Vietnam War And The Zippo
Zippo lighters have played an important role in almost every war since World War II. They have been used in many ways including, warming hands, starting campfire, providing light and even deflecting a bullet or two. Zippos were commonly referred to as “trench art,” some servicemen used their lighters as a drawing board to convey their feelings and decorated their lighter cases with hand-etched design.
During the Vietnam War the Zippo lighter came to the fore front. Who can forget the report done by Morley Safer in 1965? He followed the United States Marines on a search and destroy mission into Cam Ne. When the Marines he accompanied reached the village, they ordered the civilians there to evacuate their homes. They then proceeded to burn their grass huts down with flamethrowers and Zippo lighters. Safer’s report on the event soon aired on CBS and was among the first to paint a harrowing portrait of the War in Vietnam. LBJ responded to the segment furiously, accusing Safer of having “shat on the American flag.” For the first time since World War II, American boys in uniform had been portrayed as murderers instead of liberators. Our perception of the war, and the Zippo lighter, would never be the same.
The Zippo was far more than an instrument of death and destruction. For the American soldiers who carried them, they were a vital form of social protest as well. During the Vietnam War the Zippo became a talisman and companion for the American GI. During the war Zippos served as a canvas for both personal and political expression during the Age of Aquarius, engraved with etchings of peace signs and marijuana leaves and slogans steeped in all the rock lyrics, sound bites, combat slang, and antiwar mottos of the time.
The soldiers would engrave there units, platoons and battalions on them. Some had maps of the area they served, still other engraved emotion sayings such as, “Death from Above,” “Napalm Sticks to Kids,” “I Love You Mom, From a Lonely Paratrooper.”
Part pop art and part military artifact, they collectively capture the large moods of the sixties and the darkest days of Vietnam, all through the world of the tiny Zippo.