We Became the Cavalry: The Transformation of Native American Warrior Identity During the Vietnam War
Nguyen, Gia-Quan Thi Anna
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This project explores the complicated and distinctive relationship that Native veterans had with the U.S. military-industrial complex during and after the Vietnam War. Although veterans of all racial groups were forced to witness and perhaps even participate in atrocities against the Vietnamese population, Native veterans felt a strong racial, cultural, and historical connection with the Vietnamese people, which stemmed from the recognition that the way in which the Vietnamese were being racialized and colonized by the U.S. paralleled the experiences of Native communities. Through a close reading of autobiographies, film, and other sources, this paper argues that the tribal warrior identity that Indigenous veterans embodied in tandem with their identity as U.S. soldiers became increasingly problematic as they realized that they were becoming the foot soldiers of the very imperialism that subjugated their communities: they were becoming the "cavalry." The experiences of Native soldiers in Vietnam had a profound effect on both the warriors sent to Southeast Asia and on the communities they came home to, forever changing their relationships with the U.S. government and military.