On April 21, 1971, hundreds of Vietnam veterans fell asleep on the National Mall, wondering whether they would be arrested by daybreak. Veterans had fought the courts for the right to sleep in public while demonstrating against the war. When the Supreme Court denied their petition, they decided to break the law and turned sleep into a form of direct action.
During and after the Second World War, military psychiatrists used sleep therapies to treat an epidemic of “combat fatigue.” Inducing deep and twilight sleep in clinical settings, they studied the effects of war violence on the mind and developed the techniques of brainwashing that would weaponize both memory and sleep. In the Vietnam era, radical veterans reclaimed the authority to interpret their own traumatic symptoms—nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia —and pioneered new methods of protest.
In Fighting Sleep, Franny Nudelman recounts the struggle over sleep in the postwar world, revealing that the subject was instrumental to the development of military science, professional psychiatry, and antiwar activism.
Franny Nudelman is Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Carleton University in Ottawa, where she teaches US culture and history. She is the author of John Brown’s Body: Slavery, Violence, and the Culture of War, and coeditor, with Sara Blair and Joseph Entin, of Remaking Reality: U.S. Documentary Culture after 1945.
Joseph Entin teaches English and American Studies at Brooklyn College. He is the author of Sensational Modernism: Experimental Fiction and Photography in Thirties America (2007), and co-editor, with Sara Blair and Franny Nudelman, of Remaking Reality: U.S. Documentary Fiction after 1945 (2018).
Philip F. Napoli is an associate professor of history at Brooklyn College where he has taught since 1998. He's the author of Bringing It All Back Home: An Oral History of New York City's Vietnam Veterans, published by Hill and Wang in 2013. He is working on a manuscript about the post-war Vietnam veterans movement and is engaged in research on soldier photography and the visual culture of war.