sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
Something kind of random I was thinking about today is how the Vietnam War has almost completely disappeared from pop culture/awareness. I started thinking about it when I was flipping through a table of books at B&N, and picked up a book of war stories I was fully expecting to be WWII (because everything is right now), and opened it up and was briefly thrown to discover it was Vietnam.

And that's relatively rare now! When I was a kid in the late 70s/80s, it was ubiquitous, unavoidable. Most of the war movies were Vietnam. Just about every action-hero character in movies and TV and books had a Vietnam-veteran background to explain how they got their commando skills or acquired a bunch of exotic enemies or ended up living in an out-of-the-way place avoiding the world or whatever.

Which is not at all surprising, because of how thoroughly everyone in my parents' generation (the Baby Boomers) was shaped by the war. This is what makes it so weird and fascinating to me that we never talk about it anymore, because EVERY American male who was a young adult in the 1960s either served in the war or has a unique-to-him story about how he avoided it. There wasn't a single person in the adult generation that I knew growing up who hadn't had their life turned in a particular direction by the war, either through serving in it or avoiding it, through losing the boy they meant to marry or being forced to move to a different place or just having their worldview altered. It drove a whole generation; it's why I grew up in Alaska, and why my parents met in the first place. And 10-15 years after the war, there was a constant awareness of it; I grew up with the background awareness of Vietnam as a THING. And now that's simply not there.

Meanwhile WWII has experienced a resurgence. In the last 5-10 years it's EVERYWHERE, in a way I never remember when I was a kid -- not coincidentally, I imagine, as the generation who actually fought in the war dies off, leaving us to see it through a convenient pair of rose-colored glasses rather than remembering the horror firsthand.

And of course the war that's now used as a convenient backstory for characters in half the books and movies out there is Afghanistan.

I don't really see Vietnam coming back in the same way WWII did, just like WWI didn't. If the pattern held true, then WWI should've been the "nostalgia" war in the media a generation ago, and it wasn't -- probably for the same reason that Vietnam started to fade away, or be erased, once it was no longer close enough in time to overshadow everything. We don't like things that are messy and awful, that can't be reduced to a good-guy/bad-guy narrative (and especially in Vietnam's case, there's also the creeping suspicion that we might actually have been the bad guys). I don't really think the way we view WWII is any more accurate, but it's a whole lot easier to wrap up in a "just war" narrative and package it conveniently for entertainment.

And that narrative vacuum where Vietnam used to be is really interesting to me.


sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

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