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"Sundered by a Memory:" The Legacy of Vietnam and the Cultural Memory of Trauma in American Culture, 1975-Present Open Access

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"Sundered by a Memory" argues that both the legacy of Vietnam and the memorial practices and discourses through which Americans have grappled with that legacy have fundamentally reshaped contemporary American memorial practices. Through analyses of literature, film, media, political rhetoric, and memorial sites that are informed by theories of memory, trauma, and embodiment, I demonstrate that the remembrance of four events whose memory is not commonly understood as having been informed by the legacy of Vietnam - the Second World War, the Alamo, the 1993 US intervention in Somalia, and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 - has been constructed through processes of adopting, re-scripting, and redeploying the discourses and representational strategies that have been central to the evolving cultural memory of the United States' war in Vietnam. The dissertation argues that this process of adoption and revision has been central not only to constructing the memory of these events but also to their participation within contemporary debates regarding militarism, foreign policy, the location of the soldier in American culture, and the nature of patriotism and citizenship. Moreover, I argue that this process of adoption, revision, and redeployment has enabled these four sites of memory to become spaces in which American culture continues to grapple with and attempt to resolve the enduring traumatic legacy of the War in Vietnam. Ultimately, I contend that although the discourses of memory and the memorial practices that emerged in response to the trauma of the Vietnam War initially held the potential to enable within the remembrance of other events the production of heterodox discourses of citizenship and militarism, these practices have over the past twenty-five years been increasingly recuperated as a means of constructing memorial discourses that buttress patriotic orthodoxy and support for conservative foreign policy goals. Finally, by analyzing the impact of the cultural memory of the Vietnam War on the production of the cultural memory of these events, I further discussion regarding a key question in memory studies by more thoroughly interrogating how the production of the cultural memory of one event informs and is informed by the remembrance of other events.

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