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The War in Vietnam: Studies in Remembrance and Legacy, 2000–2014 (June 2016): Moving Forward

By Jerry Lembcke

Moving Forward

In the late 1990s, the acquisition editor of a university press told this author that the turn of the century, then approaching, would beget a cottage industry of studies on the way the twentieth century would be remembered and represented; books accessing the memory studies of the US war in Vietnam, he predicted, would fill large sections of bibliographies on that topic.

In the years that followed, the number of publications on the humanities and social science sides of post-Vietnam War American studies have seen his forecast come to pass.  Still, in the course of preparing this essay, the amount and quality of the work completed over that twenty-year period has been surprising.  The rethinking of how and why the United States got into the war—indeed, what the war actually was in which the United States became involved—has reopened historical studies on the war itself to such a degree that the most revealing studies may still lie ahead.

The studies of commemorative practices discussed here are really just beginning, with the transnational character given them in the aftermath of Vietnam continuing to define their cutting edge for the way wars in the Middle East will be marked.  Likewise, the prominence of Vietnam veterans in fiftieth-anniversary commemorations of that war is already scripting the coming-home story of the younger generations of veterans, a legacy that will endure in American identity for decades.