U.S. Army’s struggles with Public Memory

I was reading Crossroads today maintained by historian Brooks Simpson. There I found an intriguing video crafted by the U.S. Army.

I join Mr. Simpson in my dismay at that the Civil War is totally excluded in this film. Where is Ulysses Grant, the first full-rank Lieutenant General General-in-Chief and shortly after the war ended full general? Where are the United States Colored Troops?

Interestingly enough, there are no Tuskegee Airmen. Why?

I give credit that it looks as though General Ann E. Dunwoody is included but overall, I am disappointed in this film.

What do others think?

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One response to “U.S. Army’s struggles with Public Memory

  1. I think this needs to be seen as what it is. A marketing tool using history, not a depiction of history. From a history perspective, it is irritating.

    Frankly, as a marketing tool, I can only say it makes sense. And bottom line, that’s what this is about. This isn’t about history, this is about enlistment. Leaving out the Civil War might offend some historians, but it is not likely to have as negative an impact as waving Sherman’s portrait–or the Tuskegee Airmen–in certain circles. Grant and Sherman are not people who are viewed positively in areas with some of the highest recruiting rates in the country. I know people don’t like to acknowledge that some of this hurt remains in parts of the South. I can also say Grant was a screw up beyond the Civil War, and frankly, his military record was checkered at best. In a time when corruption scandals have plagued the newspaper, that’s not the sort of value the military wants to be connected with. It is just too complicated to risk a minute-long spot for.

    While it is disappointing that these wounds are still too fragile to be marketing approved, there’s a lot of things about this video that seemed a bit off. For example, I believe there’s some legislation against the government supporting or associating smoking with favorable marketing, and that World War II era image grabbed my attention.

    I did wonder if I saw Colin Powell or perhaps another more recent trailblazer, but the image was too fuzzy. Dunwoody was definitely a nice addition. I would also say everything I understand about the armed forces today makes this seem like an unrepresentative picture. There are a lot more white men here, even in the images of today’s military. The military has much higher rates of employment for minorities than this would suggest. I think I found the modern images both more disappointing and more revealing. Clearly, there was a strong intended audience here– young white males, probably from the South or the Midwest, with an interest in leadership.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of perks and attractive factors to a more recruit-able population by playing up the Army as a “good old boys club,” a way for regular folks to connect with leaders and heroes. That reflects the limits and realities of communities and economies in a lot of this country. The Army is a much better career move in sleepy towns in Alabama and Mississippi than the North Jersey or Boston suburbs. I have commented quite a bit (in reflection on Drs. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s efforts to organize grassroots support for military families) on the lack of military bases and military families in large portions of the country. In my area, we’ve got one or two small national guard installations, but there’s nothing for over an hour. There are no ready places to “help a military family” like this campaign suggests. The few people this would apply to are greatly outnumbered here by the ones who should be “volunteering” as per this campaign. The military is not part of the community, something people connect with. The base system avoids major metropolitan areas in a lot of this country. Most military personnel are not stationed near the Northeastern cities where U.S. Grant and his quirky past are likely to be celebrated.

    I think that disconnect makes it harder to recruit from a population that will appreciate such diverse references, or even balance references between Grant and Lee. It is noteworthy to me that Lee and Jackson are also left out. That seems to be the compromise being offered. Disappointing, but at least something.

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