Linn’s book offers far more than its title suggests. Elvis Presley, who spent some time in the U.S. Army, makes only fleeting appearances: the real focus of this rich, readable book is the institutional transformation of the army from the end of World War II to the eve of Vietnam. This was a time of great upheaval, as the military had to constantly adjust in the face of rapid postwar demobilization, the shock of the Korean War, debates about nuclear conflict (and whether an army would be needed at all), the changes under way in American society, and the ebb and flow of the Cold War. Linn is relentlessly honest, detailing not only positive elements of the story, such as the important role the army played in desegregation, but also negative ones, such as the army’s bureaucratic rigidity, the dubious radical right-wing and racist views held by some of its senior commanders, and its futile and damaging effort to figure out how it could use nuclear weapons in a tactical manner. At all times, Linn keeps the focus on ordinary gis and their coping strategies, reflected in Elvis’ advice to new soldiers: “Play it straight and do your best.”
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