Humping it on their Backs: A Material Culture Examination of the Vietnam Veterans’ Experience as Told Through the Objects they Carried

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The materials of war, defined as what soldiers carry into battle and off the battlefield, have much to offer as a means of identifying and analyzing the culture of those combatants. The Vietnam War is extremely rich in culture when considered against the changing political and social climate of the United States during the 1960s and 70s. Determining the meaning of the materials carried by Vietnam War soldiers can help identify why a soldier is fighting, what the soldier’s fears are, explain certain actions or inactions in a given situation, or describe the values and moral beliefs that governed that ... continued below

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Herman, Thomas Shannon May 2016.

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  • Herman, Thomas Shannon

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The materials of war, defined as what soldiers carry into battle and off the battlefield, have much to offer as a means of identifying and analyzing the culture of those combatants. The Vietnam War is extremely rich in culture when considered against the changing political and social climate of the United States during the 1960s and 70s. Determining the meaning of the materials carried by Vietnam War soldiers can help identify why a soldier is fighting, what the soldier’s fears are, explain certain actions or inactions in a given situation, or describe the values and moral beliefs that governed that soldier’s conduct. “Carry,” as a word, often refers to something physical that can be seen, touched, smelled, or heard, but there is also the mental material, which does not exist in the physical space, that soldiers collect in their experiences prior to, during, and after battle. War changes the individual soldier, and by analyzing what he or she took (both physical and mental), attempts at self-preservation or defense mechanisms to harden the body and mind from the harsh realities of war are revealed. In the same respect, what the soldiers brought home is also a means of preservation; preserving those memories of their experiences adds validity and meaning to their experiences. An approach employing aspects of psychology, sociology, and cultural theory demonstrates that any cookie-cutter answer or characterization of Vietnam veterans is unstable at best, and that a much more complex picture develops from a multidisciplinary analysis of the soldiers who fought the war in Vietnam.

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  • May 2016

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  • June 28, 2016, 4:28 p.m.

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  • Sept. 6, 2016, 2:21 p.m.

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Herman, Thomas Shannon. Humping it on their Backs: A Material Culture Examination of the Vietnam Veterans’ Experience as Told Through the Objects they Carried, thesis, May 2016; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc849688/: accessed November 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .