Third World Testimony in the Era of Globalization
OF NEUTRALITY 1
“Boo-sheeit! I ain't never gettin' hit in Vietnam.” “Oh no? Okay, mothafucker, why not?” “'Cause,” Mayhew said, “it don't exist.”
(Michael Herr, Dispatches)
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
“[L]OOK INTO THE HEART of one you once called enemy,” writes Vietnamese immigrant Le Ly Hayslip. “I have witnessed, firsthand, all that you went through. I will try to tell you who your enemy was” (xiv). Hayslip's 1989 autobiography, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace, thus promises a glimpse into what remained opaque and incomprehensible to both a television viewing audience and the soldier in the field—the heart of “our enemy.” The autobiography marks yet another first-person contribution to the discourse of a war that has been said to defy representation. The incommunicability of the Vietnam experience has been a primary theme within veterans' discourse, ironically in spite of the fact that it is dominated by experiential accounts that link notions of authenticity and authority to “being there.” Michael Herr's portrayal of a soldier's belief in his invincibility reflects two conventional perspectives on the war; first, that Americans were only fighting themselves, and second, that the trauma of the experience renders it essentially untransferable, hence unreal. Le Ly Hayslip's autobiography stands out among these firsthand accounts if only because it seems to offer an alternative view—that of a Vietnamese peasant woman. And to some extent it does succeed in countering dominant American representations of the Vietnamese people as mere backdrops to a hellish landscape. Vietnam and the Vietnamese, her story testifies, exist.
Hayslip's story is a commodity in the glutted American media market on the war only to the extent that her race, gender, national, and class