Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy: The War After The War A history of Indochina Since the Fall of Saigon is a comprehensive analysis of the end of a War with the United States and the aftermath that leads to an interesting Indochina war. Chanda is an author who had spent much of his time in what we now call our history of the world. His interest in Southeast Asia has allowed his readers to fully understand the history of Vietnam and the events that led to one another. Chanda is able to provide illustrative perspective of historical events from multiple primary sources and secondary sources through officials in Vietnam, China and Cambodia, making his book one of the most credible historical book. As a journalist who seeks out knowledge, Chanda being in the thick of events in Indochina, bravely sought out facts in the time of post-war and present the readers with anew perspective of Vietnam through his narratives.
Window to the West
The Vietnam War has ended and was victorious over their defeat of America. However, their victory resulted in casualties throughout all aspect of Vietnam. As the Americans left in 1975, they returned to Vietnam two years after, in 1977, to settle affairs. By this time, Jimmy Carter had come into office and sent Ambassador Leonard Woodcock to Vietnam to resolve the issue of MIA soldiers. When Woodcock arrived to Vietnam, he saw what his people had done. The destruction of Vietnam by the Americans resulted in craters from the bombing, disruptions to the livelihood of the people and the wounds inflicted upon the innocents. Through the observation that Chanda received from Woodcock, the Vietnamese was seen as respected people. They welcomed Woodcock and gave him no imagery of hatred. In his time in Vietnam, Woodcock had accomplished his goals in returning the MIA back to their homeland. In return, America would help Vietnam in repairing the destruction caused by the war. MIA, Normalization, and economic contributions was the start of better relations with the US but the US later made it an impossible task as the loss would be greater than the profit in helping Vietnam.
“Hanoi was jubilant at having won the war, but it was more concerned about winning the peace.” In “Windows to the West,” Chanda portrayed Vietnam as a country who knew what it wanted and took immediate actions to accomplish it. Vietnam focused on other countries to “explore possibilities of trade and financial relations.” United States was one of the countries they looked at. .
America’s agreement to friendly relation with Vietnam was for profit but America has shown itself as a country who avoids loss. Their promise to aid Vietnam was constantly pushed aside as they tried to avoid the topic. Vietnam, on the other hand, pushed for the aid from the US as it was their hope in repairing Vietnam.
Throughout this chapter, Chanda illustrated where Vietnam stood after the war. The promise of aid from the US devastated Vietnam as their hope to rebuild themselves was squashed by the important figures of America whose words were meaningless. What was emphasized a lot in this chapter was Vietnam’s hope for aid from America. Why America? An obvious reason was that America was the war enemy. But other variables that could have been taken into consideration was what America stood for at the moment in time. Although America had lost the war, America was still a leading country in world power and economic power. I believe that these characteristic that connote what America was played a role why Vietnam was so persistent in seeking aid. As the title suggest, the window connote a barrier and the west referred to the US. Vietnam saw an opportunity with the US, but there was an obstacle that prevented the relation to continue.
East Winds Prevail
The Soviet Union and Vietnam has an intertwined relationship that dated back to the early 20th century. Both countries had something in common. It was the place where Ho Chi Minh had lived. While living in Paris, he had come to embrace the idea of communism. In his later years, he taught at a University in Moscow that led him into the circle of the soviet leaders such as Joseph Stalin. Their belief in communism directed Ho Chi Minh into a path where he would later become the Communist International official. His returned to Vietnam resulted in the takeover of Hanoi. Communism had reached Vietnam and a war came shortly after. During the war, Vietnam received most of its supplies from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had help but refrained themselves from giving the communist vietnamese weapons that would cause collateral damage to the US because they did not want to create tension with the US. Although the Soviet Union wanted to stay neutral, they felt that it was better to help Vietnam because they did not want America’s power to grow. Their intention later became known at the end of the war that their help came with a price.
Aside from the Soviets, Vietnam also had relations with China. At some point after the War, Vietnam had to decide whose hand they should hold. They had hope to have a balance relationship but with the results of the war, choosing sides with the Soviets was a better chance at rebuilding themselves. In 1975, Moscow had signed the first “postwar aid agreement” with the Vietnamese. This agreement would soon allow Vietnam to know that their future was at the hands of the Soviets.
Vietnam had approached for open relationship with other countries through trades and would take any opportunities that was open. They wanted to create their own independence away from the Soviets by deciding what groups they want to belong to such as the International Monetary Fund(IMF). In trying to make their country better, they were stuck with the Soviets. The Soviets did not like the direction in which the Vietnamese was going as it may later be a disadvantage to them. They wanted the Vietnamese to join the COMECON and IBEC but was refused. Tension grew and as they turned away from the Vietnamese, the Vietnamese found themselves in a disastrous condition. Their hopes in receiving help from the west was of no luck and the east was not making it any better. Relying on the east, Moscow or the Soviets, was their only choice. To make better relations with the East, they joined the COMECON and IBEC and strengthen military power with the Soviets.
Through this chapter, we saw that the victory for independence was an understatement. They found themselves back at where they started. To gain recognition from third world countries was accomplished but it did not lead to a better Vietnam. This victory resulted in the desperation of the communist Vietnamese as they tried everything to succeed without being under the control of another country. But as it turned out, the East controlled their success at rebuilding their nation and so, the east wind prevails.
Calm before the storm.
Vietnam, Cambodia, Soviet Bloc diplomat Gyori, and Press officer Nam was introduced to tell us the horror Vietnam endured after the war. The fight with America was over, but it's fight with its brother country, Cambodia, was just beginning. The Khmer Rouge had started an act of terror within Vietnam through massacres, killing hundreds of Vietnamese civilians. Nam's role in this time was that without consent, he showed Gyori the horror that was going on, but being kept under the table by the Vietnamese. After showing the scenes to Gyori, his stuff was confiscated. In my opinion, this showed that Vietnam was not yet ready for another fight, as there were no strategies yet to win the battles. If the officials were to make this known, Vietnam would be outrage and have desires for another war they could not handle. Cambodia on the other hand, was ready for a fight. The holocaust in Vietnam was an act to show China what Cambodia was capable of.
Through strategic planning, Vietnam lured the Khmer Rouge into its land and ambushed the group. Though Cambodia suffered a huge loss, they did not back down. In desperation, Vietnam pleaded to China for help in hope of separating China from Cambodia. China denied its help to Vietnam. According to Cambodia, the attacks was the result of Vietnam "acts of aggression, subversion, and sabotage." Vietnam's link to China, Cambodia, and the Soviet Union became clearer when China supported Cambodia by providing supplies to the armed force. This made Vietnam's relationship with the Soviets stronger. As tension was growing, the Lao Prince requested a meeting with Cambodia in hope of solving the problem with Vietnam. This meeting did not have a huge impact as Vietnam, shortly thereafter, invaded and attacked Cambodia. The third Indochina war has begun. In trying to keep this fight in the dark, Cambodia openly revealed to the world what has been going on. This was to make Vietnam look bad and lose its supporters. "The hero of yesterday's anti-imperialist fight was now cast in the role of a mini-imperialist." To prove that they were not the bad one, they revealed that they had received three hundred thousand refugees fleeing from Cambodia.
Throughout this chapter, we saw a fight within brother countries. Vietnam and Cambodia was at the center of attention. China and Laos, brother countries to both countries was drawn into this conflict, eventually making them choose sides. But, we saw that as China did refused Vietnam and aid Cambodia, its goal was not to help escalate the war but neutralize the tension. Laos, on the other hand, involved themselves to stop the unnecessary killing of the brother nations. From what I have read, I saw that Vietnam just want to be left alone and build their independence but along its border, Cambodia was there and killing its people. Vietnam, again, was left in a situation where it doesn’t want to be.
The Road to War
In March of 1978, Vietnam made a decision that would put them in the center of attention with China. On the morning of March 24, Vietnam attacked Cholon, a city in Vietnam, populated with thousands of Chinese. The purpose of this attack was to stop China’s economic control over Vietnam. This attack led China to stop all projects in aiding Vietnam. The result left Vietnam in an economic crisis, but at the same time, allowed them to freely join the COMECON that was requested by their Soviet allies. Shortly before the attack, China had pass a policy in allowing any oversea chinese nationals to return to their homeland. When the Chinese in Vietnam seeked China’s help, China sent ships to retrieve the people but was left unsuccessful as Vietnam did not allow them to dock on their ports. Altogether, China abandoned their plan to save the people. On the anniversary of the Victory of the Vietnam War, China launched an attack on Vietnam. From there, Vietnam was faced with fighting two of its neighboring brother countries, China and Cambodia. The Chinese in Vietnam was left hopeless and in the eyes of Vietnam, the Chinese were seen as unloyal. Vietnam decided to take all the possessions of the Chinese and sent them out to sea where they could seek refuge in another land. During this process, thousands of people died.
While Vietnam was fighting two countries, Pol Pot from Cambodia began eliminating anyone who had relations with Vietnam or was thought as traitors. The massacres happened in the Eastern Zone of Cambodia. Those in the Eastern Zone were seen as “Khmer bodies with Vietnamese minds.” The killings of the Vietnamese companions led them to have “fire power” as the main source of winning this war they were in. But with a turn of luck, the Cambodians that were fleeing from Pol Pot’s massacres joined Vietnam to overturn Pol Pot and their followers. Vietnam now had hundreds of thousands of Cambodian willing to help them stop this war.
The war with China gave an opportunity for the Soviets. With China’s preparation to attack Vietnam, Vietnam looked toward India for aid but was refused as they did not have the resources to help Vietnam. Once again, they turn toward the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and Vietnam revived their friendship by signing a treaty. The Soviet Union helped aid Vietnam through military support.
Throughout this chapter, we saw that Vietnam have no chance of becoming independent nor reviving themselves. As friends turned enemy was happening to Vietnam, Vietnam turned to their old enemies for help, America. Thus, “The Road to War” had begun.
Yankee come home
Normalization between Vietnam and America was something both wanted. But the offers each group requested was not something they would want to give. In this chapter, we are illustrated with a moment in history where two people come together to make a decision whether normalization could go on. Vietnam later agreed to stop pursuing Americans aid in building the country. This allowed America to have ties with Vietnam. However, in mid 1978, America had decided to established diplomatic relations with China. With China and America settling their normalization, America had to choose if they would break relation with Taiwan, an enemy of China. America was hesitant to do so. While this was going, Holbrooke pursued the issue of normalization with Vietnam again. America placed themselves in a position where their extension in normalization would affect their ties with the countries.
America’s role during this time was for their benefits. Establishing ties with Vietnam allowed them to access information that was happening in the country. It also allowed them to retrieve the MIA during the war. The term “Yankee Come Home” meant more than bringing back the Americans to America, it meant that a friendly relationship had been established with Vietnam.
Overall, Chanda portrayed an image that tragedy was stuck onto Vietnam like a shadow. In every direction Vietnam seeks, a dark history followed. In reading this book, I saw that it was amazing, as well as interesting, in how relevant every title and every word was. The title alone, Brother Enemy: The War After the War, summed up the book. Brother enemy are its neighboring countries who eventually turned into Vietnam’s enemy. The war after the war referred to the Indochina war that followed the Vietnam’s war. With this title, even before the readers had a chance to read the book, they can already grasp what this book revolves around. The titles of the chapters, likewise, summed up the chapters in a few word. After reading the chapter, we are struck with “enlightenment” of what the title meant. For example, “Windows to the West” referred to seeking help from a western country, America. “East Wind Prevails” referred to Vietnam eventual request to seek help from the east, Moscow. Not only does the title provide us a summary, the title seemingly leads to the question of, “why does it happened the way it does?” This question, through various stories and illustration of the events, is indirectly answered throughout the chapter.
What the readers gained from reading this book is a set of historical perspective and understanding of what had happened to Vietnam. The readers are able to sense the significance of every momentous event and how the countries played a role during this period of the Indochina war. In this book, multiple themes was revealed to the reader's: economic power, war, choices, death, normalization , survival, destruction and etc. But most importantly we are stuck to the the theme of strength and determination. The book depicted Vietnam in a tragedy, but alongside to this tragedy, Vietnam still exist. A continuous war, starting from the war with America up until the end of the Indochina war lasted almost two decade long. Although Vietnam was economically and financially deprived, it stood against all enemies. This goes to show how powerful a powerless country could be.
This was an long, easy to read historical book that achieved its purpose in wanting the readers to read more and become more curious about the war and how things fell into place. The ancient history that connects Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China is shown through this book as the Indochina War.
Question: If the Indochina War had continued, would there still be a Vietnam?
Although we are presented with a book full of history, history is not limited. History goes beyond our knowledge and through every person that lived through time.
Chanda, Nayan. Brother Enemy: The War after the War. New York: Collier, 1988. Print.