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Elvis's Army

When the U.S. Army drafted Elvis Presley in 1958, it quickly set about transforming the King of Rock and Roll from a rebellious teen idol into a clean-cut GI. Trading in his gold-trimmed jacket for standard-issue fatigues, Elvis became a model soldier in an army facing the unprecedented challenge of building a fighting force for the Atomic Age.In an era that threatened Soviet-American thermonuclear annihilation, the army declared it could limit atomic warfare to the battlefield. It not only adopted a radically new way of fighting but also revamped its equipment, organization, concepts, and training practices. From massive garrisons in Germany and Korea to nuclear tests to portable atomic weapons, the army reinvented itself. Its revolution in warfare required an equal revolution in personnel: the new army needed young officers and soldiers who were highly motivated, well trained, and technologically adept. Drafting Elvis demonstrated that even this icon of youth culture was not too cool to wear the army s uniform.The army of the 1950s was America s most racially and economically egalitarian institution, providing millions with education, technical skills, athletics, and other opportunities. With the cooperation of both the army and the media, military service became a common theme in television, music, and movies, and part of this generation s identity. Brian Linn traces the origins, evolution, and ultimate failure of the army s attempt to transform itself for atomic warfare, revealing not only the army s vital role in creating Cold War America but also the experiences of its forgotten soldiers."
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About the Author

Brian McAllister Linn is Professor of History at Texas A&M University.


The story of how the army sought to adapt to the atomic age is a compelling one, and Linn goes considerably beyond what has previously been written.--Thomas G. Mahnken, U.S. Naval War College Well-researched, logically organized...Linn examines the atomic battlefield, military hardware, enlisted men, and officers, among other topics, providing a fascinating and enlightening look at the U.S. Army during a tumultuous era.--B. T. Browne"Choice" (03/01/2017) A highly convincing work of scholarship. [Linn] has shown the potential of 'War and Society' to incorporate cultural, social, technological, and strategic analysis into a volume of wide-ranging academic appeal.--Alexandre F. Caillot"Strategic Visions" (06/01/2017) Linn's book is a valuable examination of--and a cautionary tale about--the challenges of identifying a role for soldiers on the atomic battlefield.--Glenn C. Altschuler"Reviews in American History" (06/01/2017) 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...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.'--Lawrence D. Freedman"Foreign Affairs" (11/01/2016) Linn presents a fascinating history of the U.S. Army and the atomic battlefield of the 1950s, during the height of the Cold War, when people believed tactical nuclear weapons could be used effectively in a European war scenario without escalation.--William D. Bushnell"Military Officer" (06/01/2017) This is one of the most important books printed on the history of the U.S. Army in the past decade. Not only does Linn offer a detailed analysis of an understudied period of the Army, but he also provides a wealth of issues for today's military professional to ponder.--Lt Col. Richard S. Faulkner"Military Review" (06/23/2017) [Linn's] lucid, insightful and extraordinarily well-researched and referenced book addresses a period of military transformation--specifically for the U.S. Army--that profoundly changed the role of this institution during a critical period following World War II and leading to the Cold War, while affecting the lives of the soldiers and their families in an equally significant fashion.--Eric B. Schoomaker"Psychiatry" (10/01/2017) Elvis's Army is a cautionary reminder of the limits of technology to revolutionize militaries without accompanying adjustments in other important areas, especially force structure. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the U.S. Army during the Cold War and the delicate balance between the articulation of military strategy and the difficulty of achieving it.--William A. Taylor"Journal of American History" (09/01/2017) Linn's clear explanations, illuminating examples, and easy, occasionally cutting, prose make Elvis's Army accessible to casual readers. Yet it is also a seminal work. No historian of the American army during the Cold War can ignore this important book, whilst its comprehensive treatment of the subject will make it an invaluable source for any scholar whose work intersects in any way.--J. P. Clark"British Journal for Military History" (02/01/2017) In his welcome new book, Brian Linn has skillfully contextualized the evolution of military strategic and tactical doctrine in the early atomic era. Elvis's Army belongs on the reading lists of both beginning students and seasoned scholars of its subject.--Gates Brown"Michigan War Studies Review" (07/06/2017) Elvis's Army is meticulously researched and well written. This reader found the book hard to put down and highly recommends it to all those who are interested in learning how the Army negotiated the challenging middle years of the twentieth century.--Roger D. Cunningham"Journal of America's Military Past" (03/01/2017) With mordant wit, a kaleidoscopic frame of reference, and deep research in army records, government publications, officers' papers, and oral histories, Linn is an ideal guide to this service in continuous bureaucratic upheaval. Elvis's Army will reward any student of the history of the U.S. Army.--Christopher S. DeRosa"Journal of Military History" (07/01/2017) Elvis's Army immerses the reader in this world, documenting its complexities and contradictions in meticulous detail. [Linn's] argument is bolstered by data from internal Army studies and the quoted recollections of those who--whether as generals, privates, or something in between--lived through the era and witnessed it from the inside. The sheer volume of material Linn marshals in support of his case is staggering, and the artfulness with which he wrangles it into thematic chapters on subjects such as doctrine, weapons, recruitment, training, and public relations is impressive. The book is dense with facts and examples, but Linn's smooth, fluid prose means that it never feels like a slog. Quite the opposite: Anyone with a serious interest in one of Linn's central themes--American military culture, the Cold War, or innovation--is likely to find Elvis's Army compulsively readable.--A. Bowdoin Van Riper"PopMatters" (04/04/2017) A fascinating look at a neglected era in American military history--the time after the war in Korea and before the one in Vietnam--when the army was the most diverse, egalitarian, and racially mixed institution in American history. But it also was deeply troubled.--Thomas E. Ricks, author of The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today Brian Linn's history holds lessons for us: be wary about claims of revolutionary change in warfare; find ways to keep servicemen and women connected to those in whose name they serve; recognize that the American military's advantage over potential enemies is more human than technological. This is a book for scholars, students, soldiers, and citizens.--H. R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam

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