Airborne Evacuation in the Vietnam War

Violence, Care, and the Helicopter

Annual Conference for the Association of American Geographers, 2014

Session Title: Developments in Later Modern War: Civil/Military Relations

As part of an ongoing investigation into the geographies of care that underpin the performance of military violence, in this paper I explore the role of the helicopter as it was used in prisoner capture and evacuation during the Vietnam War. The helicopter has primarily appeared in geographic scholarship about that war by way of explorations of its use a tool for the deployment of lethal force. But while the helicopter gunship significantly changed the air-targeting process by altering the proximity and speed with which a body on the ground could be transformed into a target, it also modified the landscape of capture and evacuation, introducing a host of new logics and logistics of bodily care into the violent spaces of the counterinsurgency. The helicopter served to introduce both a new means of controlling vertical and horizontal space and a new spatial system that, in turn, necessitated the development of novel forms of management and control. I will highlight the ways that the helicopter transformed the spatial relationships of the battlefield encounter by introducing yet another blank space into the disorder of war: a high-velocity private space wherein enemies sat in prolonged, aerial proximity.