Sounding Off: Folksong, Poetry, and Other Cognitive Dissonance from the American War in Vietnam
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Among works treating Vietnam War history, few mention and none address extensively the folk culture that American and Vietnamese military forces produced. To bridge gaps between traditional and cultural primary sources, this study examines folk culture that the historiography has neglected: graffiti, folksongs, and poetry. Most were conceived and produced in-country, near in time to specific wartime experiences and their consequent emotions, thus lending them an emotional relevance and chronological proximity to Vietnam War history few other primary sources can boast. Graffiti, songs, and poems derived from specific historical contexts, registering social commentary and chronicling the cognitive dissonance that arose among combatants when their coveted, long-held, patriotic mythologies collided with wartime realities. These sources document the Vietnam War’s “inner-history”—the emotions, beliefs, concerns, and emotions of particular individuals, many of whom find voice virtually nowhere else in the historiographical canon. What folk culture lacks in terms of scope and scale vis-à-vis traditional sources, it abounds with in physical description, emotional narration, honesty, and transparency. Its value to historical inquiry lies in its tendency to pull no punches—ever. It animates and humanizes the personal histories of specific individuals while conveying historical truths concerning millions of anonymous masses who made up the Vietnam War’s cast of characters and who should always inhabit and animate its stories, giving voice to many who the bulk of the war’s historical record has previously overlooked.
Irwin, Matthew Kirk (2014). Sounding Off: Folksong, Poetry, and Other Cognitive Dissonance from the American War in Vietnam. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from