Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Gregory Daddis

Second Advisor

Jennifer Keene

Third Advisor

Robert Slayton


While various types of American military units fought in the Vietnam War, a disproportionate amount of media attention concentrated on one group: the Special Forces. More commonly known as the Green Berets, these “elite” soldiers were lauded in the Vietnam era for their foreign language skills, martial prowess, and mastery of unconventional warfare. Their ability to live and work with local populations made them the favored–and famed–warrior diplomats of President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. During the 1960s, the Green Berets were featured in best-selling novels, a chart-topping song, comic book titles, action figures, bubblegum cards, and a successful film. It was not only the American public who embraced these elite soldiers, however. Military officials, government policy planners, and the media all believed, to varying degrees, in the mythic abilities of the Special Forces. Deployed to Vietnam with the expectation that they could solve political, social, and economic problems, they were ultimately were unable to fulfill their mission. Even in defeat, however, the luster of the Green Berets remained virtually undimmed and America could reimagine victory in the jungles of Southeast Asia through John Rambo in the 1980s. An examination of these myths reveals the deep, and dangerous, cultural roots that undergird notions of democratic progress, American exceptionalism, and military interventionism, ideas that have found new life in the Global War on Terror.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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