Brother Enemy: The War after the War
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 able to give details from multiple sources on coming from officials in Vietnam, China and Cambodia. 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. Contrary to belief, the Vietnam War ended opposite of what was believed in the Domino Theory and took another strange turn.
As Vietnam’s victory draw near Hanoi as able to “liberate” Spartlys Islands in the South China Sea from the Thieu regime. At the same time Vietnam publicly claim the Paracel Islands that are north to the Spartly islands, interestedly enough occupied by the Chinese. It is not strange that during the war land is contested and taken over, in this case it open up the rivalry that was already brewing between Cambodia with Vietnam and Vietnam with China. This Indochina Struggle that was frozen by the French colonial rule and the United States intervention afterward slowly melted and was brought into perspective. Old enemies rise again, but all sides hesitant to launch any full-scale conflict as every country, damaged, was barely coming out of another conflict. This state of confusion is brought up entirely as allies and enemies start switching sides.
Image 1: The location of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea
Something that was ironic about the whole Vietnam War was the fact that more than just the United States it was China who lost the Vietnam War, according to Chanda. After the war ended Vietnam came out as a strong, reunified Vietnam challenging China from the south. Chanda gives a different perspective as most believed that Vietnam and China were allies with a similar communist goal, but not in a way that China would like. The power in Indochina came at a time when Peking was obsessed with Soviet “social imperialist”. This gave China the fear that Moscow, one of Vietnam’s principle supplier of military hardware, would join in the mix of the power vacuum after the United States just left. Shortly after the end of Operation Frequent Wind, the main item of foreign news in Xinhua News Agency was about the Soviet naval presence in different parts of the world, including to the south of Vietnam as a way to heighten vigilance “against the dangers of social-imperialist aggression and expansion.” China’s chairman Mao, Zhu De, and Zhou sent were courteous enough to send a congratulatory to Hanoi, but also sent a reminder that the victory of the Vietnamese people was another demonstration of the invincibility of the people’s war. This leads you to believe that allies in the war that fought against the United States joined together, but their alliances or ideals were fickle and far from each other’s desire.
China maintained a stance to gloat about their power and ability to support Vietnam as it basically said, “Vietnam won the war thanks to China’s support.” This statement was sent out as a warning as discreet as possible, because Peking fear the Soviet base facilities in Vietnam. It seem that that the saying, “An enemy of my enemy is a friend” did not last long as that “friend” raised tension. In July 1975, Chanda was able to asked Ngo Dien, Vietnamese diplomat in charge of the press department of the foreign Ministry whether the Soviet asked for a base in Vietnam. In short, the Soviet did unsuccessfully pressed for military facilities as it was not revealed to Chanda until years later. But that was only one worry over many as another one floated in the air. It was the rise of power in Indochina, more specifically the new vacuum in Southeast Asia.
Even as conflict was present with Vietnam, it was not known in the public’s eye as further conflict was a well-kept secret. As the war ended with the United States it was still brewing between Vietnam and Cambodia. Chanda cleverly titled the book as the idea of brother’s who fought together once quickly turned to enemies as China who supported Vietnam switch sides to support Cambodia. History has a tendency to repeat itself and in this case history did repeat itself for the Vietnamese as they had to fight a war against China.
In conclusion, Chanda portrayed an imagery of hardships and tragedy stuck onto Vietnam and its people. Vietnam faced a tough part in its history as a thousand year conflict finds itself back into current life. In reading this book, I came to understand that history is an intricate web of information that, in how relevant every title and every word was it brought forth a feeling an investigation and classic journalism into finding the truths. The title alone, Brother Enemy: The War After the War, was able to sum up the book. The war, which was the Vietnam War, and the war that followed referred to the Indochina war show that Vietnam was in a power vacuum. Readers are given an opportunity to judge the book by its title and grasp an understanding of a prolong war with close enemies. Chanda expertly gives each chapters and sub-chapters sub-themes that is able to have the reader focus on that one theme. 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, multiples 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 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 a long, easy to read historical book that focused in on Indochina during the period of 1975-1985. Nayan Chanda was able to achieve his purpose of seeking out answers and recording history right in the middle of dangers. His ability to record the drama that unfolded in Indochina is probably the closest to the truth than any history books out there. The ancient history that connects Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China is shown through this book as the Indochina War.
Question: If Vietnam had not rally together and unified as strong as they did would the domino theory hold any substance and possibly would history have changed even greater?
Chanda, Nayan. Brother Enemy: The War after the War. New York: Collier, 1988. Print.
Image 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spratly_Islands#/media/File:Spratly_%26_Paracel_Islands.png