What is the best way to sum up this book? A load of crap. The idea that the Vietnam era was the last to “play war” is so categorically untrue that it boarders on absurd. This book reads like yet another Baby Boomer insisting that his generation is the only one that matters. This book predates that other load of crap about the “Greatest Generation” written by another Boomer who finally realized that his parents weren’t all that bad.
Anyway, Engelhardt goes through post-war culture, demonstrating how the earlier myth of the United States and its view of war as a just and noble cause was altered as the Cold War and more specifically the Vietnam War progressed; making Americans look like brutes, savage and quite less than noble. He tries to make the case that the opposition to the war and many of those fighting was some kind of significant shift in American culture. However, two big mistakes in that analysis. First, throughout many conflicts in US history, there was considerable opposition and commentary surrounding its injustice, see for example the Mexican War, The Spanish-American War and especially the post World War I cultural examination of war. Second, Engelhardt kind of negates his own thesis by demonstrating how the first Gulf War along with many conflicts since the 1980s are very much like the victory culture that he assured us was over. I would argue that, especially in the wake of 9/11, that victory culture is even more pervasive than in was in the 1950s, that terrorism make for such a convenient bogey man, it justifies in the eyes of many (depending on who the president is at the time) some of the greatest abuses of power the United States has every seen. Don’t be fooled, victory culture is alive and well.