Sunday, January 31, 2016

George J. Veith - Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-75

By Christina Langbehn, Adam Severe and Miggy Cruz

George Veith’s Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-75 details the political, economic, and military factors that influenced the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 to the Northern Vietnamese communists. Veith includes the lack of US aid for the South Vietnamese, the shortage of intelligence the South was able to collect about the North Vietnamese military action, and the shortcomings of the South Vietnamese leadership that prevented them from properly preparing for defense against the North Vietnamese. Contrary to popular media portrayals, the South was not just a “puppet government” of the US who was completely helpless to defend themselves. They had many brilliant generals whose tactical ability won them many victories against the North, even with minimal supplies and military intel. Veith aims here to redeem the collective opinion of ARVN soldiers as weak and cowardly.

The Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973 marked the rapid decline of South Vietnam’s ability to resist the North. America’s withdrawal of troops and subsequent cuts in financial aid for the South eventually had catastrophic consequences. Although Nixon and Ford privately promised President Thieu more financial aid and military supplies, they were unable to persuade Congress to pass the bills that would fulfill those promises. While Congress made counter proposals of less aid, they were rejected. Without US aid, the South was unable to provide their troops with proper munitions and intelligence to fight back against the North. Additionally, Northern propaganda presented a smokescreen to the world of only seeking to economically rebuild, while secretly mapping out battle plans to conquer the South. This painted the South as the villain who sought only war, since President Thieu seemed to be constantly clamoring for more military supplies from the US.

Despite a lot of blame being laid on US shoulders, perhaps the most crippling setback South Vietnam faced was the general incompetence of its leader, President Thieu. As the battles raged between 1973, when North Vietnam began its active military campaign in the South, to 1975 when Saigon fell into Communist control, Thieu faced rapidly declining morale of troops and loss of faith from the people. His poor decisions set off a chain reaction that led to the fall of South Vietnam. He was unwilling to recognize that the anti-war mood in Congress would prevent much US aid from realistically coming. He also declined to withdraw into a smaller area of South Vietnam that would have been more reasonably defended by the resources he had readily available until the situation was imminently dire. When he finally agreed to cede territory to the North, his direct control over military action impeded his generals from effectively planning a course of plausible action. His tight control in battle plans were of great detriment to the fate of South Vietnam. In contrast, Defense Minister Vo Nguyen Giap of North Vietnam frequently deferred to his general’s opinions on military action to be taken, relying on their ability to make accurate field decisions.

With the loss of several major battles and the control of several key cities, many in South Vietnam began to panic. Its armies were scattered on too many battlefronts and without effective communication, chaos erupted. Despite the obvious decline of military morale, the South Vietnamese did not give up without a fight. In the battle for Phan Rang, a major blocking position for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the ARVN regrouped and tried to devise a plan to slow down the advance of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). It seemed that the South would be able to hold the city, but the fear felt by the ARVN of the imminent takeover by the Communist North prompted them to make a costly mistake. The Airborne, ordered to destroy the bridges leading to the city, were unable to do so, which caused the PAVN to advance and take over not only Phan Rang, but also the Thanh Son airbase. After hearing new about Phan Rang and the airbase, Defense Minister Giap ordered the PAVN to attack Saigon as soon as possible. Miles outside Saigon, the battle for the city of Xuan Loc began. The South called one last time to the US for aid, but received no response. The loss at Xuan Loc proved to be the determining factor that would secure the victory of the North. President Thieu finally resigned, and General Duong Van Minh was appointed the new leader. Minh was appointed with the thought that the North would at least be willing to speak with him as a final attempt for a ceasefire. In the end, the North entered the Independence Palace, located at the heart of Saigon, and called for a surrender from the South.

Veith’s research reveals that the fall of South Vietnam into the hands of the Communist North was not simply due to the weakness and cowardice of its soldiers, as is often presented. There were many factors that overwhelmed the ARVN troops and led to the success of the PAVN. Some factors were the lack of US aid after the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the ineffective leadership of President Thieu, the strategically placed spies within the ARVN that supplied the North with invaluable military intel, and the negative effect on ARVN soldiers of fighting in battlefields where loved ones were at risk. It was the cumulation of these factors that led to the ultimate defeat of South Vietnam. Additionally, Vieth tends to lay a lot of blame on the lack of the US to provide aid to its supposed ally in the “war on Communism”. This last factor is perhaps presented out of proportion to its actual relevance in the outcome of the war. Veith seems to be apologizing on behalf of the US for its failure to adequately support its ally despite repeated promises of future aid.

In our opinion, however, too much blame was laid on the US. The mistakes made by President Thieu contributed most to the fall of South Vietnam. Even if Congress approved the proposed aid requested for South Vietnam, it might have only prolonged the inevitable outcome of the war. The poor decisions made by Thieu may have wasted such aid. Our point is that there were too many variables to be certain that US aid was the determining factor that doomed South Vietnam to lose the war. Nonetheless, this is only one interpretation based on the information provided in “Black April”. Veith said it best: “Unfortunately, history does not offer “do-overs,” only perspective” (499). As such, we can only wonder how different factors might have changed the outcome of the war.

Veith, George J. Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75. New York: Encounter, 2012. Print.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Swallows Who Bring the Spring - Moving Beyond Human-Made Borders

Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era
by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
Book Review by Heather Nguyen and Tiffany Monica Louie

In Radicals on the Road, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu spotlights international activists during the Vietnam War era, who challenged U.S. imperialism and shaped “identity-based liberation movements” and U.S. “international diplomacy,” refined by their complex and intersecting ethnic, racial, gender, and religious backgrounds (Wu, 2013, p. 8). Together, their identities complemented each other, expanding the accessibility of their anti-war messages for the sake of Southeast Asian peoples. The narratives of these activists throughout Asia and how they proliferated them in America influenced the nation’s political consciousness to question government propaganda and drove the progress of anti-war activism. They were “internationalists,” concerning themselves with the ironic violence of American “white-saviorism,” and practiced “radical orientalism” that sought the decolonization of the East from the West, which proliferated its racist inclinations through imperialism, in the name of anti-communism (Wu, 2013, p. 5).  
Radicals on the Road is a crucial read for those who seek to look beyond the colonial perspective of Southeast Asia and who want a deeper understanding of how racial, ethnic, religious, and gender relations forged formidable bonds among activists, during the anti-war and Civil Rights movements and political turmoil spanning from the 1950s to the 1970s--a time that is often told to emphasize the divisions of Black and White, rather than the inspiring collaboration between international and interracial communities.
Wu begins her discussion of these bold international activists, by asserting the political significance of a man difficult to even find on Google. Bob S. Browne has been overlooked in historical retellings of the Civil Rights Movement, Cold War, and Vietnam War, despite his having connections with Martin Luther King Jr. and his being a powerful proponent of organizations leading the Black Power and anti-war efforts. His invisibility may be partially caused by the fact that he devoted his activism to amplifying Vietnamese voices and forged “personal and political partnerships with Vietnamese individuals”--efforts no longer deemed high-priority in a post-Vietnam-War U.S. (Wu, 2013, p. 17). The Southeast Asian community continues to be unseen and unheard in many political spaces today, easily lumped into the painful stereotype of the Asian model minority, without the prominent distinction of their homeland waging war with the U.S. to put their cultures and presences on the U.S. public radar. As their political importance diminishes, so does the recognition of Browne’s efforts to increase awareness about their narratives. His story has been overshadowed by the stories of other Black activists’, whose speeches and writings may more easily fit in the box of Black struggle against White supremacy, omitting the more broadly interracial bonds that were seen as major assets in the anti-war movement.          
Image 1: Robert S. Browne  
It is then not a surprise that from the beginning of his documented narrative, Browne suffered from systemic silencing. Despite being considered one of W. E. B. Dubois’s “talented tenth,” having graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Chicago, and having enjoyed an “appallingly bourgeois” life, Browne was not exempt from anti-Black racism of his time (Wu, 2013, p. 20). He became exasperated and disillusioned by America’s deeply entrenched racism that deprived him of a successful career, caused “routine humiliations required by the racial status quo,” and led to his arrest and temporary imprisonment for a mere traffic stop (Wu, 2013, p. 25). His story mirrors those of many Black folks today, continually suffering from police brutality committed without justice; the school-to-prison pipeline; food insecurity; multi-generational poverty; and the degradation of their lives and struggle. With the Civil Rights Movement not yet gaining storm and without access to a movement like Black Lives Matter, Browne instead looked outside the U.S. to investigate the international reach of White American racism. The “black press [had] fostered [within him] a broad sense of racial and anticolonial consciousness,” leading to his wide travels across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East and his deepened appreciation for international partnerships and decolonizing nations (Wu, 2013, p. 27).
To his surprise, his Black identity soon became treasured by the nation that had and continues to insinuate that Black lives do not matter, because the nation’s history of violent anti-Black racism was being capitalized upon by the U.S.’s Cold War enemies, as a caveat to any nations of non-white people who may be seduced by the U.S.’s hypocritical claims of being the land of opportunity and freedom. In strategic retaliation, the U.S. government used Black Americans to be living propaganda abroad to convince newly formed nations, like Thailand and Cambodia, of the supposed superiority of U.S. democratic government and capitalist society. These African Americans included jazz musicians, like Duke Ellington, and well-educated, multi-lingual advisors, like Browne. At the time of his departure, the Civil Rights Movement had found its spark, manifested through notable actors, such as Rosa Parks, and actions, like Brown v. Board of Education. Browne entered Southeast Asia, “romanticiz[ing] Asia in the name of anticolonial and anticapitalist solidarity as a form of Afro-orientalism” (Wu, 2013, p. 41). He left with a strong affinity to the peoples he had met, determined to end U.S.’s abusive foreign policies there.
A tangent that I found intriguing was how twenty-nine African and Asian nations, including both North and South Vietnam, came together to proclaim themselves as the “Third World,” a “ ‘nonaligned’ force,” in a bold effort to gain “political leverage” in a world being forcefully divided by Cold War powers (Wu, 2013, p. 43). No doubt, they could not hold together and against the political boundaries drawn around them and resulting destruction, but I found the “historic Afro-Asian Bandung” to be an admirable, although inevitably symbolic, demonstration of interracial solidarity and agency (Wu, 2013, p. 43).
Browne dedicated his activism to creating Afro-Asian partnerships, after he witnessed how U.S. foreign policy wreaked havoc on Southeast Asian communities. He had joined the U.S. country team, which had ties to the American Embassy, U.S. Information Service, Military Assistance Advisory Group, and U.S. Operations Mission--all of which existed to prevent the “loss of Cambodia” and its neighbors, as if the nations belonged them and needed the U.S. to ensure its survival against the communist “disease” (Wu, 2013, p. 46). These agencies used this “white-savior” mentality to “demonstrate the benefits of capitalism, by investing in the transportation infrastructure, encouraging private enterprise, [and] developing the export and industrial capacity of the nation”--all of which proved to be doomed programs and badly-designed propaganda (Wu, 2013, p. 46). No team members could even speak Vietnamese, a major language in the region, and had no solid understanding of the cultural differences between them and the people they sought to “help.” The first U.S. ambassador Robert McClintock embodied the flawed ideological foundation of these agencies. He lectured Prince Norodom Sihanouk on “the dangers of Communism,” turning a deaf ear to the prince’s admirable stance of neutrality (Wu, 2013, p. 47). Deriding the Cambodians for being “primitive” and unable to handle the “sophisticated” efforts of the Marshall Plan, McClintock demonstrated how the U.S. considered Southeast Asians as pawns played for the success of one warring ideology over the other (Wu, 2013, p. 47). These U.S. agencies sought the end of communism with policies that treated the Southeast Asian peoples as mere cannon fodder.
In this context, Browne’s identity as a Black man earned him the trust of Southeast Asian peoples, who viewed him as another victim of white supremacist colonialism. Unlike many of his colleagues, he saw the humanity in the Southeast Asian peoples, secretly marrying Huoi and raising a multi-racial family with her, and speaking out against the “importation of luxury commodities” that undermined economy to create an idealistic mirage of capitalism (Wu, 2013, p. 52). However, his marriage was seen as a potential risk to USOM--“a source of embarrassment,” due to possible “objection...from a security standpoint” (Wu, 2013, p. 52). They saw more threat in his loving devotion towards his family than in the military sexual complex, promoting the prostitution of “Chinese ‘taxi’ girls” and “Japanese geishas” to U.S. officials and military who hungered for “native” women that they abandoned when they left (Wu, 2013, p. 52). He composed a report on the “rural aid projects” that failed due to “public works” being “blown up,” crops “being burned,” and teachers being “terrorized and murdered” (Wu, 2013, p. 60). The Ambassador “killed” the report because “too forcefully contradicted President Diem’s assurances” of full control (Wu, 2013, p. 60). Evidently, U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia perpetuated the dehumanization of its inhabitants and the systematic demolition of their economies and societies, in botched attempts to force U.S. ideals upon people, whose culture was beyond their understanding or respect.
Browne resigned and brought his family to America, seeking “a path beyond the binary politics of the Cold War and the racial hierarchies of global imperialism and domestic racism” (Wu, 2013, p. 61). His family embodies the cultural clash that was so destructive in Southeast Asia, and despite the Huoi’s “cultural isolation” and the invalidation of her Vietnamese-Chinese identity by people who could not comprehend her ethnicity, the family succeeds in staying strong together (Wu, 2013, p. 67). Most notably, Browne partners with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk once praised by Martin Luther King J., for his peace activism. They take advantage of the stereotypes of African American masculinity and Hanh’s “effeminate asexuality” to popularize their anti-war message in writings and speeches to both old and young activists fighting for pacifism and open dialogue, respectively (Wu, 2013, p. 65). Browne fought for Vietnamese voices to be heard, by identifying with his Vietnamese family and standing with Vietnamese Buddhists who risked their lives to expose President Diem’s tyranny.

Image 2: Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, and Robert S. Browne

Chapter 6 dives into the tensions between the traveling activists of the U.S. People's Anti-Imperialist Delegation. Even though the delegation represented the United States' radical left and admiration of socialist Asia, the individual members had different political goals and ideologies. Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver led this multi-racial, ethnic group of females and males and subjected the delegation members to humility and hostility, because of their race, ethnicity, and sexuality. Cleaver’s position also held harmful gender prejudices, as no female delegates could speak nor make decisions on behalf of the group (Wu, 2013, p. 166). 
The Panthers described the African American community living in “the belly of the beast," where the beast is the militaristic, racist, and imperialistic country of the United States.  African Americans have the power to break the corrupt system from the inside, but Cleaver determined that his power could also be used to reinstate hierarchies within his own community. Wu appropriately names this chapter “The Belly of the Beast,” because Cleaver created divisions and reinstated the beast within the Anti-Imperialist delegation. Cleaver’s “Letters from Prison” and his call to arms for white women to engage in revolutionary violence leads us to characterize him as someone who perceived women as sexual trophies and dismissed their capabilities as activists.  He saw white women as disposable tools in the movement. Moreover, he also thought women were incapable of being leaders and independent thinkers. In Vietnam, the Women’s Union invited all female delegates for a meeting and was interrupted by Cleaver as he “bursted through the was appalling male behavior” (Wu, 2013, p. 175).  Cleaver’s way of describing Asian American radicals suggests the ways of traditional Orientalist thinking - describing Alex Hing and Sumi’s personalities as having no emotion is a stereotype of being expressionless, juxtaposed to the image of them as crazed model revolutionaries.
Traveling to forbidden places in Asia created personal relationships and access to information. However, how Asia and people of Asian descent are portrayed in our mainstream media and in our history textbooks is constantly being narrated and re-narrated, in line with the changing political and personal needs of the story-teller. In one narrative, the two Asian American delegates were characterized as apathetic; while in another narrative, fellow delegate members appreciated the dialogue and knowledge of Hing and Sumi. We must understand who is telling the story and their political and personal implications for narrating this specific story, in order to grasp what exactly happened at a particular moment in history.
Image 3: Delegates from Southeast Asia at the IndoChinese Women’s Conferences; Originally published in Gidra (May 1971) and republished in Asian Women’s Journal. Drawing by Cynthis Fukagai.

Before reading this book, I never knew that there was a delegation that traveled internationally to build cross-cultural relationships, as I was taught that most of the anti-war activism happened domestically in the United States. When learning about the divisiveness within the delegation, I couldn’t help but compare this to the structure of some social movements today.  While attending some of the smaller Black Lives Matter protests, where the lead organizers and chant-leaders were white, heterosexual males - I thought to myself, “WHO is/are actually out in the streets telling the story of the unarmed black teenager murdered by a police officer - the Black community that the teenager was a part of, or a white male exerting his privilege, because he thinks that they need to be ‘saved’? Even if he has learned about white male privilege and the importance of decolonizing our current system, his perception of communities of color could still be viewed through a white-savior complex lens.
In the last section, Wu concludes with examining the transnational alliance-building between Vietnamese and North American women activists at the Indochinese Women’s Conferences.  The women at these conferences symbolized building an international anti-war movement across borders, literally and figuratively. Through changing the process of global sisterhood, alliances across national, cultural, and ideological boundaries provide an opportunity to reexamine global sisterhood in two ways; the ways in which Vietnamese women initiate international partnerships and their important role as mentors for women in the west, and building a broad political coalition where rich and diverse dialogue is exchanged and debated between women of varying backgrounds (Wu, 2013, p. 193).  Because the conferences provided “a forum to air and accentuate differences along lines of ideology, race, sexuality and nationality," American women looked to the Vietnamese women for leadership and inspiration. Southeast Asian women wanted help, but they also believed they had a greater ability to inspire their American sisters (Wu, 2013, p. 196). Through testimonies of violence, survivors encouraged them to know that they have a place in stopping the war.  A quote stood out to me in particular: “the more barbaric the army, the stronger the struggle of the people” (Wu, 2013, p. 247). This quote perfectly describes the resiliency and inspiring persistency of the Indo-Chinese delegation of women survivors, in achieving a global sisterhood of anti-war and peace. We hear stories about war survivors, but we don’t hear about their rebirth in rebuilding themselves and their communities from the ground up and building coalitions across borders, across languages, across racial and ethnic lines to prevent a catastrophic war from repeating itself.  Ending the book with a chapter on stories of the Indo-Chinese delegation and how inspired and moved the female American activists felt is truly a beautiful tribute to the countless innocent Vietnamese/Southeast Asian lives that were lost.

Wu, J. T. (2013). Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.  
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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kill Anything That Moves

Aung Lin
Duc Luong

Kill Anything that Moves-Book Review
Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, brings to light the atrocities that were swept under the rug during the Vietnam War. The notorious My Lai massacre was only one of the few tragic incidents that happened to be made public. Turse’s intensive research for this book shows that it wasn’t one of the few, but one of the many atrocities during the war. It is a systemic problem, because of the methods into shaping a dehumanized military machine (soldiers). From the day they step into boot camp, they are forced to call Vietnamese only by the term gooks and brainwashed into seeing them as something not human but as animals. Whether they are fighting with them or not they are all they same, which are gooks.
The first systemic problem is the exploitation of the rules of engagement (ROE) that Turse brings up. These are rules that were made to reduce friendly fire incidents and most importantly to protect civilian lives. During the Vietnam War, the rules of engagement were violated numerous times that it would seem like it was normal and appropriate to everyone. Even the higher command would partake in this. When they see the civilians they can would just say they looked up or they were running, therefore they’re Viet Cong. And for example, if they there was sniper shot aim towards them, there would call an airstrike to destroy the nearest village, which caused many civilian casualties. For this reason, GIs would exploit this to kill innocent civilians whether it be for revenge or just because.
Another major problem was the body count system, which requires GIs to tally up enemies KIA. The objective of this was to see how they’re progressing in the war and predict the outcome.  As Turse points out the body count system just became something that the GIs can compare each other with. All that it matters was how many body counts do each person, regiment, battalion, and etc have. This is the main reason for the senseless murder of many Vietnamese civilians. Any Vietnamese civilian casualties would just be written down as an enemy killed in action to increase their body count. There is a famous saying within the GIs, “if they are vietnamese and dead, they are Viet Cong”. This system would be the reason for many high in command GIs to order “kill anything that moves”, in order to show their more effective/superior group.
I once took ASA 189B with professor Min and it was about the Vietnam War. But I’ve never learned anything about how innocent villagers were killed by American soldiers for fun and women and girls were raped and man slaughtered. Before I read this book, I always thought no innocent people got hurt during the Vietnam War. After I read this book, I learned so many dark secrets and all these horrible things these American soldiers did to these innocent villagers; especially in My Lai and Trieu Ai. I had no clue that during the war, American soldiers shot villagers for sport and raped women for fun. On top of all that, these innocent villagers never got justice. These soldiers that committed these war crimes were trialed but they never spent a single day in jail and got away with murders and manslaughters. I would recommend this book to everyone I know so that people can learn the real truth about Vietnam War. The title of this book is “Kill Anything that Moves.” At first I didn’t know what it meant but in the end, it means high rank officers giving orders to their soldiers to kill everything that moves which include all elderly, men, women, children, chickens, pigs and cows and burn their tents. They don’t care whose Viet Cong and who's not. They gave an order to kill all Vietnamese. Before I read this book, I had no clue American soldiers would do such a thing like this and I was shocked.
           In the intro of the book, Charles McDuff had witnessed multiple cases of Vietnamese civilians being abused and killed by American soldiers and their allies. McDuff wrote a letter to President Nixon to discuss this. He reminded me of Paul Cox. Because Paul Cox also wanted to help Vietnamese civilians that got injured and killed during the war for no reason. McDuff is like Cox because many innocent Vietnamese civilians got killed during the war and they won’t tolerate it. Cox said it in our class about how he felt guilty spraying agent orange all over Vietnam. Cox showed us all the negative consequences this had on innocent civilians. Therefore, McDuff and Cox are trying to save these innocent Vietnamese civilians. Also McDuff begged Nixon in his letter to end American participation in the war.
           On page 2, Captain Ernest Medina gave his men an order to kill children and women in the village. His exact words were “kill anything that moves.” GIs killed all the chickens, pigs, cows, old men sitting in their homes, a woman with a baby in her arms and the baby. The soldiers burned homes, raped young girls and women and poisoned their drinking water. I never once heard of this. I had no clue that American soldiers would hurt and kill innocent people. This is whole a lot worse than Cox’s presentation about Agent Orange. Agent Orange only caused severe birth defects and those people weren’t at least killed this way. This massacre took place in a small village called My Lai and this became known as “My Lai Massacre.”
Map of My Lai
       Kill-2.jpg    My Lai Massacre Picture
            Addition to that, I want to know if American troops was never involved directly would the outcome of the war be different? The intention killing of civilians and even sometimes their own allies, South Vietnamese troop must have made them feel some kind of resentment toward American involvement. If anything, these actions would of gave regular civilians to have a reason to join the communist forces. The bombings and destroyed villages also caused a huge displacement of refugees which became a huge problem for the South. The U.S. troops was suppose to win the hearts of the people but instead made them feel resentment.
           At the court, some soldiers used their commander’s order to shoot everything that moves. I think this is just a lame excuse. They shot every Vietnamese walking in the village for fun and they got away with it. When these commanders gave out this order, I want to know what they were thinking. Some soldiers claimed that the peasants lived in Viet Cong area and therefore, they’re Viet Cong but they’re not. The peasants lived in these areas because of the rice fields and their ancestor’s graves. Even when the bombs began to fall, they still cannot afford to leave.Generals told reporters that the best way to have these villagers come to the refugee camp is to blast the hell out of their village. Some generals claimed that they tried to get people out of the village before they start burning. All these refugees hated these camps. They complained that there’s no farmland, schools and it’s overcrowded and they miss their villages.
           When all these bombing happened, there were photographers to capture all these images. Some children were burned alive by phosphorus and you can even see their bones. Also this book talked about how some soldiers raped women and young girls and killed them for fun. They threw a grenade into their homes, threw away their bodies to cover up their crimes. I never once heard of any of these things in my other ASA classes. Also on page 131, Turse talked about all these Americans that were involved in these massacres were found not guilty at the court and received only short jail terms. Some soldiers even cut off body parts of their victims in exchange for prizes offered by commanders or as souvenirs. My question is what is the point of all this? I thought American soldiers were supposed to help these villagers win the war.
On page 222, Turse talked about how all these war crimes evidence were covered up or kept secret at high command levels. In the newspaper or magazines they never published any of these things the American soldiers did to these innocent villagers. American military is ashamed of what they did and they got away with murders and manslaughters. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks Americans helped Vietnamese during the war to learn the truth about what actually happened during the war.
Turse, Nick. Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.
New York: Picador, 2013.
My Lai village map
My Lai Massacre

Friday, January 22, 2016

ASA 150E-Hanoi's War Book Review by Jessica Steinert and Aung Lin

Jessica Steinert and Aung Lin

Map of Hanoi

Picture of Hanoi during Vietnam War

Hanoi’s War by Lien-Hang T. Nguyen gives a detailed look into the perspective of the Vietnam War not only from Hanoi, but also from an international perspective.The book’s main goal is to explain the Vietnam War in an international context and to go beyond the US-centered lens that the war is often viewed through. By using unprecedented access to archive records, Nguyen is able to present a different narrative of the war in a wider context. This unique perspective and detailed research is what makes this book stand-alone in the narrative of the Vietnam War.
Nguyen begins this narrative by describing the rise to power of several Northern Party leaders, but focuses specifically on Le Duan and Le Duc. Their early involvement with anti colonialism against the French in the 1920s started their rise to power within the Party. The opening of the book describes the impact of the French-Indochina conflict and how this started the international involvement in Vietnam. With Russia and China backing the North and France and the United States in the South, Vietnam has already entered the global stage. Even into the late 1950s and early 1960s, China and Russia continued to play a huge role in Northern Vietnam, even advising against starting a war with the South and to instead focus on the political struggle. However, the passing of Resolution 15 by Le Duan that allowed for armed support of the political struggle was just the beginning of Le Duan and Le Duc’s campaign for total war. The decisions of these two men set the stage for an international war.
However, despite this decision to pursue armed conflict, not everyone in the party supported it. Among the domestic and international protests, Le Duan and Le Duc also faced losing their leadership positions. Facing so much criticism and division, Le Duan and Le Duc needed to find a way to achieve a national-democratic revolution in the South. They were able to do so by bringing in new Party members who supported a pro-war agenda. What I found most interesting about this part of the book was all of the resistance against going to war. The Soviets advised against it strongly, and party members who disagreed were repressed. Until reading this, I was unaware of how carefully the leadership sought out this war and what they truly wanted out of the war. Nguyen does a excellent job of illustrating how the North perceived this offensive against the South and it highlights how escalated tensions became. Le Duan and his supporters made the decision that to win both domestic and international support, they needed to spark a Southern revolution by going on the offensive.
The death of General Than and the bombing of Hanoi only intensified the police state in the North and created new urgency to the success of the 1968 offensive. These events lead to the Party’s decision of the Tet Offensive. However, this decision also faced much resistance, including resistance from Ho Chi Minh. This resistance lead several Party members to flee and eventually there was a purge of arrests within the Party lead by Le Duan. These arrests gave rise to the passing of Resolution 14 and approving the Tet Offensive. Nguyen states that this era was a complex and many factors were at play; there were Party members who called for negotiations, international allies giving conflicting advice, and those who called for different military strategies. But ultimately, Le Duan’s purge of the Party lead to the passing of his military plan and his belief that the stalemate would be over. Nguyen’s description of the events leading up to the Tet Offensive help put the whole event in context. By analyzing all of the players, the reasoning behind the Tet Offensive is presented in a new, clearer light.
The outcomes of the Tet offensive are debated, and Nguyen presents them not by looking only at one side, but by showing the readers the complete picture. The Tet Offensive did not inspire the revolution it was suppose to, but President Johnson was seen as defeated and negotiations began. It is crucial to understand how and why Northern Party leadership decided to enter negotiations, but also to understand what their true plan. Le Duan was not about to end the war through Peace talks, but did so to appease others. Nguyen also begins to discuss the clash of Chinese-Russian relations and the influence of Nixon. Le Duan sent two more attack waves, certain he could start the necessary revolution. Nixon was also overconfident that he could win the war within his first year at office. In addition, the tension of Chinese-Russian relations highlights how the Vietnam War was now spreading into the Cold War international stage. With Vietnam now engaged even more deeply in the Cold War, the peace talks can be seen with a new understanding. Vietnam was not actually trying to negotiate for peace, but engaging in Cold War tactics. The Saigon leadership saw this as their chance to enter on this newly set international stage.
Nguyen discusses how the Paris Peace talks were not very successful and prolonged the war. These prolonged war came at a cost, especially for Cambodia and Laos. Eventually, Nixon realizes he cannot win this war and on page 201, the book talked about how Nixon decided to announce the removal of 100,000 troops from South Vietnam during 1971, leaving only 175,000 American troops by 1972. What caused Nixon to decide to remove troops from South Vietnam? Did Nixon believe the war couldn’t be won, or was all the protesting and animosity toward the war influencing him? On page 209, the book talked about how Hanoi responded positively to the seven-point proposal, party leaders believed that US would be willing to negotiate and accept solution by the end of 1972. They were fighting while talking at the same time. Hanoi took steps to antagonize the US in Paris. On page 226, Kissinger publicly said he had never expected any significant effort to end the Vietnamese war. I want to know why Kissinger is so confident that US will win the war. On page 241, Nixon became the first president to visit China. Chinese told Nixon to choose his friends more wisely in the future. I think this is the main mistake that Nixon made about the Vietnam War.
The 1972 Easter Offensive demonstrates the international level of the war. Nixon was traveling to Moscow and China to relieve Cold War tension, while at the same time Northern Party leaders are asking for continued support of these leaders. The Easter Offensive tried to accomplish what the Tet Offensive could not, and again show their superpower allies that the Americans could be defeated. The United States responded in strong fashion, and ultimately both Russia and China were not willing to risk cutting ties with the US for Vietnam. This was a decisive blow to Northern Party leaders, who had to pursue a new road to peace. The 1973 Paris Agreement called for a ceasefire, but it did not end the war. In 1975, the North defeated the Saigon forces and the country was unified. But even then, the Vietnamese forces fought against the Chinese and later Pol Pot. The road to peace and reunification has been a long one for the Vietnamese and Nguyen’s research presents just how complex that road has been.
       While this book covers many different narratives that counter the typical US narrative of the war, perhaps one that was most interesting were the descriptions about Ho Chi Minh. In his heart he wanted to reunify North and South Vietnam before he died. In all of my ASA classes, I learned that Ho Chi Minh is a communist leader and a bad guy. I’ve always learned to hate him. I always assumed that all Vietnamese in America hate him. In my ASA 114 Asian Diaspora class, I learned about an angry protest in LA that happened because a video store owner hung a picture of Ho Chi Minh in his store. People started protesting because of that and the store owner almost got killed. While Vietnamese hated for Ho Chi Minh is understandable, I wonder if people would still feel that way if he was able to unify Vietnam.
Hanoi’s War concludes by discussing how pivotal an event the Vietnam War truly was. The impact the war had on the Cold War, international relations, and the relationship between superpowers and small powers is huge. This book does a great job of exploring the international narrative of the Vietnam War and why this has been such an important event in global history.

Nguyen, Lien-Hang. Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
Map of Hanoi
Hanoi’s War Picture

Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75

Duc Luong
ASA 150E

            Book Review: Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75

In George J. Veith’s work Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75, Vieth provides a highly detailed and analysis of the chronological events that would eventually lead to the fall of South Vietnam. The book is divided in two different volumes that tackles two different aspects of the war. The first volume covers the military aspect of South Vietnam’s defeat, and the second volume discusses the political and diplomatic efforts to implement the Paris Peace Accords. The analysis is coming from a militarized point of view, so the details are very vivid bringing everything to life. The book explains the strategic view from both sides on every battle, and really gives readers the insight on how South Vietnam was conquered in such a short time span during the last 2 years of the war when they were doing so well in the beginning of the war. Every decision made from each side led to another event, causing a domino effect which resulted in the way it is. The book explains in detail about how the events that led to each other.

            Everything started with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on 27 January 1973, which everyone hoped that it would forge a lasting peace within Indochina and end the Vietnam War, except for those in the North Vietnamese Politburo. The Paris Peace Accords was to create a ceasefire between the two sides and have the U.S end direct military contact. While the U.S. troops were to be withdrawn, the North Vietnamese troops remained in South Vietnam. This was something that created fear for the South Vietnamese but was non-negotiable to the South. Thieu (SVN president) denied the agreement but was threatened by Nixon by stopping military and economic aid. As an exchange Nixon promised to continue large-scale military and economic aid and to “react vigorously” to any ceasefire violation, which refers to the U.S. aircraft bombing the communist. During this time Nixon was preoccupied with the major pressure from the public opinion on withdrawing troops and the Watergate scandal. This action gave the North Vietnam the power because they were aware of America’s domestic problem and addition to that, Americans troop were longer allow to be involved directly while they remain the South. This gives them time to plan for the conquer of South Vietnam.

            While the North Vietnamese Politburo (PAVN) finalized their strategic plan outline of the takeover of South Vietnam, Thieu is fixated on the economic problems in the South. With the Oil embargo and the Israel war, the U.S. aid is cut back tremendously which hurts the South and put major pressure for Thieu. PAVN took this opportunity to launch their offensive, ending the ceasefire from the Paris Peace Accords. The promises made by Nixon never pulled through and the aid kept getting deducted, putting Thieu into a bad predicament. The broken promises was the catalyst for the domino effect that would lead to cause the fall of South Vietnam. Thieu had put too much faith on the U.S., and when they didn’t pull through with the promises of “reacting vigorously” and the economic aid, he had tremendous pressure and made some bad decisions during his regime. Though bad decisions were made from both side, the decision made from Thieu had carry more weight.

What the author wanted to show the readers is that even though they were conquered in such a short time span, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t put up a good fight. Because of the cut back in the aid, they barely had any funding for weapons and ammunition so they had to preserve what they had. Yet they were able to put up a good fight, and even won some key battles. In the book, every battle is highly detailed, showing every actions, movement, and most importantly how hard both side fought. Eventually with the limited supplies, it had a huge effect within the battlefield causing major loses. It lowered the morale of the soldiers and caused what they would term “family syndrome”. Many ARVN soldiers began deserting the battlefield to find their families. Even with that happening the remaining soldiers still put up a good fight. Many people outside the war believe the South lose because they were weak were wrong, they fought valiantly.

My belief for the fall of South Vietnam is that Thieu had relied too much of U.S. support. He should have had plan B if everything was to not go to plan. From reading this read, I had a feeling that he made many wrong decisions that made a difference. For one example, when they lose control of the central highland and hue. Instead of placing troops around the area of Saigon, he sent the troops to many different locations which spreads the troops. This is because he didn’t want the people to panic, but it just let the enemies’ takeover South Vietnam more easily. Another reason is that there were many corrupt officials, and spies that provide the North information of the military plan which gave them the upper hand. There were many battles that the PAVN knew what they were going to do. Though whatever the reason, South Vietnam was still conquered by the communist.

While reading Veith’s work it made me thought of hypothetical events such as what would happen if an event didn’t take place. What if the U.S. pulls through with the promises? What if North Vietnam Politburo never decided to resume war, how would Vietnam be like? The South Vietnamese Army did fought really well, I feel like many people till this day think that they were weak and wouldn’t have lasted if it wasn’t for the assistance of the U.S. military branches. Though this book shown military views of both sides, I felt like this book was created mainly to redeem the people of South Vietnam, showing had courageous they were in fighting for their country’s freedom. It was a great book but it can be very tedious for someone who isn’t into military strategies, because it’s explains the army every move during the battle and the turning points.

Veith, George J. Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-1975. New York: Encounter, 2012. Print. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees

Mary Moua
Alex Suy
ASA 150E

Book Review: Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees by Yen Le Espiritu

Yen Le Espiritu’s work Body Counts: The Vietnam War And Militarized Refuge(es) is an account of the American intervention in the Vietnam War and it’s ongoing consequences even after the “end” of the war in 1975. The Vietnam War has been seen as an American tragedy, but what about the millions of victimized Vietnamese? In Body Counts, Espiritu presents the case of what she terms the militarized refuge(es), a combination of refuge and refugee. Her study of this group of displaced people examines how the American intervention itself caused the diaspora of Vietnamese life. In addition, Espiritu offers a different perspective on the Vietnam War than what was taught and shown in books and films. She criticizes the popular opinion and narrative of the Vietnam War and instead retells the events and happenings of the Vietnam War through another lens and perspective, this time not of the U.S and Americans but through the eyes of the Vietnamese refugees affected by the Vietnam War.
Espiritu sums up her points into the effects of American intervention, Vietnamese refugee life in the United States, and the remembering of the war. At the time of the war, America was in an all out battle against communism. America wanted to present itself as a freedom fighting country willing to do what it takes to help people in “despair”. In doing so the effects America had in the war took its tolls on the Vietnamese people and their country. At a certain point American soldiers couldn’t distinguish who was the enemy so they killed anyone they deemed dangerous coining the term “body counts”. Anyone killed by an American soldier whether it was a civilian, child, or solider was considered a military kill. Even after leaving the war, America still deemed the Vietnam War as a “good war” using Vietnamese refugees in America as some sort of symbol to say that without the American help these people would still be in Vietnam living a oppressed life. As Espiritu continually states throughout the book, many times there is focus on the refugees and how they should consider themselves lucky because they were rescued from the U.S. military and not on the events and happenings enacted by the U.S. government and military that caused these individuals to become refugees in the first place.
Espiritu introduces us to the two narratives that are commonly shared so that the image of the U.S. as “liberators” and “heroes” of the Vietnam War will be maintained and supported. By comparing and contrasting Vietnam to the U.S., American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War were seen as innocent and beloved who, although was suffering in the war, went there for the purpose of fighting for democracy and freedom which only then added onto the image of the “Good Warrior” that was given to them. They were “Good Warriors” by entering a war abroad to fight for the same ideals and values that the U.S. was known for and for saving Vietnamese refugees who would have died had it not been for them, except when the real underlying reasons the U.S. participated in the Vietnam War was not to spread freedom and democracy but “to secure their geopolitical hegemony in Southeast Asia, and by extension, in Asia” - a fact that was glossed over with freedom and democracy (Espiritu 92). Democracy and freedom were just some of the excuses used to distract the world from the devastation and horror that the United States were causing from getting involved in the Vietnam War. The U.S. also continues to push forth its image of innocence and saviors of the Vietnam War by using the Vietnamese refugees who had resettled in the United States as examples. The Vietnamese refugees that the American soldiers saved in the Vietnam War are now successful in the United States and it was only possibly due to these “Good Warriors” that they were able to. Due to their ability to assimilate into American society and culture, Vietnamese refugees were seen as the new “model minority.” However, that wasn’t the case for many Vietnamese refugees at all as many first generation Vietnamese parents worked secondary sector jobs with low pay and job insecurity. With Vietnamese refugees being seen as the new “Model Minority”, it reinforced the idea that they are “Good Refugees” and that the American soldiers who saved these refugees were “Good Warriors.”


Espiritu’s work looks to connect the past with the present. The Vietnam War is seen as an American tragedy, yet where is the story of the Vietnamese people who suffered from displacement, disease, poverty and the xenophobia in America once they had migrated? The “good war” was meant to fight against communism and oppression right? Yet American militarized agendas had sought to establish a presence in Southeast Asia just like in the Philippines and Guam. To say that America was really trying to look out for themselves would cause an outcry. Instead of focusing on what the war was really about, I believe Espiritu wants to point out that the Vietnamese people even today are still suffering from the repercussions of the war. There are many detrimental effects that evolved from the Vietnam War, such as the inability to claim their identity for the Vietnamese Americans or many Vietnamese refugees refusing to speak about their experiences in the Vietnam War due to the trauma and pain that they so long wish to forget. For many of the younger generation, their parent’s silence in the forms of anger, anxiety, sobbing, and refusal of bringing up their past told them more than they thought. For many of these refugees, the Vietnam War did not end in 1975 and the memories and horror that they saw in those years still carry on with them to this day wherever they go. While reading Espiritu’s work many thoughts came to mind. 1) Why is that even today from my own personal experience is the Vietnam War deemed just an American tragedy? 2) Where is the history of the Vietnamese people and their diaspora? 3) To what extent have Vietnamese refugees and their family experienced success or no success? In addition, there are many films and books about the Vietnam War that makes the U.S. sound like the good guy in all of this. If the U.S. wants to maintain this image, why don’t they write about it in history books and teach it students in school as it would make it easier for students to believe the U.S.’s side of the story and eventually persuade many to believe that the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War was a positive thing, not a bad thing? If the U.S. wants to believe that they did good by being in the Vietnam War, then wouldn’t teaching in history books and classes be a much faster and easier job to get people to do that? There aren’t many details about the Vietnam War provided in school although the war is probably the war with the most films and documentaries. It seems like a mystery to me that they don’t teach about the Vietnam War in school but still want to promote the good effects that came about because of their involvement. We asked these questions because for us we have never truly learned any Vietnamese history of their people or their war because the war was just as much about the Vietnamese people as it is portrayed about the American people.


The past brings up issues that are still much relevant in the present. Xenophobia and the fear of another group of people is a huge and controversial topic today. With Syrian refugees not only an issue in America, but also many European nations there has to be an address of how to deal with refugees and the mass hysteria that follows with it. Terrorism has been all over the news creating opinions anywhere from banning all refugees to allowing more in even after all these tragic events that have come up. We believe that even today all these events are still somewhat considered an “American tragedy” even when they do not affect the country directly. A lot of misinformation gets passed around and a collective effort must be taken to avoid mistakes that could be made leading to more harm. Espiritu’s argument from what we see is the establishment of the “good refugee” as a symbol. More than just a symbol for freedom and anti-communism for America, but as a symbol for Vietnam to connect its past history to the present. Without American intervention these people would still be living in a backwards country where there are no opportunities is some sort of justification of a just war. With current events, the Vietnam War is still an important reference point in American history, but there still needs to be an effort to also establish that it was more than just an American Tragedy. Furthermore, Espiritu’s Body Counts supports the idea that it is important to know the history, background, past, and culture behind one’s identity and people. There’s little to no documentation provided about the refugees who suffered in and from the Vietnam War and as Espiritu states, it’s because they’re silenced and overpowered by the U.S.’s side of the story. If we don’t ask about these refugee experiences from our parents and grandparents, the false image that the U.S. continues to promote as victors, saviors, and good warriors of the Vietnam War will eventually triumph when that isn’t the truth and eventually everything that we have learned about the Vietnam War will fade and gravitate away. In order to learn in the present, we have to learn from the past and as Espiritu acknowledged, the Vietnam War never ended in 1975. It might have occurred during that time, but the memories and effects from the Vietnam War still carries into the present, affecting not only the older generation but even the younger generation who can only create memories of the Vietnam War through the stories told by our parents and grandparents and other testimonies and accounts. It’s important to share and hear about these stories and to learn about the more unpopular sides to stories that aren’t taught in school or promoted by society. It’s only when we learn about our history and the past that we can learn more about ourselves and the present.


Le Espiritu, Yen. Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees. Univ of California Press, 2014.