Gender in War: The Case of the Vietnam War and 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother'

Article excerpt

This article reviews some aspects of the author's research conducted as a member of an inter-university team under a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research. It presents the Vietnamese government's title and position of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother' and discusses the origins and some social implications of this politically- constructed identity in Vietnam.

Introduction

The issue of gender in war is a very importanttopic in peace studies. Until now studies have focused on the subject of women soldiers1. However, gender experience in the post-conflict society is also very important. In this article I will present the problem associated with the notion of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother', through which I shall analyse some important aspects of gender in a postconflict society. 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother' is an honorary title given in Vietnam to mothers whose children were martyrs in the Vietnam War2. It also entitles them to have social security. There are 46,398 women with the title of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother' in Vietnam3. Specifically my study indicates that the system of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother' is giving rise to new social effects, including a new type of postwar conflict in Vietnam. The following discussion is an account of research conducted in Vietnam from 2007 to 2009 and the issues that emerged.

As it is well known, there are many difficulties with interviewing people in Vietnam, because the Vietnamese government practically restricts free research activities. So, I asked for help from official organisations. The War Crimes Museum in Ho Chi Minh City agreed to help me and introduced several persons whom I could interview as part of my research. I interviewed several people concerning the Vietnam War in Ho Chi Minh City. Two of them are 'Vietnamese Heroic Mothers' and one is the husband of one of them.

I would like to introduce my three interviewees4. Ms. Nguyen Thi Que was born in 1928 in Quang Nam Province in the southern part of Vietnam. She joined the Revolutionary movement in 1945. She married Mr Phan Quang Hong and gave birth to a daughter in 1949. She was arrested by the South Vietnam Government and interned in the prison of Con Dao5 from 1959 to 1975. During her absence, her daughter also joined the Revolutionary movement and died in a street fight in 1968. Ms. Nguyen heard about the death of her daughter while in prison in 1970. She received the title of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother' in 1995.

Mr. Phan Quang Hong was born in 1926 in Quang Nam Province. He joined the Patriotic movement in 1945. He was arrested by the French Army in 1949, the year when his daughter was born, and was put into the prison of Con Dao until 1954. After release, he continued to participate in the Revolutionary movement and, as a result, was arrested again by the South Vietnam Government. He returned to the prison of Con Dao from 1959 to 1973. He also heard about the death of his daughter in the prison. In 1975 he was reunited with his wife, Ms. Nguyen Thi Que, with whom he since has been living in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ms. Bui Thi Me was born in 1921 in Vinh Long Province in the southern part of Vietnam. She married in 1940 and gave birth to four sons and two daughters. From 1955 she took part in the Revolutionary movement. Her four sons were enlisted as patriotic soldiers in 1967. But in 1968, three sons became martyrs and one son received a serious wound. She was so shocked that she was hospitalised for one week. She received the title of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother' in 1995.

I interviewed Ms. Nguyen on 12 September, 2008, Mr. Phan on 19 September, 2009, and Ms. Bui on 20 and 21 September, 2009. I interviewed them either in a room of the Museum or at their house with the interpreter of Japanese and Vietnamese. In the following section I will examine some prominent issues raised through these interviews.

What is a 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother'?

In 1994 the Vietnamese government, in its political move to recognise the important role played by the 'Vietnam' War (or American War, as it is called in Vietnam), created the system of 'Vietnamese Heroic Mother'. …