Sunday, April 19, 2015

Week 4: Amerasians

Brandy Worrall-Soriano. “What Doesn’t Kill Us.” 
This novel introduces to readers a narrator (Brandy) who identifies as Vietnamese and American ("Amerasian"). Her mother left Viet Nam with her father (Viet Nam War veteran) on a whim at the end of the Viet Nam war. Brandy and her mom does not get along-- not even after she got married and moved out. She constantly ponders and resents her mom's harsh words and constant nagging. Her father was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to his experiences in the Viet Nam war. His life now consist of taking pills, drinking, and drugs. Throughout her life, Brandy never understood how her parents experience in the Viet Nam war really shaped the people they are currently. This mentality starts to change when Brandy becomes diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at the age of 31. She battles an emotional battle that consist of trying to accept her new life and fate along with enduring a 6 month chemotherapy trial. As she is going through this battle, Brandy starts to make connections between her current state and the one her parents were in living through the Viet Nam war-- it was a connection in which all three were forced to face the possibility of death at a young age when those around them did not carry the same fate. This rare moment and the conditions her parents had endured in the Viet Nam war stimulated Brandy's desire to find connections between the war and her current sickness.

Although this novel is written in a very personal tone, I believe it serves its purpose of making the Viet Nam war seem more real than what is usually written in history books. We always hear about the enormously high death rate in this war and how its after effects has caused birth defects, mortality, and sickness in the children of those in the war, but these unfortunates are just words on a paper until we can put a story to it. This is exactly what Brandy Worrall-Soriano's book did-- it brought alive a world which seemed so unreal and unimaginable to many in today's society. This book hilights the hardships that exists in the relationship of people who fled Viet Nam and married war veterans. The relationship is nothing close to the happy endings that are usually portrayed to Americans -- a happy ending where the vietnamese women are lucky to have been allowed to come to America. In reality, these women sacrificed and left their entire lives back in Viet Nam with them as they begin their new lives in America. The people and things they left behind constantly comes back to haunt them. This novel also exposes the chemical warfare that took place during the Viet Nam war. This significant factor tends to be omitted from most history book, but yet it is a crucial factor in the war and its effect is still affecting the lives of those living through the war and the lives of their children. Through Brandy's memoir, we are able to see the effect chemical warfare yield on her -- due to her parents exposure to Agent Orange and other chemicals during the war, Brandy has stage III cancer -- something that is not common for people of her age. This diagnosis served as a turning point in Brandy's life because it allowed her to connect and understand her parents on a deeper level, but it also serves as a warning for readers. Her cancer is a reminder to us that the war may have ended, but it is still affecting the lives of those who were not directly involved in it-- in another perspective, it is a call for us to be more aware of what is happening and do our part to make sure nothing like the Viet Nam war will ever occur again. 

Kieu-Linh Valverde: "Doing the Mixed-Race Dance: Negotiating Social Spaces Within the Multiracial Vietnamese American Class Typology"

This article explores the ideals of the Vietnamese American Society and how they are classified in terms of social hierarchy (amongst the Vietnamese community). According to Valverde, there are three categories of Vietnamese American: Amerasians, Multi-racial Vietnamese, and Cosmopolitan mixed-race Vietnamese. The social hierarchy of these categories (as perceived by the Vietnamese community) goes from lowest to highest-- in their respective order. Each of the three category corresponds to the Vietnamese American's history of origin. In addition to placing Vietnamese American individuals into three distinct categories, Valverde identifies ten questions which also aid in the classification of these individuals into a social pyramid. 

  1. Are you male or female? 
  2. Is your father or mother Vietnamese? 
  3. Were you born in Viet Nam or outside of Viet Nam? 
  4. What is your occupation? 
  5. What is your education level? 
  6. Are you Eurasian or Amerasian? 
  7. Do you speak Vietnamese? 
  8. How "Americanized" do you look? 
  9. Are your non-asian features more "white" or more "black"?
  10. Do you look "healthy," and are you attractive?
Classification is achieved by careful observation of the type of Vietnamese American the individual is and how he/she responds to the above questions. Saying the "right" thing could allow an individual to be placed in a higher rank than when saying the "wrong" things. Not only are responses important to an individual's social ranking, physical appearance also plays a big role. To be critical would be to say that this is not a proper way to judge anyone, but in reality this form of racism existed and continues to be prevalent throughout society. The ten questions mentioned above are common questions asked by the Vietnamese community to determine where a Vietnamese American individual stands, but I would argue that there are more factors that go into classifying an individual. I believe demographics play a large role in determining how Amerasians/ Vietnamese Americans are viewed. Yes, it is true that there are large concentrations of Vietnamese American in the Bay Area cities (as studied in this article), but taking that most of the interviewees were from one area does 
not give us a diverse sample of people from different areas. It could be that people in this region tend to exhibit similar attitudes which draws them to reside in close proximity to each other. 

CONNECTION to Week 3's Readings

Recap of Week 3's Main Points

  • Vietnamese-Americans have certain perceptions of other Vietnamese immigrants or Americans depending on multiracial ethnicity and class status.
  • Southeast Asian groups view America as an escape from their hardships in their homeland.
  • Refugees come to America seeking a more prosperous life.
  • Vietnamese-Americans who are seen as ‘Amerasians’ are usually refugees and are seen by more privileged groups of Vietnamese people (‘multiracial Vietnamese & Cosmopolitan mixed-race Vietnamese’) as uneducated and poor.
  • Vietnamese-Americans who are either born in the United States or came at a young age are seen as “multiracial Vietnamese’ and they are easier at adopting into the American culture.
  • Vietnamese people who are born into upper class families or are children of diplomats view other Vietnamese-Americans as less superior in the hierarchy of class.
  • Sources of these sentiments trace and root back to the French colonization of the Vietnamese. This lead to phenotypic physical appearances on the Vietnamese people & the french mix was seen as more higher class or higher in status.
  • When the French colonized Viet Nam it also left ideas of colorism, which is prevalent to Asian culture of colorism that the darker, tan skinned people were peasants because they worked in the fields and outside while the light skinned and pale skinned people were in the house because they got to enjoy and live luxury of not being outside.
  • This became prevalent in the US because this tied into the institutionalized idea of racism where the US is predominant dehumanizing and hating upon people of African descent. This is still applied to Vietnamese people.
  • The framework of Mimi Nguyen's gift of freedom applies to Brandy Worrall-Soriano's as she develop cancer from the war. Her story challenge this idea of freedom in the colonial context and how even after the war, her disease, as well as her family dynamic, are continuous scars from US imperialism in Viet Nam.
How Groups are Forgotten and Made Invisible
Over the course of history, the process of settler/colonialism and imperialism demonstrated and constructed the power of wealthy nations and the genocide of the indigenous. We see this in terms of the Cham people (as discussed by Julie Thi Underhill). The Cham people is an indigenous people that occupied the coasts of Viet Nam, but were overpowered by the Vietnamese. Throughout history, the Cham people were forced to moved further and further inland away from their trading markets on the borders of Viet Nam. Not only were they forced from their land, but many were forced into slavery. By encroaching on the Cham's land, the Vietnamese are saying that these people are not deserving of the nation's land-- henceforth reducing their legitimacy as a people. This is because people are (should) be given property rights which the Vietnamese are implying that the Cham are not entitled to-- demonstrated by the heartless encroachment on the Cham's land. Not only does that degrade the legitimacy of a group, but they go further and enslave them (another form of demoralizing that leads to the eventual eradication of a group-- either physically or by memory). That is how settler/colonialism work as a genocidal process that aims to erase indigenous populations. Henceforth, groups are forgotten and made invisible through the military domination and subordination of their enemy in order to steal and claim "unoccupied" land. It is through the erasure of the Cham that creates the image of land being "unoccupied" which gives the Viet Namese government more reasons to quickly steal and control the land and the people who are suppose to occupy the land. The power plant plays into genocide because the Cham have been pushed to the margins of their own homes and the environmental impact of the power plant can kill those who are standing around them.                     

This image represents the struggles of indigenous and the process of settler/colonialism. It becomes our duty as "settlers" to advocate for the indigenous since we are occupying their land as a settler. For  the Cham, the Vietnamese should also work towards this because they stole and occupied indigenous land and people. Reconciliation for the marginalization of the Cham is very much needed and yet the Cham are continuously displaced.

Ways in Which US Military Industrial Complex Operates During Occupation
There are similar patterns in how the United States comes to occupy a nation. It seems that the justification for coming into a nation is also either an attack on the American people or there is a group in the other country calling for help to overthrown their government (which is usually communistic). This "attack" used by the American government to justify their incoming into a country has been, according to many cases in history (ex: Gulf of Tonkin), false. The Americans then come into this country claiming that they have "good" intentions to help the people of this other nation. But in reality, the US has made its way into this host country out of selfish goals and intentions that all lead back to gain politically and economically advantages .Take the Gulf of Tonkin incident for example, the US claimed that one of their ship has been attacked by a Vietnamese ship while at sea. This allowed and justified increased American involvement in Viet Nam. Once justification is yielded, the US begins to send troops and militaries into the target nation (in this case Viet Nam). From then, the occupation strategies that takes place usually aims to gain support of at least one group in the target country, manipulation of the public, and plundering resources for the benefit of the US only.

Lasting Legacies of the War (not well known and discussed)
One topic that is rarely discussed and is not well known is that the war led to the separation and segregation of the Vietnamese people. There were a lot of ideas and negative perceptions of the Vietnamese "refugee population." This group of people were demoralized and dehumanized for being refugees; the word refugee carried a negative connotation with it which further increased hostility towards these people. The war also led to the creation of a hierarchy scale that placed the refugee Vietnamese at the bottom just because they were victims of war trying to flee (out of Viet Nam). The ending of the war (the Fall of Saigon) also caused economic and political hardships in Viet Nam causing it to become one of the poorest countries in the world. In America, better treatment was afforded to those individuals who appeared "less Vietnamese," or to those who were deemed "Amerasians." In addition, Americans also imparted the "child of war" stereotype which is prejudice of children that are not "americanized" and can "look" like a child of parents who refugees. But, if the Viet Nam War never took place, it can be safe to say that this stereotype would not exist among Americans as well as Vietnamese-Americans. 

Discussion Questions
  1. Do you believe the effects of the Viet Nam War should be centered on the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian suffering? Or should American Veterans who were exposed to the same conditions be included? If so, what are the war effects of American veterans? 
  2. Is marginalization of a specific group of people one step (out of the many) for a nation to gain power? Does it allow for a more nationalistic nation? 
  3. How does the author's experience in "What Doesn't Kill Us" parallel to the topics we have discussed about the Vietnam war (ex: Agent Orange)? Does the novel's characteristic as a memoir make the Viet Nam war seem more real and applicable to reality? 
  4. Do you believe there is a classification and ranking system within mixed-race Vietnamese Americans? How is this relate back to the Viet Nam war? 
  5. Is there a secret purpose behind the United States kind gestures towards countries in need? Take for example the United States claim to assist the South Vietnamese in defeating their communist North Vietnamese. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Week 3: Conservative Ethnic, Forgotten and Invisible Histories

Ogee Erana
Venice Santos
Xanh Tran
Izabela Villanueva

Week 3: Conservative Ethnic, Forgotten and Invisible Histories

Underhill “Luminous Elegies: Chăm Family Documentary in Phước Lập, Vietnam.”  
Underhill uses photography as a tool to bring forth and visibilize the Cham identity to a larger audience. To bring this topic into perspective, Underhill relates the struggles and cultural identity of Cham individuals to Native Americans as both are invisibilized by multiple societies. Typically, America is either considered to be a land of all white people or a land of immigrants; these problematic ways of thinking further marginalizes the Native American community. The same explanation can be said about the native Cham people that have been invisibilized by multiple communities and nations as well. Underhill uses photography as a medium in an attempt to shed light on the Cham culture.
Underhill hoped her photography would capture “elegance and resilience, even in death” (Underhill 794). It was interesting to note that Underhill’s photographs were the first she had ever seen of the Cham; meaning there has supposedly been no photographic documentation of the Cham prior to Underhill. I believe the minimalistic captions that Underhill uses allows the audience to analyze the picture without much context. The captions simply state the people, in relation to her, that are represented in the photos but no other context, allowing an intimate connection to be drawn as family plays a role in the photographs. The monochrome effect of the photos portrays the concept of death as it is commonly believed that the absence of color represents darker times while echoing Underhill’s hope for elegance through simplicity and focus the subject. While I am able to make these small observations about Underhill’s photography, I am left to wonder how easily others can make these connections based on their various life experiences.
During fall quarter, I took ASA 189B: Asian American Photography where I learned to analyze photographs through a critical perspective of what it meant for photographs or photographers to be considered Asian American photography. Some questions came up as I viewed Underhill’s photos: Who is to truly judge a photograph and create an interpretation? The audience or the photographer? In this case, if Underhill’s message is not properly received by the audience, then is her message invalidated? Or is it the audience to blame for not viewing photography through a critical lens? And finally, why must photography be the sole source to capture the sentiments of Underhill? While it is easy to suggest that Underhill used photography to document the Cham since photography is regarded as the best and most convenient way of documenting and proving existence, I believe Underhill might have exhausted all other alternative means to bring the identity of people to a wider population. Photography somehow has been deemed by Westernized audiences that it is the sole proof of existence and without photographs, a group of people are supposedly unseen and thus viewed as nonexistent. It is hard to challenge this notion of photography as it has been engraved into the mindset of most people in today’s high-tech society to think simple mindedly and view things via a screen or image instead of actually reading the stories behind the images and listening to the voices of the individuals that told the stories. Underhill recognizes that her photography lies “in the liminal zone between history and memory” and the new generations must establish a reconnection with the stories that created their identities.
A family portrait of her maternal aunts and uncle, from Julie’s first trip to Việt Nam in 1999.

Underhill “You Didn’t Kill Us All, You Know – Part One and Two.”
While reading this passage, I didn’t know what words or feelings I wanted to use to describe it. Could I call it acts of racism against the Chǎm people? Should I say this is discrimination against them as a people, because many people Underhill encountered thought her people were “all killed off.” Maybe this is just plain ignorance for the Chǎm people and their history which leads to the forgetting of their existence. Clearly, Underhill cannot and did not forget her people. I really felt the oppression Underhill faced as she encountered these people that greeted her existence as Chǎm with such a shock and disbelief.
“We were never meant to survive.” The Chǎm people slaughtered through genocide in a way that was meant to not leave any survivors, but in reality the Chǎm continue to thrive and live in areas of Viet Nam and Cambodia. How can someone claim a motherland when they mentally exclude groups that call it home as well? “If you don’t even know about us as a people, you certainly haven’t held a lifetime of racist and discriminatory assumptions about us.” The reactions Underhill receives when she introduces herself as Chǎm show how much more she and her people must work to establish and affirm their existence.
What I find interesting is that Underhill connects the struggles of the Chǎm people to the Native Americans via the Trail of Tears. I then was able to relate these two peoples struggles with that of my own Pilipinos via the Bataan Death March. I may know of these histories, but in the education system today, only 1 out of these 3 are taught. I ask why is that? Why is it that history taught in schools is so selective to a racial group and though the Trail of Tears is mentioned, it is taught through an American point of view. Therefore, either way no history is told correctly. This idea really didn’t hit me until we spoke about it during the first week of school while watching the documentary about the Viet Nam war. This also feeds into the theme that these people and their histories are invisible and eventually forgotten because no one is teaching them correctly or teaching it at all. Another difficult part is trying to explain your people to the closed-minded and sometimes, the very people who slaughtered your race. She says, “If you’d thought the Chǎm were extinct, how might you acknowledge the history of the conquest of the Champa wthout reproducing the troubling refusal to “see” us.” One key point that Underhill addresses, is that history should not deter the progression in relationships between people and nations. We must continue to educate eachother and never forget our histories so they carry on even after we are gone. Though it is difficult to find people who are willing to learn said histories, those few who do and those few willing to spread the knowledge are out there. This is the light that Underhill says is waiting to shine through the cracks and areas where history of the “forgotten’ and “invisible” are being told.

Nguyen “The Gift of Freedom - Introduction"
The introduction of The Gift of Freedom summarizes the redefining and understanding of what freedom is and how freedom is perceived. Overall, the concept of freedom is largely perceived, especially from a Western point of view to be universal and maintains a formal structure. However, Mimi Nguyen looks into freedom not as a force but as a small catalyst that allows systems that benefit from the commodification of freedom. The concept of freedom isn’t a force; but is something manufactured to be attached to and help manifest systems of measuring intelligence, modernism, capitalism, politics, and society. To have freedom is to render change on a certain peoples, their mindset, their country, and their livelihoods that help objectify, calculate, and exchange standards and systems of these peoples for the preferred standard and systems of the prominent power. In this case, the US is used as the example of the prominent power.  The US uses “the gift of freedom” as justification for colonial and liberal notions and acts that instill the mindset that the US is universally setting the standard for freedom and what freedom brings: the ability to choose, the ability to have equal rights, the ability for a better education, the ability to better yourself, the ability to be safe, and many more idealistic values.  Freedom, as Nguyen states, especially that which the US gifts to people comes with the understanding that the giftee is obligated, indebted, and subjugated to the freedom gift giver. Freedom, then is established as a property that is subject to the assessment of the gift giver, in this case the US.
The example that Nguyen brings up is that of a woman named Madalenna Lai who is an immigrant success story. She brings the narrative of being an immigrant who was gifted freedom in the US after escaping a war-torn Viet Nam. After leaving Viet Nam, she raised her kids on her own and managed to create a business for herself. In Lai’s quotes, she states gratefulness for the opportunity of plentiful food, a good educational system, freedom, and human rights.  Conversely, Lai deals with the paradox in America that she is in debt in the economically. But she maintains that the freedom she and her children currently have is beyond any value; thus establishing gNguyen’s argument that the gift of freedom instills the sense of obligations and owing to the power that bestowed of the gift of freedom. With Lai’s personal narrative, Nguyen explores and contemplates the liberal powers behind the ability to choose what freedom entails; but also manages to explain that there are positive sides to obtaining freedom.
Nguyen challenges the disclosure of freedom, the authorities behind freedom, and acknowledges all aspects of freedom both positive and negative. Within the rest of her book, she combs through personal narratives of people from Southeast Asia who have experience the gift of freedom. With their accounts, she studies how freedom is closely tied to liberal imperialism, is commoditized, and affects people differently.

"Nguyen challenges the disclosure of freedom, the authorities behind freedom, and acknowledges all aspects of freedom both positive and negative."

Pham “For Father, For Country”
For Father, For Country is a narrative of a man who dealt with the questions of his father’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the reason behind being in America, and of his own identity. The author wrestles with his memories of the war, what he understood about his father, and the difference in his understanding of the war and the teachings about the war. The author proves that the love for his father, the journey which his father went through, and his own journey helped him come to the conclusion of the question that lead to all of the questions he dealt with: what did America give to his family?
The narrator starts with an explanation of the pride he had in his father and the reminiscing of the memories and the understanding he had of his father’s role in the military during the war in Vietnam. Growing up, he saw how the images he had of his father and the war juxtaposed each other. To him, his father was a joking, but proud air pilot who did his duty while in the teachings of America he was taught differently about the participants of the war especially non-American ones. He posed the question to himself whether or not his father committed atrocities in the war. What furthered his confusion was the lack of recognition that his father received for being a part of the war. During his father’s funeral, the narrator posed many more question connected to the fact that his father was being buried under the honors of a country that did not exist anymore. These questions take on a resented tone marking events like the US quickly abandoning its allies and his father’s own decision to stay behind to be held prisoner for years while narrator and the rest of the family got the opportunity to go to America.
These contemplations and confusion was only resolved after, the narrator joined the military and similarly went through a war. His understanding and perspective had changed. The narrator makes the connection to his current war that to his father the US represented the freedom that was taken away after the Republic of Vietnam lost the war. From his own experience in the war he is able to come to the conclusion that fighting in a war means fighting for the freedom, the people, and the flag that could get taken away if the war is lost. To his father, the war that he lost took away all that and more, but the US was a source of a new beginning for his family. The narrator is able to see in the end that the reason why his father never looked back was because the US was a second chance at the freedom that he had fought and lost. This very lesson is why the narrator says he will do the same with the war he fought and how he and his family will be forever indebted to the US.
This story provides a complex admiration and yet resentment towards the US by a Southeast Asian and his understanding of the Vietnam War. There is admiration for his father, the memories he hold of his father’s military endeavors and friends, and US itself for being a source of new beginnings. However, there are tones of resentment in how the US abandoned the war effort, fails to acknowledge all the participants in the war, and how the author’s own experiences with his father’s death and life confuses him. Furthermore, the narrator proves Mimi Nguyen’s point in that freedom does come with some sort of debt; the speaker says so in his final paragraph tying the positives of what America brought to his family with the quote “for that we are indebted” (Pham, 13). The complexity of how Southeast Asian Americans see the freedom that America gives them renders their own notion of whether America is a positive power or a negative power despite all that America has done; thus showing how much power the US has over the commodity of freedom.  

Vang “The Refugee Soldier: A Critique of Recognition and Citizenship in the Hmong Veteran’s Naturalization Act of 1997.”
Vang discusses the contradictions in how the US government deals with Hmong in recognition and naturalization by using narratives of alliance and racial primitivity, and portraying the Hmong as soldiers, refugees, and stateless people at the same time.  
Vang’s first point is that the US recognition of Hmong peoples through citizenship “reproduces the unequal Hmong-US relationship (as a debt owed)”. Their status as a “refugee soldier” creates a relationship with limiting contractual citizenship based on an “equal” exchange of service for citizenship. The recognition of Hmong veterans for their sacrifices and contributions “reproduced the violence of US militarism though its recuperation of the nation-state as moral and benevolent”. Vang sees the Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act of 1997 as a productive but incomplete site of state recognition, involving without addressing pasts and presents of “empire, citizenship, ‘secret’ wars, and racial difference”. 
Connecting Vang’s work to current events in the community, the Hmong are considered by the public eye as backwards and “primitive” in the light of the more recent events, and there has been little discussion of the so called “secret” war. More commonly, when any news concerning Hmong communities arises, it usually involves gang violence or domestic abuse, the only ways mass media sees fit to recognize them. The complexity of citizenship, while unique in the refugee soldier dynamic to the Hmong, is seen also in other communities such as those of Koreans and Cambodians, so Vang’s critique of the US’s recognition and naturalization policies gives another perspective and sheds light on the complexity and implicit effects of legislation and history.

Questions given by Professor Valverde:

  • What are some attitudes of Southeast Asian groups towards the United states?  
  • What are the sources of these sentiments and why are they still so prevalent?

5 Questions for Class Discussion!
  1. Does the freedom and liberty in America represent something negative or positive to you personally? To your family?
  2. How does photography affect the understanding of a situation or an event?Why is it that photography is taken as proof?How did reading about the event alongside these images change your own understanding or make you question it?
  3. In what ways does the U.S. create the concept of freedom and citizenship?How does that tie into the creation of one's identity?
  4. Do you identify yourself as having freedom and what exactly does that freedom entitle? Who set those standards for you?
  5. Considering the broader analysis on the Viet Nam War and how it shaped perspectives via media and promises, how has it changed your own understandings of the current war? or even past wars that not only the U.S. has fought but other countries as well?

1. Julie Thi Underhill. “Luminous Elegies: Chăm Family Documentary in Phước Lập, Vietnam.” Positions. 2. Julie Thi Underhill. “You Didn’t Kill Us All, You Know – Part One and Two.” 3. Mimi Nguyen. “The Gift of Freedom – Introduction.” 4. Pham, Andrew X. “For Father, For Country.” 5. Vang, Ma. “The Refugee Soldier: A Critique of Recognition and Citizenship in the Hmong Veteran’s Naturalization Act of 1997.” Positions.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Week 1: Introduction: Our Past is Our Present

Noreen Baloch
Vincent Dinh
Linh Ngu
Introduction: Our Past is Our Present

Discussion questions:

       1. How has revisionism of the Viet Nam war affected the narratives of the war?

       2.  In what ways has the Viet Nam war been “re-written”?

       3. How does this we-win-even-when-we-lose narrative affect the representation of groups that were involved in the war?

      4. Do you think it is important to separate a political agenda and sentiments on a war from American troops? Do you think the answer varies in reference to the current situation in the Middle East and the Viet Nam war?

      5. Why do you believe American postwar reaction was so traumatic? Did this postwar reaction result from the fact that America lost?

The Viet Nam War was a war that occurred in Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos from November 1st, 1955 to April 30th 1975. Even though it is named the “Viet Nam War” in popular literature, it affects many different ethnic groups of the region because American involvement was not limited to Viet Nam itself. The groups affected by the Viet Nam War include Southeast Asians, Indochinese, Vietnamese Americans, Cambodian Americans, and Laotian Americans (Hmong, Mien). Southeast Asians, or also Indochinese, are people of Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Viet Nam. These groups have been mostly studied and written about through the literature of countries that colonized them, until the Viet Nam War.
The Viet Nam War was the first ever televised war, and this brought in a new human experience to the faraway countries that Americans soldiers were fighting in. Even though this publicized all of the human sufferings that happened during the war, the focus was on the American experience. It is important at this time, especially as the 40th anniversary of the end of the war draws close, to reconsider the diverse groups that the war involved, both in Southeast Asia and in America.
The documentary “Vietnam: American Holocaust” shows a different side to the mainstream viewpoint of America’s involvement in the Viet Nam War. In history books and governmental efforts to commemorate the war, Americans have always been valorized as the “good guys.” However, in the documentary, we get to see many first hand experiences of the atrocities and disregard for civilian lives during the war. The soldiers would play “games” in which they would trivialize civilian’s lives and homes. One soldier attested to the practice of counting ears as trophies for the kills. This represents a different viewpoint of the supposedly heroic and selfless American soldier.
Many Vietnamese civilians were confused and angry at the war atrocities that took place. The war survivors who were interviewed recounted seeing their families and homes destroyed by American soldiers. This is why it is important at this time to reconsider the diverse groups that are involved in the war. The suffering of Vietnamese civilians continue until today from the effects of chemical warfare, such as Agent Orange, the herbicide that caused birth defects.

“What’s Going on with the Oakland Museum…”
This paper’s goals were to assess the ways in which the exhibit was organized, and the exhibit itself. In its assessment, author used approaches such as interviews with museum reps, Southeast Asian consultants, and involvement and discussion in a focus group comprised of 2nd-generation Vietnamese Americans. Through this, the processes of museums as structural re-enforcements of hegemonic cultural and political agendas could be observed.
According to Michael Klein, the American war in Southeast Asia is divided up into 3 narratives:
1.   1970s Cold War stereotypes of Asian “yellow peril” and communism
2.  1980s alienation of American veterans as victims
3.  mid 1980s- 90s, war being justified as a necessary and beneficial, for a cause
Post Cold-war revisionism led to an image of the war being a tale of Good vs. Evil, democracy against communism, dodging the underlying imperialistic war motives.
Additionally, diverse and dynamic peace movements during Viet Nam war was conflated into one mesh as a singular movement, defined mainly by middle-class white youth. Stories of oppression and struggle during the war became re-etched into American democracy ‘in action’, and wartime refugees in America became the basis for the successful model minority myth. USA’s framing of the Viet Nam War into the American version has greatly influenced the general perspective and narrative of the war by manipulating the many voices of the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian communities affected.

“Even When We Lose We Win”
It is paramount to question public recollections and rememberings of the US war in Viet Nam.
The Viet Nam war, “the war with the difficult memory”, is being rewritten as “the good war” in which US militaristic interventions are being validated and valorized, even though it was essentially a fruitless war. Fruitless in that the US was neither the victor or the liberator, yet American media turned and popularized the Vietnamese refugees into the myth of “Rescue and liberation”. Article identifies two narratives: One on innocent and heroic Viet Nam veteran warriors, and the other a liberated and successful Vietnamese refugee model.
Author of this article wants to juxtapose these two overarching narratives, instead of having them be separate entities. With these two narratives juxtaposed and compared in analysis to the cultural legitimation of the war, certain things come to light. Vietnamese veterans and Viet refugees joined into one field of study, where together they can garner validity for the US as savior of the Vietnamese “runaways”.
At the crux, this win-when-we-lose mentality taken on by US of A acts as an organized forgetting of a war that “went wrong”. This attitude has only driven and perpetuated US militarism.
“By studying the constructions of the Vietnam veterans and the Vietnamese refugees together and in relation to continued U.S. militarism, I draw on and bring into conversation three oft-distinct fields: American studies, refugee/immigration studies, and war/international studies.” - from article.

President Obama “Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War”
President Obama delivered a Memorial Day speech in which he expressed sympathy for veterans as means of rehabilitating the Viet Nam War. It is interesting to note that most declarations regarding the Viet Nam War emphasize the necessity of upholding strong American values and allowing this nation’s “let freedom ring” mantra run rampant throughout a world our country has shaped under the influence of capitalism entrepreneurship. Soldiers unlawfully occupied a land that was in NO need of American aid at all. Obama goes on to say: “We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved.” In total, the speech is merely a platform to commemorate an unlawful occupation of many soldiers who helped enable a mass genocide on innocent people. When one thinks of the word “commemorate” they believe it means to honor somebody, but only one party is being honored--and not even the victimized party is being honored. When America recounts the Viet Nam War it should be to commemorate the thousands of lives lost by innocent civilians in Viet Nam.
The Viet Nam War has many parallels to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the more recent illegal occupation of Palestine by Israeli forces. When Obama first entered his presidency, he understood the significance of upholding a strong domestic agenda. During Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, international affairs (the Viet Nam war) overshadowed domestic issues and Obama recognized this as erroneous and desired to not make these same mistakes. Obama’s speech highlights a very patriotic point of view that does not allow an analysis on whether he supported the war or not. However, given his political agenda I assume he disagreed with this era in history. It is very important to note that the politics of war should not detract from support for those who wage it. While it has been documented that some of these soldiers were cruel and horrendous, many of them genuinely thought they were performing civic duty and necessity. While it was necessary that Obama honored those who lost their lives in the line of war, I only wish he had also commemorated the innocent people who lost their lives in Viet Nam as well. I am sure Obama believes the Viet Nam War was a mistake given his platform and many people know in war there are horrible people, but also innocent people (on both sides of the war) as well. I truly wish he would have acknowledged the loss and continual loss Viet Nam faces today. Individuals may support a war or not support it, but we should acknowledge people who were placed in harm’s way.

Photo Courtesy of The White House. Obama’s silhouette against the Viet Nam War Memorial during his commemorative speech.

Tom Hayden “Commemorating the American War in Vietnam”
American patriotism is one of the strongest aspects of United States history. It is emphasized again and again that we live in a powerhouse nation. A nation that emerged righteously from the grasps of imperialistic European powers and one that had never engaged in a war and lost. America’s raw power was a fundamental aspect of the “American Dream.” One nation challenges this falsely perpetrated notion of America—Viet Nam.
America entered the Viet Nam War after much political and economical debate, but ultimately entered under the pretense of protecting the rest of the world from the impending threat of communism. The war was supposedly lost due to “civilian interference” and thousands of American citizens who protested against the war (interestingly enough when one thinks of the Viet Nam War they generally recall the American public’s lack of support for the war and the many protests waged by supposed hippies). The article goes on to say, “In the end, the US withdrew. Military defeat was a huge blow to imperial pride and self-confidence. It caused a prolonged crisis of confidence in the military…” Many Americans had not taken too kindly to this loss and more than three times the amount of bombs dropped in World War II were dropped in Viet Nam.
This war, though often glossed over in history books, and rarely discussed had a monumental impact on America, Viet Nam (Viet Nam still suffers TO THIS DAY because of lasting effects on civilian’s health due to chemical warfare), and the surrounding nations in Southeast Asia. The article also proceeds to highlight that the mid-1990’s were an important time in America’s history because many minorities—whether a racial or sexual minority—gained enough courage to allow their voices to be heard. While “hippies” and students are often cited as being the main anti-war groups, many minorities (African-American’s and Latino’s) also did not support the war. Interestingly, those minorities who were deployed in Viet Nam are often not as recognized and commemorated as their white counterparts. Machtinger succinctly summarizes the essence of his speech in a single paragraph:
There’s much more to say, but even as it is important to talk about the effect on Americans, it’s worth remembering that the Viet Nam war took place in Viet Nam, not in the US – though it would be hard to tell that from the American postwar reaction – academic, political, or cultural. The narrative is of American rather than Vietnamese trauma. For instance, in how many movies, even antiwar ones, does a Vietnamese get to speak meaningfully?

America is stuck in the past and many citizens forget that the war was not our trauma, but deeply and psychologically affected people on the other side of the world. Our country must move forward and can do so if it simply acknowledges the war we waged in Viet Nam was a fool’s mistake.

Week 2 - Mainstream History

Michelle Dang
Nicky Vu
Nancy Nguyen
Janet Supol

  • What were the main motivations for U.S. involvement in Viet Nam?
    • “Domino Theory” - To contain the “spread” of communism
    • Gulf of Tonkin Incident - Falsified attack on USS Maddox used to justify deployment of troops
  • What are the lasting consequences of the Viet Nam War?
    • Cynicism and harsh criticism of war and perceived US aggression
    • Protest culture - Now seen as accept to be critical of government in war
  • Why are these views still prevalent in the U.S.?
    • Negative views of U.S. involvement are still prevalent because the U.S. is still to this day participating in wars with other nations that may be better off left unaided
  • Who tends to adopt these views?
    • Those who adopt these views are the people who have seen and experienced the consequences of wars, such as the Viet Nam War in which U.S. involvement only resulted in more deaths than necessary

“The American Involvement” - Sucheng Chan

Sucheng Chan's article, "The American Involvement," examines the events of the Vietnam War in regards to U.S. involvement. American participation in Viet Nam actually dates back 20 years to the First Indochina War in which the U.S. funded France's military efforts (44). After the Korean War and the First Indochina War ended in military and political stalemates and Communists ruled China, American foreign policymakers feared Communist expansion in Asia (45). Thus, one of the main motivations for U.S. involvement in Viet Nam was the "Domino Theory" in which it was speculated that if one country was ruled by Communists, the neighboring countries would follow in a domino effect. In order to prevent the spread of communism, the U.S. supported Ngo Dinh Diem's non-communist regime in South Vietnam and became militarily and politically involved in Viet Nam. Another motivation for U.S. involvement was the Gulf of Tonkin incident. In July 1964, the U.S. increased surveillance efforts by using the U.S. destroyer, the Maddox, to sail to the Gulf of Tonkin and collect electronic surveillance data (49). However, the Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats and soon afterwards, President Johnson declared retaliatory attacks against North Vietnam (49). As a result, the U.S. began to drop bombs on Viet Nam—starting with the Ho Chi Minh Trail—along with napalm and defoliants (50).
However, it was not just the Vietnamese people who were dying; the number of deaths of American troops was increasing rapidly. In addition, the U.S. was spending two billion dollars per month on the war (53). Thus, President Nixon adopted "Vietnamization," which was the strategy of pulling American troops out of Viet Nam and training South Vietnamese troops to fight the war (53). However, since the Americans controlled the fighting of the war, once the U.S. withdrew its troops in 1973 and U.S. aid decreased, the South Vietnamese troops could not continue fighting (59). This was due to the fact  that it was difficult to fight an American-style war without all of the supplies and equipment necessary.
Eventually, the South Vietnamese government collapsed. General Cao Van Vien states that one of the reasons for South Vietnam's collapse was that the cutoff of U.S. military seriously affected the combat capability and morale of the troops and population (61). With the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, which marked the end of the Viet Nam War, the U.S. attempted to evacuate Americans and the Vietnamese people (61). U.S. officials had to find sponsors for the refugees and resettle the refugees (64). Even after the American evacuation and resettlement efforts ended, refugee-seekers continued to leave Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam by boat (65). They sought refuge in countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Hong Kong (68). Mainly, there were many refugees who escaped Viet Nam to come to America. The lasting consequences of the Viet Nam War is that there is cynicism and harsh criticism of war and perceived U.S. aggression. Protest culture has become popular in which it is now seen as acceptable to be critical of the government in times of war. These negative views of U.S. involvement are still prevalent because the U.S. is still to this day participating in wars with other nations that may be better off left unaided. Those who adopt these views are the people who have seen and experienced the consequences of wars, such as the Viet Nam War in which U.S. involvement only resulted in more deaths than necessary.

“Framing Vietnam” - Jenefer Shute

Jenefer Shute's "Framing Vietnam" explores multiple Hollywood films about the Viet Nam War. The films from the 1970s  and 1980s showed the Viet Nam War as a moral and psychological crisis (267). Cimino's The Deer Hunter fails to make a political connection between its Western iconography and the Vietnam War (268). It does not include much historical accuracy. In the film, Cimino "establishes no continuity between the society they inhabit and the society that sends them to Vietnam" and shows Vietnam as something that simply happens to them (268). Coppola's Apocalypse Now includes a lot of
mythic components and explores the continuity between Vietnam and the sixties culture back home (268). Stone's Platoon does not present the war as spectacle (269). Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, the most complex and analytical of these Viet Nam films, focuses on dismantling myths rather than restoring them (270). In Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams perceives the war as a big joke (273).
Ultimately, U.S. filmmakers seem to be unwilling or unable to confront the tragic reality of the Viet Nam War because they mainly rely on myth in their films (274). They do not consider the real political implications and the importance of historical accuracy. It may be that they do not want to highlight the faults of the U.S. and instead, want to emphasize the heroic behaviors of the American soldiers. In addition, the filmmakers are only showing the perspectives of Americans and not those of the Vietnamese people, so there is a bias that exists due to the lack of perspectives provided. The audience will thus be more inclined to express sympathy for Americans, even though the Vietnamese people suffered from the actions of the U.S. in Viet Nam. At the end of the article, the author points out that American Hollywood filmmakers may not be able to create a film that captures an accurate vision of the war; it can only be accurately envisioned and executed by the victims of the war—the Vietnamese people (274).

Robert McNamara’s “The Lessons of Vietnam”

In “The Lessons of Vietnam,” Robert McNamara questions whether the Soviet or Chinese behavior would be different if the United States had not entered the war in the 1960s (320). McNamara disagrees with the fact that the post-Cold War period would have been different from the past (321). He lists eleven major causes for the disaster in Vietnam (321-323). By acknowledging the conflicts of the Viet Nam War, this allows us to gain experience and apply it so that we do not make the same mistakes in the present and future. Many nations throughout the world have had a slow process in revising their policies and defenses because they are unsure about the future. McNamara indicates that in the future, nationalism is going to be a force to be reckoned with. There are many ongoing civil disputes among nations about racialism, religion, and ethnicity. Thus, it is important to effectively communicate with other nations, so that there is less room for miscommunication and conflicts. With these recent conflicts, the problems that occurred in the Third World long before the Cold War will have ended. However, conflicts among the nations will not disperse since it is a recurring theme in the past, present, and future. Overall, McNamara believes that the Viet Nam war was wrong and argues that by getting a better understanding of the past, we can avoid making the same mistakes and thus, make a change for a better future.

Documentary: The Fog of War

The documentary, The Fog of War, is a collection of reflections from the former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who served during the Kennedy as well as the Johnson administrations. He was responsible for advising the President of the United states during both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.
The video opens with Sec. McNamara speaking about an interview he had with the Cuban President, Fidel Castro in 1992 several years after they had negotiated the removal of ballistic missile warheads from Cuba. He states that while he believes that President Kennedy, Primer Kruschev, and President Castro are all rational human beings, the state of mind that comes with war had made them create a toxic atmosphere which led them into having a mindset that nearly led them to mutual destruction. In the interview, Castro states that at the time, he was willing to follow a recommendation from Kruschev to fire the missiles, despite knowing full well that it would result in his own death and possibly all of the lives of the people of his country.
He goes on to comment on the overuse of American bombing, particularly during World War II. He remarks that the use of firebombing on civilian Japanese cities and the dropping of the two atomic bombs were so disproportionate to what the war was trying to achieve, that if the Allied forces would have lost the war, the leadership of the United States would have been tried for war crimes. He adds that he truly believes that the leadership deserved to be tried for war crimes, including himself for his actions during the Vietnam War.
The message of the video seems to be that in times of war, rational people tend to act inhumane as a result of the conflict that they are in. Because of this, even the victors, or “the heroes” of the war, when thoroughly examined in retrospect, can be extremely brutal, violent, and unjustified. To avoid making these mistakes in the future, he recommends that people take the time to truly think about killing one another, and when it is truly ethical to do so. In his mind, he states that it is only justifiable to be an aggressor in war is when the damage created from doing so is proportionate to the goal attempting to be achieved.

5 Discussion Questions

  1. When is a war justified?
  2. Is it acceptable to lie if it means it can save lives?
  3. Is it ethical to kill other innocent people if it means saving your own innocent people?
  4. What should be the goal of war?
  5. Who is the “bad guy” in the Viet Nam War?

Documentary: Errols Morris dir. “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.” (2003)
Chan, Sucheng. “The American Involvement.” 
Shute, Jenefer. “Framing Vietnam.” 
McNamara, Robert S. with Brian VanDeMark. “The Lessons of Vietnam.”