Popular representations of the Vietnam War tend to emphasize
violence, deprivation, and trauma. By contrast, in Armed with
, Meredith Lair focuses on the noncombat experiences
of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, redrawing the landscape of the war so
that swimming pools, ice cream, visits from celebrities, and other
"comforts" share the frame with combat.
To address a tenuous morale situation, military authorities, Lair
reveals, wielded abundance to insulate soldiers--and, by extension,
the American public--from boredom and deprivation, making the
project of war perhaps easier and certainly more palatable. The
result was dozens of overbuilt bases in South Vietnam that grew
more elaborate as the war dragged on. Relying on memoirs, military
documents, and G.I. newspapers, Lair finds that consumption and
satiety, rather than privation and sacrifice, defined most
soldiers' Vietnam deployments. Abundance quarantined the U.S.
occupation force from the impoverished people it ostensibly had
come to liberate, undermining efforts to win Vietnamese "hearts and
minds" and burdening veterans with disappointment that their
wartime service did not measure up to public expectations. With an
epilogue that finds a similar paradigm at work in Iraq, Armed
offers a unique and provocative perspective on
modern American warfare.