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Posted on Nov 7, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Vietnam Zippos – Book Review

By Jerry D. Morelock

cover.jpgBook Review – Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories, 1965-1973, by Sherry Buchanan (University of Chicago Press, 2007); 176 pages, 170 color plates, $25; Website: press.uchicago.edu

History in Their Pockets – The Zippos GIs Carried in Vietnam

For at least the last quarter-century, historians have been championing what they term “new military history.” Under this approach, military historians eschew the traditional “bugles and drums” accounts dominated by battles, unit movements and great generals in order to focus on the lives, surroundings and experiences of ordinary individuals caught up in the maelstrom of warfare. Virtually everything associated with the individual soldier, sailor, airman and Marine is fair game for detailed study under this historical approach, including experiences (in and out of battle), weapons, clothing, equipment, letters home and personal effects. Even the grinding drudgery of a soldier’s daily life provides grist for the historian’s mill. The new military history seeks to achieve a more in-depth presentation of warfare’s “big picture” through the accumulated stories of the mass of ordinary people who have often been overlooked in traditional military history. This approach – history writ small – gives voice to those whose stories would not otherwise be heard.

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Vietnam Zippo book -- Zippo dimensions.jpg
Elegant simplicity – Rugged construction – Philosopher’s palette: A Vietnam Zippo sports one of the most ubiquitous GI expressions of the war. “It don’t mean nothin” was used as a philosophical comment or rejoinder to just about any situation, whether tragic, mundane or comic. Today, it might be loosely translated as “fuhgettaboutit!”

In Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories, 1965-1973, author Sherry Buchanan gives voices to the U. S. GIs who served in our most divisive war by focusing on one of the most common items of “non-issue” equipment that they carried – the ubiquitous Zippo cigarette lighter. The engravings that most GIs had inscribed on their Zippos (typically by local Vietnamese vendors) don’t just tell their stories, they practically shout them out.

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