Women's Antiwar Diplomacy during the Vietnam War Era

Women's Antiwar Diplomacy during the Vietnam War Era

Women's Antiwar Diplomacy during the Vietnam War Era

Women's Antiwar Diplomacy during the Vietnam War Era


In 1965, fed up with President Lyndon Johnson's refusal to make serious diplomatic efforts to end the Vietnam War, a group of female American peace activists decided to take matters into their own hands by meeting with Vietnamese women to discuss how to end U.S. intervention. While other attempts at women's international cooperation and transnational feminism have led to cultural imperialism or imposition of American ways on others, Jessica M. Frazier reveals an instance when American women crossed geopolitical boundaries to criticize American Cold War culture, not promote it. The American women Frazier studies not only solicited Vietnamese women's opinions and advice on how to end the war but also viewed them as paragons of a new womanhood by which American women could rework their ideas of gender, revolution, and social justice during an era of reinvigorated feminist agitation.

Unlike the many histories of the Vietnam War that end with an explanation of why the memory of the war still divides U.S. society, by focusing on linkages across national boundaries, Frazier illuminates a significant moment in history when women formed effective transnational relationships on genuinely cooperative terms.


A single photograph provides one of the few pieces of evidence that Lorraine Gordon and Mary Clarke, both white members of the U.S.-based organization Women Strike for Peace (WSP), were the first American peace activists to interview Vietnamese officials in North Viet Nam after U.S. bombing began. On the back of the photograph, Mary Clarke wrote, “Hanoi, May 1965, Pres. Palace with Pham Van Dong (arranging Djakarta mtg), Lorraine Gordon, Mary Clarke” (see Figure 1). Little other evidence of this visit exists, in part because Clarke and Gordon’s trip to Hanoi was impromptu. They had introduced themselves to North Vietnamese diplomats in Moscow, where they were attending an international congress to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the end of World War II. At the North Vietnamese embassy, Vietnamese officials invited Clarke and Gordon to travel on to Hanoi, where they would meet with members of the Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU) and Premier Pham Van Dong. The U.S. State Department forbade such travel, making it necessary for the two women to fly clandestinely to Hanoi and leave little trace of their transgression. Clarke and Gordon spent a few days in Hanoi before returning to the Soviet Union and then the United States.

Upon arriving in Hanoi, Clarke and Gordon would likely have been greeted at the airport by members of the VWU and been driven across the Red River to a hotel in the center of the city. Traveling through the city, Clarke and Gordon would have noticed the remnants of French colonialism in the wide boulevards and in the architecture of the Presidential Palace, built in the early twentieth century to house the French governorgeneral of Indochina. They likely would have also remarked on the number of parks and lakes in Hanoi, the prominence of bicyclists on city streets, and the magnificence of the ao dais that some of the women wore. Indeed, the beauty of Hanoi would have struck them as well as its situation as a nexus where East and West, tradition and modernity, a colonial past and decolonized present, met.

Monuments and museums across the city exhibited the 2,000-year history of colonial rule and revered Vietnamese uprisings against foreign invaders. Although many relics memorialized military achievements in particular . . .

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