After War: Recognizing, Representing, and Remembering Veterans in American Society, 1945–2016

AHA Session 49
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Thurgood Marshall North (Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level)
Meredith L. Oyen, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Andrew T. Darien, Salem State University
Elena Friot, University of New Mexico
Sarah Myers, Saint Francis University

Session Abstract

The purpose of this roundtable is to foster a discussion about the ways American veterans have been recognized, represented, and remembered since World War II. In “After War, a Failure of the Imagination,” an opinion piece from the New York Times, journalist Phil Klay highlights the discordant relationship between veterans and civilians. Veterans and civilians are too often isolated from one another, the consequence of a perceived inability on the part of the former to convey, and the inability on the part of the latter to understand, the wrenching experience of war. In 2013 a number of scholars at Virginia Tech University began an interdisciplinary initiative known as “Veterans in Society” with the goal of bringing together interdisciplinary scholars who study, write about, teach, and conduct outreach with veterans In July 2016 the university hosted a National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar titled “American Veterans in Society,” in which all four of the historians on this panel participated. The seminar grappled with questions critical to understanding the place of veterans in American society. Who is a veteran? What does it mean to be a veteran? Is there value in adding “Veterans Studies” to the litany of academic fields and subfields?

This roundtable advances the discussion started at the NEH institute and broadens the audience for Veterans Studies. Discussants will use their own areas of research and expertise as points of departure for starting a larger conversation about the value of treating veterans as a significant demographic deserving of historical enquiry.

Myers’ work on the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II challenges the gendered view of veteran as a male category and highlights the efforts of the WASP to earn not only veteran status, but full recognition of their military service to include inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery.

Darien’s research explores the ways veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom choose to “wear” their military service, and how these veterans’ military service affects their postwar identity.

Friot’s investigation of the memorial culture of Bataan Death March survivors in New Mexico explores how veterans challenged the victory culture associated with veterans of World War II and communicated alternate experiences of trauma and loss through their commemorative practices in the postwar era.

In their examination of groups of veterans, the discussants focus on issues of identity and representation. Deploying oral history, material and physical culture, and an array of documentary sources, Myers, Darien, and Friot demonstrate the usefulness of applying the analytical frameworks of history to the study of American veterans. This roundtable brings attention to the value of veterans as a subject of historical enquiry, and will engage participants in meaningful discussion of the potential for Veterans Studies as a field or subfield of the history discipline.

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