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Vietnam War Memory and the Nixon Administration Essay

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The battle over reconstructing the collective memory of the Vietnam War is a battle over reinterpreting America, and it started even before the end of the war, and continues to the present day. George Orwell summarized the significance of such struggles in his novel 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” Since national leaders invariably assume a leading role in the development of an official memory of traumatic events in a nation’s history, the article begins with Nixon’s efforts in redefining and reconstructing the war.
Nixon Administration’s: the Reconstruction of Collective Memory
Nixon’s approach to the war was viewed as Birchesque. He redefined the war by resorting to the excuse of POW/MIA, and successfully reconstructed American’s memory of the war. When the anti-war movement criticized these measures, Nixon did what any Bircher would do: he decried the anti-war movement as a communist conspiracy that was prolonging the war and that deserved to be treated as an internal security threat. Meanwhile he redefined the war by creating a myth of POW/MIA, and successfully created new visions of the war for Americans.
Nixon campaigned for president in 1968 as a peace candidate by promising to bring the troops home, and his campaign was also under the slogan that he would end the war in Vietnam and bring "peace with honor" and he reiterated it in the coming years. In the third Frost interview he stressed his actions were “to try to win an honorable peace abroad”. However, this is only half of the story, and we should clarify the misconception of “honor” here. Here is what he said exactly in the interview:
The actions I took with great reluctance, but recognizing I had to...


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...in sympathy was no longer for “the man fighting and dying on the front,” who “went virtually unnoticed as attention was focused on the POWs,” who had become “the objects of a virtual cult.” Schell probed to the core of the growing obsession:”Following the President’s lead, people began to speak as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped four hundred Americans and the U.S. had gone to war to retrieve them.” Perhaps the most startling and penetrating judgment came years later from Gloria Coppin, VIVA’s longtime chair. Although remaining a fervent believer tin eh existence of living POWs, she had come to a painful realization of how she and many others may have been manipulated. As she put it in a 1990 interview:”Nixon and Kissinger just used the POW issue to prolong the war. Sometimes I feel guilty because with all our efforts, we killed more men than we saved. ”



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