed challenged this innocence).

The beginning of the cold war and military endeavors in Korea and Viet Nam saw a gradual erroding of this narrative of innocence. As the enemy became harder to identify, at times even looking like ourselves in the case of anti-communism, the moral clarity and absolute innocence of American military actions disolved. Engelhardt takes a sweeping view of the last half-century of American history and tracks the profound shift in narrative and cultural understanding that we are still dealing with. It would be interesting to see what Engelhardt would say about September 11th. I would argue it has restored much of America's innocence, allowing us to attack Iraq with little domestic objection.

Engelhardt writes with an engaging voice helping to make what could be a tedious read quite enjoyable.
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