The Battleground for the American Past: The Influence of the Vietnam War in Contemporary Memory
Olmsted, Chelsea Dawn
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Commemorative programming for historic anniversaries reveals an interpretive and narrative evolution between public memory and history. The divisiveness of the war and the public’s ambivalence about its meaning allowed for broader interpretive perspectives compared to earlier war commemorations. Research on the evolving narratives considers how public memory informs identity and affects historical interpretations. Recent museum exhibits, historic sites, and films about the Vietnam War bring into focus the changing narrative of the Vietnam War. Case studies for this research are the Washington, D.C. National Archives and Records Administration Remembering Vietnam exhibit, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s plans for an education center, and Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary The Vietnam War. The soldier’s experience narrative still dominates interpretations, but interpretations have expanded to include the Vietnamese and the protest perspective. The passage of time and the conflict’s complexity has opened the way for new perspectives in commemorative programming.