The book highlights the central role played by Vietnam veterans in shaping public memory of the war. It describes how efforts to commemorate the war increasingly downplayed the political divisions it spawned in favour of a more unifying emphasis on promoting national “healing.” It ends with a consideration of what the shortcomings in the commemoration of the Vietnam War mean for American public morality and democracy.
The work has been recognised as pathbreaking. The art historian Kirk Savage described it as “a powerful reflection on the healing power and moral equivocation of war memorials.” Scott Laderman called it a “wonderful book”, its research “wide-ranging and impressive”. Robert McMahon, former president of the Society for the History of American Foreign Relations called it “sophisticated and ambitious”. Michael Kammen called it “an extraordinary book.” Choice recommended it as “among the most important books on the Vietnam War published in the past decade”.