James William Gibson
James William Gibson, 49, lives in Los Angeles and is a professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach. He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, attending college at the University of Texas at Austin. He attended graduate school at Yale University, and wrote his thesis on how the U.S. military conceptualized and fought the Vietnam War, and why, despite overwhelming technological superiority, it was defeated by the Vietnamese. The Atlantic Monthly Press subsequently published a revised version of the thesis in 1986 as The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. In February 2000, Grove/Atlantic re-issued The Perfect War with a new introduction.
While writing The Perfect War in the early and mid-1980s Gibson began to study the cultural and political traumas caused by America’s defeat in Vietnam. He began to search the emerging paramilitary culture, where men fantasized themselves as warriors fighting outside the corrupt establishment to restore the country’s sense of virtue, power_and masculinity. For several years Gibson attended every Rambo and Dirty Harry type film ever made, subscribed to Soldier of Fortune and its clones, went to gun shows, played paintball, and even signed up for combat pistol training at Gunsite Ranch. With fellowships from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities, Gibson wrote Warrior Dream: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America. The book was published by Hill and Wang in 1994, and received considerable attention after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. Gibson subsequently became a consultant to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
He continues to study changes in America’s war culture, publishing essays in several edited collections, op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, and book reviews for The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News.
But the constant confrontation with killing and death got old. Shortly after Oklahoma City, Gibson began to study environmental conflicts. Not far from his home in Los Angeles, developers planned to build the largest “in-fill development” in American history, a new edge city with 30, 000 residents and 20,000 office workers, generating over 200,000 car trips a day. This new project, called Playa Vista, is intended to be built on the Ballona Wetlands and adjoining uplands, the last 1100 acres of open space on the Los Angeles basin floor. A broad, rag-tag coalition of environmental activists is trying to save the land, and have it become a state park. Since 1995 Gibson has published over a dozen articles and op-eds on Ballona for LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and The Nation. The battle between developers and activists is still ongoing.
Gibson is currently writing a book on the environmental movement’s efforts to change how our culture understands nature. Max Weber, the famous German sociologist, repeatedly lamented that the modernization process involved what he called “the dis-enchantment of the world, meaning that the old pre-modern way of seeing all of nature as alive and having some kind of conscious spirit was being replaced by a notion that nature was just a collection of inanimate resources for human use. In contrast, environmentalists want us to understand plants and animals, land and sea as living, animate beings, just the way our ancestors did. For example, Julia Butterfly Hill spent two years in a giant redwood and it became known as “Luna,” a being that has a right to live. While the Bush administration wants to drill for oil in Alaska’s Artic Wildlife Refuge, while environmentalists want the land saved as a sacred space_a birthing ground. Gibson’s book is tentatively entitled, Paradise Regained: Environmentalism as the Cultural Re-Enchantment of Nature.