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War Photography and the Transformation of U.S. Imperial Power

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Abstract:

Through an examination of the war photography of An-My Le, this paper explores how diasporic Vietnamese cultural production intervenes in mainstream U.S. military and public productions of the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. For her three series Viet Nam, Small Wars and 29 Palms, Le photographed post-war landscapes in Vietnam; Vietnam War battle re-enactors in Virginia; and U.S. marines training in the California desert before their deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. Appropriating the U.S. military term “small war” that refers to guerilla warfare, Le depicts people affected by war within vast landscapes destroyed and transformed by war—Vietnamese in the aftermath, U.S. civilians and war veterans who re-stage the Vietnam War, and U.S. marines preparing for a war that the American media and politicians continually compare with the Vietnam War.

This paper juxtaposes Le’s depictions of the spectacularization of war-ridden landscapes and U.S. military and public discourses about the specter of the Vietnam War in Afghanistan and Iraq. I argue that these discursive comparisons highlight the necessary and continual imagining of national and individual superiority and elide the transformation of U.S. imperial power in the last 35 years. Since the end of the Vietnam War, for example, U.S. military leaders have kept faith in the supremacy of technological advancement to win wars and have invested billions of dollars in remote control and virtual technologies. In another troubling echo, and yet redesigned tool of the past, the infamous Phoenix Program used during the Vietnam War to assassinate Viet Cong leaders has reappeared as the Human Terrain Program for use against possible Taliban affiliates in Afghanistan. In their depictions of present-day imaginings the past (the Vietnam War) and the present-future (Afghanistan and Iraq), Le’s works revisit the genre of war photography from the perspective of the diasporic subject to highlight unquestioned assumptions about U.S. national-imperial appropriations of landscape, memory, imagination, and technology.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509863_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Vo, Chuong-Dai. "War Photography and the Transformation of U.S. Imperial Power" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509863_index.html>

APA Citation:

Vo, C. "War Photography and the Transformation of U.S. Imperial Power" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509863_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Through an examination of the war photography of An-My Le, this paper explores how diasporic Vietnamese cultural production intervenes in mainstream U.S. military and public productions of the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. For her three series Viet Nam, Small Wars and 29 Palms, Le photographed post-war landscapes in Vietnam; Vietnam War battle re-enactors in Virginia; and U.S. marines training in the California desert before their deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. Appropriating the U.S. military term “small war” that refers to guerilla warfare, Le depicts people affected by war within vast landscapes destroyed and transformed by war—Vietnamese in the aftermath, U.S. civilians and war veterans who re-stage the Vietnam War, and U.S. marines preparing for a war that the American media and politicians continually compare with the Vietnam War.

This paper juxtaposes Le’s depictions of the spectacularization of war-ridden landscapes and U.S. military and public discourses about the specter of the Vietnam War in Afghanistan and Iraq. I argue that these discursive comparisons highlight the necessary and continual imagining of national and individual superiority and elide the transformation of U.S. imperial power in the last 35 years. Since the end of the Vietnam War, for example, U.S. military leaders have kept faith in the supremacy of technological advancement to win wars and have invested billions of dollars in remote control and virtual technologies. In another troubling echo, and yet redesigned tool of the past, the infamous Phoenix Program used during the Vietnam War to assassinate Viet Cong leaders has reappeared as the Human Terrain Program for use against possible Taliban affiliates in Afghanistan. In their depictions of present-day imaginings the past (the Vietnam War) and the present-future (Afghanistan and Iraq), Le’s works revisit the genre of war photography from the perspective of the diasporic subject to highlight unquestioned assumptions about U.S. national-imperial appropriations of landscape, memory, imagination, and technology.


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