About James William Gibson

James William Gibson James William Gibson is a professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach and a Faculty Fellow at Yale University’s Center for Cultural Sociology. He grew up in Fort Worth, attended college at the University of Texas in Austin, and obtained his Ph.D in sociology from Yale. He has won grants from the National Science Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and was awarded a post-doc at Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities.

Gibson’s first book, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam (1986) analyzed how U.S. military and civilian leadership developed the theory of limited war as a kind of production system in which the officer corps served as managers, the enlisted men functioned as workers, and the product was enemy deaths or body count. To the war managers, American economic and technological superiority over Vietnamese insurgents and North Vietnamese regular forces was inevitable; any temporary setback could be reversed through escalation. By comparing the managerial approach found in official documents and military histories to the stories told by troops and journalists on the ground, Gibson details what went wrong with the production model of war and why the United States lost.

Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America (1994) studied the trauma of defeat in Vietnam, how it threatened the core national mythology of Americans as both technologically and morally superior people who always defeated their enemies and gained strength and unity through their wars. Since defeat to many men was incomprehensible, liberal elites were blamed for what the U.S. military used to call “self-imposed restraints” making victory impossible. Consequently, American culture developed images and stories of powerful men who fought outside the establishment , the Rambo and Dirty Harry figures. Their victories over America’s many enemies promised to restore American (and masculine) power. Gibson interviewed war movie directors and pulp novel authors, attended Soldier of Fortune magazine’s annual convention in Las Vegas for several years, and even enrolled in a combat pistol training school to better understand this violent fantasy world. After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 Gibson was a widely sought out commentator.

Gibson subsequently turned away from war and began to study environmental conflicts. He became a free-lancer working for LA Weekly, covering environmental issues in Southern California, particularly the bitter struggle surrounding developer Playa Vista’s plan to build a city on the Ballona Wetlands and surrounding meadows, the last 1000 acres of undeveloped property in the entire Los Angeles basin floor. Gibson covered the conflict for LA Weekly throughout the 1990s. In 2001 he began writing op-eds on environmental topics for the Los Angeles Times. In 2006 The Ballona Institute named Gibson a “Journalist of Courage” for his work in helping save some 600 acres. His new book, A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship With Nature, grew from insights learned during that long fight.

Gibson is married to the writer Carol Mithers, They live with their daughter, Melissa, in West Los Angeles. He scuba dives in coastal waters when they are not clouded by algae blooms and hikes in local mountains when they not on fire. Gibson can be reached at gibson@jameswilliamgibson.com