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

1 comment:

  1. More details of major points and arguments of the book would have been useful.