Society for Cultural Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Jerry Lembcke (College of the Holy Cross)
Thomas Wilber (Service and Reconciliation Foundation)
The closing scenes of the War in Vietnam are fixed in American memory with images of POWs returning in 1973 from captivity in Hanoi. Stories of the torture they suffered confirmed Orientalist phantasies of an inscrutable Asian mentality that indulged cruelty. As well, news media headlined speculation that some POWs had succumbed to brainwashing and caved to communist mind control. The homecomings stirred public imaginations of a real-life Manchurian Candidates, ala the 1962 film of that title.
This paper will set in relief, respectively, the inter- and intra-cultural the dynamics between POW-captives and Vietnamese-captors, and tensions within the POW population involving charges that some had collaborated with the enemy Other. The paper will use the words of POWs themselves to document the centrality of ethnocentrism and racism in their perceptions of the Vietnamese, and the centrality of social class as the driving force in the tensions that divided POWs. The paper presents new data from primary sources and fresh analyses of data from secondary sources.
Jerry Lembcke is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam and Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and an OAH Distinguished Lecturer. In 1969, he was a Chaplain’s Assistant assigned to the 41st Artillery Group in Viet Nam.
Tom Wilber researches documentation regarding U.S. detainees in the Democratic Republic of Việt Nam from 1964 until 1973.