Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives

Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives

Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives

Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives

Synopsis

Making sense of the wars for Vietnam has had a long history. The question "why Vietnam?" dominated American and Vietnamese political life for much of the length of the wars and has continued to be asked in the decades since they ended. This volume brings together the work of eleven scholars to examine the conceptual and methodological shifts that have marked the contested terrain of Vietnam War scholarship. Editors Marilyn Young and Mark Bradley's superb group of renowned contributors spans the generations-including those who were active during wartime, along with scholars conducting research in Vietnamese sources and uncovering new sources in the United States, former Soviet Union, China, and Eastern and Western Europe. Ranging in format from top-down reconsiderations of critical decision-making moments in Washington, Hanoi, and Saigon, to microhistories of the war that explore its meanings from the bottom up, these essays comprise the most up-to-date collection of scholarship on the controversial historiography of the Vietnam wars.

Excerpt

Mark Philip Bradley and Marilyn B. Young

In the late summer of 2005, even as a real war raged in Iraq, a group of men in surplus military gear moved out on patrol through the scrub of central Virginia, hunting for Viet Cong. Hiding somewhere out there, men and women in black pajamas waited in ambush. “To get to Vietnam,” Phuong Ly, a reporter for the Washington Post explained, “follow Interstate 64 to Louisa, Virginia]__Signs show the way: ‘To the Nam,’ ‘Phou Bai—2 km.’” the encampment, and the battles, took place on a fifty-acre clearing where some scorched forest land added a “nice touch.” As one participant observed: “Looks like it's been napalmed.”

The American war in Vietnam has joined the roster of war reenactments, from the Revolutionary and Civil wars to World War ii, which enliven the summers of thousands of Americans. Most of those involved, Phuong Ly wrote, think of playing war, including the war in Vietnam, as a “hobby, like golf or collecting model trains, but more educational.” One of the organizers worried about “turning the war into a game or parody” and of having fun when they were meant to feel “scared and somber.” But some of those on that hot August day in Virginia were there for more personal reasons: “It gives me a mental picture of what our dads did,” one explained. Another hoped to understand her father better, to find a way to “open up a conversation” with him. He, in turn, had initially expressed concern that the exercise would “trivialize” the war. Later, he said he was pleased that his war had “finally been treated like other wars.” in this, he was mistaken. As Phuong Ly observed, military reenactments as a genre are usually “staged to make history come alive for generations who know it only dimly from books.” Vietnam, on the other hand, “isn't quite history. To many people, it's a painfully current event.” the reenactors hoped to lay it to rest.

It is, we think, a forlorn hope. Many Vietnamese believe that the spirits of the unquiet dead—those who failed to receive proper burial at the time of death—continue to wander the earth. Restless and unhappy, they haunt . . .

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