Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans

Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans

Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans

Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans

Synopsis

The Vietnam War's influence on politics, foreign policy, and subsequent military campaigns is the center of much debate and analysis. But the impact on veterans across the globe, as well as the war's effects on individual lives and communities, is a largely neglected issue. As a consequence of cultural and legal barriers, the oral histories of the Vietnam War currently available in English are predictably one-sided, providing limited insight into the inner workings of the Communist nations that participated in the war. Furthermore, many of these accounts focus on combat experiences rather than the backgrounds, belief systems, and social experiences of interviewees, resulting in an incomplete historiography of the war.

Chinese native Xiaobing Li corrects this oversight in Voices from the Vietnam War: Stories from American, Asian, and Russian Veterans. Li spent seven years gathering hundreds of personal accounts from survivors of the war, accounts that span continents, nationalities, and political affiliations. The twenty-two intimate stories in the book feature the experiences of American, Chinese, Russian, Korean, and North and South Vietnamese veterans, representing the views of both anti-Communist and Communist participants, including Chinese officers of the PLA, a Russian missile-training instructor, and a KGB spy. These narratives humanize and contextualize the war's events while shedding light on aspects of the war previously unknown to Western scholars. Providing fresh perspectives on a long-discussed topic, Voices from the Vietnam War offers a thorough and unique understanding of America's longest war.

Excerpt

Huynh Van No was sweating as he showed us the War Remnants Museum on one of the comfortable spring days in Vietnam. Over sixty and reticent, Mr. No was not a typical tour guide in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We worried about him after we scrambled into the underground Cu Chi tunnels. “I’m OK,” he said, “I have this problem for years.” As a Southerner, Huynh served as a staff sergeant in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during the Vietnam War. After the Northern victory, the Communist government sent all the former ARVN soldiers and officers to prison or labor camps. Huynh survived seven castigating years, from 1975 to 1982, and lost his health and most everything else: his parents, three brothers, his wife, and two of his three children. One thing good came out of the war, Huynh joked with a complacent smile: he had learned how to speak English during his three-month training in the United States as a Battalion Maintenance Officer. With workable English, he could now make $3 a day as a guide to foreign tourists to support his handicapped daughter at home.

The lengthy war claimed 3 million Vietnamese lives. For the Vietnamese veterans like Staff Sergeant No, the war lasted for thirty years, starting with the French Indochina War, 1946 to 1954; then an insurgent rebellion supported by the North against the South from 1955 to 1963; then the conflict known as the American War in 1963–1973; and finally, the civil war ending in the Communist takeover in 1975. Other ARVN veterans we met in the southern provinces had similar stories. They grew up with the war, fought in it, and then lost almost everything to it. Lt. Nguyen Yen Xuan described the war not as an event, but as his life and family history. This is also true for Vietnam War veterans from other parts of the world, including more than 2 million Americans. They became part of the war and it changed them in a multitude of ways. Numerous personal memoirs have been published in the United States, including many excellent oral histories.

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