At the Graduate Research Forum of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History, Kelsey Kilgore (University of Toronto) will present a paper on "Make-Believe Empire: Fort Ord’s Mock Vietnamese Village and the Embedding of the US Military in Popular Culture, 1945-1969." In October 1966, Panorama, the weekly base newspaper at Fort Ord, CA, proudly announced the official opening of its mock Vietnamese village.
The buildings and costumes that had been assembled in the months previous were now in use as training devices to simulate, with purported “realism,” the place and people of Vietnam in an essentially arid landscape. In using this staged area to prepare soldiers for combat until the end of 1969, several questions arise about the relationship between the military and popular entertainment after the Second World War and into the context of Cold War culture and beyond. This talk focuses on these training exercises at Ft. Ord and their rootedness in a longer history of cooperation between Hollywood and the US military. This history reveals how militarism was embedded in popular culture, mythologizing and normalizing the military at a time when the role of the United States as a global power was actively negotiated through combat. The Vietnamese village at Ord presents a crucial case study in understanding this process, and how the military’s normalized presence has continued to pervade mass entertainment, from GI Joe to video games.