Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950

Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950

Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950

Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950


In this study of the encounter between Vietnam and the United States from 1919 to 1950, Mark Bradley fundamentally reconceptualizes the origins of the Cold War in Vietnam and the place of postcolonial Vietnam in the history of the twentieth century. Among the first Americans granted a visa to undertake research in Vietnam since the war, Bradley draws on newly available Vietnamese-language primary sources and interviews as well as archival materials from France, Great Britain, and the United States.

Bradley uses these sources to reveal an imagined America that occupied a central place in Vietnamese political discourse, symbolizing the qualities that revolutionaries believed were critical for reshaping their society. American policymakers, he argues, articulated their own imagined Vietnam, a deprecating vision informed by the conviction that the country should be remade in America's image.

Contrary to other historians, who focus on the Soviet-American rivalry and ignore the policies and perceptions of,Vietnamese actors, Bradley contends that the global discourse and practices of colonialism, race, modernism, and postcolonial state-making were profoundly implicated in--and ultimately transcended--the dynamics of the Cold War in shaping Vietnamese-American relations.


It is rare to find a historian who actually demonstrates the relationship between culture and diplomacy. Historians talk frequently enough about the need to make this connection, but when they begin to write, their sensitivity to cultural differences tends to fade. Knowing how easily the documents they find in the archives crossed borders, they often forget that the ideas these documents contain were not equally transportable. Words like "democracy" and "liberation" can carry very different meanings across time and space. Culture has a way of particularizing the significance, even of what appear to be universal concepts.

Mark Bradley's Imagining Vietnam and America is a welcome departure from this pattern of writing history. It shows how a culturally rooted particularization of universals brought about, in Southeast Asia, a costly and protracted Cold War conflict. Anyone who read only the words of American and Vietnamese leaders at the end of World War II would have thought such an outcome unlikely. Franklin D. Roosevelt's bitter denunciations of French colonialism seemed to clear the way for Ho Chi Minh's declaration of independence, with its quotations from Thomas Jefferson. But appearances deceived, for as Bradley makes clear, these converging pronouncements arose from remarkably divergent expectations.

The Viet Minh regarded the Americans along with the Russians as revolutionaries whose history of turning words into deeds provided a model for overcoming imperialism—and perhaps also a basis for actual support. the Americans, however much they despised French colonialism, still saw the Vietnamese as naive, passive, and ineffectual people whose independence in an emerging Cold War could only create opportunities for international communism. the very infrequency of contacts prior to World War II had led Ho and the Americans to assume . . .

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