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The appropriation of American war memories: a critical juxtaposition of the Holocaust and the Vietnam War

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This article delineates and critically juxtaposes the differential public commemorations of the Vietnam War and the Holocaust in the US. We elucidate how the tragedies of the Holocaust have been integrated into US public memory as a central part of the American story, solidifying the image of the United States as a powerful and moral nation that rescues desperate people from tyranny. In contrast, public commemorations of the highly divisive Vietnam War are sparse, if at all, in great part because they would re-ignite questions about the role of the US in Vietnam and in the suffering of its victims. While the Holocaust enables the United States to re-narrate national glory, the Vietnam War calls attention to US defeat and upsets the narrative of rescue and liberation. Through a critical juxtaposition of these two public memories, we assert that the moral and political divisiveness of the Vietnam War constitutes one unacknowledged source of the ascendancy and centrality of the Holocaust in American memory. Through our relational analysis of differential public memories, we draw on and contribute to the field of memory studies.
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Keywords: Holocaust; Vietnam War; public memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego, USA 2: Department of Sociology, University of California, Davis, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2013

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