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Paper Trails: Connecting Viet Nam and World History Through Documents, Film, Literature and Photographs

Marc Gilbert
North Georgia College and State University

Part I     Part II     Part III  


Figure 1: Ho Chin Minh reads the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, Sept, 2, 1945 at


    Almost sixty years ago, a crowd of thousands gathered in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square to hear Ho Chi Minh read Viet Nam's Declaration of Independence. Like its American counterpart, this document was intended to both mark the end of colonial rule and also to legitimize a new national government (the full text is provided below). As part of his bid for an alliance with the United States, Ho Chi Minh had previously shown this document to his American military advisers, who greatly admired him for his leadership in their common struggle against the Japanese in Indochina. These officers believed that, despite his commitment to communism, the Vietnamese leader was as sincere as was Thomas Jefferson in drawing on John Locke's famous words regarding the "inalienable rights" of all human beings (like Jefferson, Ho Chi Minh dropped Locke's reference to the right to property!). As a result, they supported Ho's bid for post-war American nation-building in Viet Nam. As is now well-known, however, this was not to be. Ho's anti-communist rivals, despite the lingering taint of cooperation with Viet Nam's colonial masters, would eventually garner the American support Ho coveted. Nonetheless, even this support failed to overcome the political advantage gained by Ho's coup de theater in Hanoi in 1945: even the French puppet Emperor of Viet Nam, Bao Dai, then abdicated in favor of the new government that came into being with Ho Chi Minh's speech in Hanoi. He abdicated not because he approved of the new government, but because he understood that Viet Nam's freedom from colonial rule was worth any price, including the end of the last vestiges of feudal monarchy that he himself represented.
    Like its American predecessor, Viet Nam's declaration of independence heralded years of war—in this case, almost 30 years of conflict.1 That the conflict was to be so prolonged arises from a great historical anomaly. Though the Vietnamese struggle for independence pre-dated the Cold War, the success of Viet Nam's communist revolutionaries in winning control of the Vietnamese nationalist movement in 1945, the subsequent reluctance of the French to countenance the loss of their empire in Indochina, and the alacrity with which the United States was to come to the aid of France due to its growing Cold War concerns, insured that Viet Nam was swept up in the maelstrom produced by the post-war Soviet-American bi-polar world order.
    Thus it was that in 1945 the history of Viet Nam became connected to many of modern world history's most potent themes: the end of traditional feudal monarchies, the continued influence of the Enlightenment thought, the rise of nationalism and socialism in the non-Western world, global war, the movement towards European decolonization, and the Cold War. The history of Viet Nam, however, offers rich exemplification of many more world historical processes. What follows is not an attempt to thoroughly explore this topic, but to offer some teaching approaches and resources connecting Viet Nam to world history via the classroom. It is divided into two parts. The first begins with an overview of Viet Nam's place in world history. This is intended only for those who wish to examine this subject in theoretical or analytical detail, with sources indicated in the notes as scholarly resources for teachers and advanced students. The second part will offer sets of documents with discussion-based questions, lesson plans, and other exercises for many of the topics raised in Part I. 3



Part I: Viet Nam and World History--An Overview

Viet Nam's history began with Neolithic settlements, which, by 250 B.C.E. had evolved into a monarchial state that encompassed the southern-most regions of what today is the People's Republic of China, as well as the delta of the Red River. The subsequent expansion of the Ch'in and Han Empires led to the Chinese conquest of most of the Viet lands north of the Red River delta, and an effort to incorporate by colonization that which remained in what they wished to call Anh Nam ("the pacified South"). When the latter effort turned selfish and brutal, it sparked indigenous resistance movements in which women played a leading role.2 A thousand years of struggle were necessary for the Vietnamese people to end China's political domination of their country. Through an early example of defensive "self-strengthening," the Vietnamese eagerly adopted many Chinese socio-cultural norms, such as patriarchy, but their society retained much of their indigenous socio-cultural identity, even in regard to women's rights, rendering it a striking example of cultural fusion and pre-modern state formation. Centuries of wars of liberation waged against the imperialists of the Greater Dragon to the north (including a series of Mongol invasions)3 influenced the shape of Vietnamese national identity and the martial strategy, dau tranh,4 which would grow to include protracted, scorched-earth and guerilla warfare that the Vietnamese would later employ against all its Western adversaries. 4
    Whereas its relations with China shaped its abhorrence of foreign rule, Viet Nam's own efforts to acquire hegemony over its neighbors in the Mekong basin, a southern military-backed settler movement ("march south") akin to Roman colonization (gifting lands on the periphery to soldiers) and the American "Westward movement," helped foster a martial ethos and chauvinism that so often accompanies modern nation-building and wars of conquest. Viet Nam's imperial pride contributed to the xenophobia and race-hatred that characterized modern Viet Nam's struggles with the equally ethnocentric West. However, it also poisoned Cambodian-Vietnamese relations and thereby contributed to the "war after the war" in Cambodia that was sparked by a resurgent Khmer Rouge invasion of southern Viet Nam: Vietnamese advisors referred even to their Cambodian allies against the Khmer Rouge in language more closely approximating European discourse regarding inferior subject races than that customarily employed when addressing Asian brothers-in-arms.5
    The French, who were present at the creation of the last Vietnamese dynasty (the Nguyen) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, were well aware of the war-like past, the pride, and the prejudices not only of the Vietnamese, but also of neighboring Cambodians and Laotians. Their interest in the political culture of Indochina, however, was largely limited to those aspects that they could exploit so as to strengthen their hold over the region's societies. In this attitude, as in most other respects, the French were not unique among contemporary European empire builders: many called this policy divide et impera (divide and rule) after the Roman practice. The nature and impact of French rule in Viet Nam was, in fact, so normative that colonial Viet Nam is a representative case study of the fate of non-European nations in a world reshaped by European expansionism. Both the imperial ideology of Jules Ferry, the Prime Minister responsible for the final phase of the French conquest of Indochina, and the policies of French proconsul Paul Doumer (1897-1902, later 13th President of the French Republic), who regularized French colonial administration in the region, are considered archetypes of modern imperialism and colonial administration (the impact of which is discussed further below). French efforts to privatize land ownership and commercialize agriculture in Viet Nam merely followed the pattern of European imperial political economy from Kenya to New Caledonia. The French were also not alone among European empire-builders either in sanctioning a plantation system that valued profits above human life or in seeking to profit from the expansion of the international drug trade at the expense of their subject-peoples: highland peoples, which they called montagnards, had to meet French production opium quotas, while lowland villages were forced to meet minimum purchase quotas.6
    The Vietnamese response to European imperialism was also in keeping with contemporary global trends. Peasant revolts in Viet Nam, aimed at restoring the traditional patterns of land tenure and labor French empire-builders sought to destroy, possessed many of the characteristics of similar efforts in other parts of the European colonial world. All were short-lived and all futile in the short term.7 The pattern of the Vietnamese elite's response to the French conquest was also similar to that of their peers in other societies facing the challenge of the West. Though the Nguyen emperors were alive to the fate meted out by Europeans to the nawabs and emperors of Mughal India, the Nguyen rulers made the fatal mistake of using traditional forms of statecraft against an opponent whose power and lack of need for diplomacy did not conform to Asian norms.8 Like their counterparts elsewhere in Asia, some educated Vietnamese joined the peasants in armed resistance to French hegemony. Other members of the intelligentsia sought to conquer the conqueror by effectively embracing the cultural values and political ideologies of the West as new paradigms. The remainder either held aloof from politics and the new colonial society, or took full advantage the opportunities for advancement colonialism offered the clever and well placed. The latter, like others of the comprador class in India and Africa, either served in the lower echelons of the imperial bureaucracy or became economic middlemen.9
    Those Vietnamese who sought to ride the Western currents of nationalism, liberalism, socialism, and communism arrived at many of the same ideological destinations as their Afro-Asian colleagues. Moderate constitutionalist parties emerged in Viet Nam, India, China, and throughout Africa at approximately the same time. The reform-minded Brahmo and Arya Samaj religious movements in India had much in common with Viet Nam's universalist-Buddhist Hoa Hao and the syncretic Cao Dai (which venerated great souls like Victor Hugo), while the National Front of Subhas Chandra Bose championed in India the mystical ultra-nationalism that was favored by its Vietnamese contemporary party, the Dai Viet. Though no Vietnamese moderate was as successful as Gandhi in transforming indigenous political modalities into vehicles for modern political change, India had a worthy counterpart to Ho Chi Minh in M. N. Roy, the communist bete noire of British Indian imperial officials.10 8
    Despite the drama associated with the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Viet Nam, the politicization of religious sects in colonial and post-colonial societies was not confined to Viet Nam or Buddhism. Contemporary Buddhism in Burma and Sri Lanka, Islam in Indonesia, and Catholicism in Latin America also served as vehicles of social and political protest.11 Indeed, the convictions that led Ho Chi Minh to embrace the secular religion of Marxism did not differ appreciably from those that led so many Third World leaders to take the socialist or communist path: ardent nationalism, equally ardent anti-imperialism, and the belief that alliance with the communist block and socialism were essential for national liberation and the achievement of balanced economic growth.
    Despite the rise of reformist and revolutionary movements in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century world, it is entirely possible that the European colonial order would have long remained immune to serious challenge were it not for the global thrust of economic dislocation and warfare that came to characterize twentieth century world history. The First World War and the Great Depression ushered in a new age of revolution that weakened the world's superpowers, undermined the established order in colonial societies, and thus created an opening for dissident elements. The appeals for national self-determination made by Ho Chi Minh and by the Egyptian Delegation (Wafd) movement during the peace negotiations at the Palace of Versailles, and the fate of the uprisings in Viet Nam, the Philippines, and El Salvador during the 1930s are evidence of the global wave of revolution and repression facilitated by the First World War and the subsequent global economic crisis.
    The Second World War swept away those vestiges of colonial invincibility that had survived the Western Front and the Great Depression. It also provided unprecedented opportunities for communists to gain control of anti-colonial movements throughout Asia and the Third World. In Southeast Asia, the catalyst was Japan. Just as the French, in their failed wars against the British for global domination, helped usher the American Republic into existence, Japan's failed effort to replace American, British, French and Dutch influence in Asia in the 1940s paved the way for the independence of Indonesia and Malaysia, and the triumph of communist forces in China and Viet Nam.12
    Much of Viet Nam's troubled history after the Second World War can be associated with France's ability to exploit the Cold War in its effort to thwart the process of decolonization in Indochina, a process the Second World War had accelerated elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Cold War politics in Europe and Asia not only occasioned massive American support for French colonialism in Indochina, but also tied the Vietnamese communists closer to their self-serving allies, the Soviet Union and China.13 The place of Viet Nam in both the Cold War and in world communism was assured by Ho Chi Minh's activities in France, Moscow and China in the 1920s and 1930s, by Ho's exploitation of "national front" tactics in Viet Nam, and by communist movements in Cambodia and Laos.14
    Viet Nam's place in the apparent final phase of Marxist-Leninism is best illustrated by the course of Vietnamese communism in the era of Gorbachev and Tiananmen Square. During the First and Second Indochina Wars, necessity had often been the mother of experiments in economic liberalization in the north. However, in the closing years of the latter struggle, the demands of total war had led to a great degree of centralization. Victory reinforced the communist leadership's faith in both the value of a command economy and democratic centralism. In the years immediately after the war, these same leaders were hoisted on their own petard as their political and economic programs often impeded the course of recovery already threatened by continued Western hostility. As they did in the 1950s, the hardliners in Hanoi ultimately looked to Beijing for their model and they liked what they saw. Economic and political reform in Viet Nam, as in China, was to be tolerated only within the framework of the communist party.15 The ultimate fate of communism in Viet Nam remains uncertain. The Politburo in Hanoi is now facing the kind of challenges to the communist monopoly of power that undermined the confidence even of veteran apparachiks in Eastern Europe. Nguyen Khac Vien, one of Viet Nam's foremost historians, and Colonel Bui Tin, the now-exiled editor of the Vietnamese communist party organ Nhan Dan who took the surrender of the Republic of Viet Nam in 1975, called for the wholesale retirement of the Party's elder statesmen in order to speed the restructuring (doi moi) of the Vietnamese economy. A senior Politburo member, Tran Xuan Bach, subsequently advocated the need for faster political change in the wake of the events then underway in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. He also warned his colleagues of the dangers inherent in separating political reform from economic liberalism. Under these assaults, the party embraced the notion of "command capitalism," but the expulsion of Bui Tinh and Tran Xuan Bach from their posts, and the effort of the Vietnamese government to make common cause with China and North Korea in the defense of Marxism indicates that, if the once bright flame of Asian communism is expiring, its Vietnamese acolytes intend, at the very least, to rage against the dying of the light.16 13
    Light of another kind can be found in the examinations of the wars in Viet Nam provided by world literature and the world cinema. From Nguyen Du's early nineteenth century epic, The Tale of Kieu,17 to Le Ly Haslip's 1989 memoir, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (filmed by Oliver Stone in 1993 as Heaven and Earth),18 Viet Nam has greatly contributed to the human record of the strife-torn and oppressed. From the Western-influenced individualist style that emphasized the alienation of the self to the triumph of social realism that identified death on the battlefield as the highest form of self-realization, Vietnamese prose and poetry reflects the transition from a traditional to a colonial to a modern society that many people have made in the modern era.19 The struggle in Indochina had profound consequences for the region, and through them, world history. The war itself altered the pattern of global affairs. Scholars focusing on the war's impact on international relations have demonstrated that the American in Viet Nam marked a turning point for each of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and for the South Korean and Japanese economies, both of which built or were able to revamp their modern industrial economies as a result of American war policy, which deliberately offered immense opportunities to supply American and allied Vietnamese forces with military supplies and consumer goods. It is well-known that anti-war folksinger Phil Ochs sang about the evils of a "White man's boots [marching] on a Yellow Man's Land," but only the men wearing those boots knew they were made in Japan, a fact which, incidentally, angered Korean troops fighting there.20 Historians have shown that the wars in Viet Nam also occasioned a bitter period in Australian social history, an active phase in India's foreign relations, and a hypocritical episode in Canadian diplomacy.21 They have also established that the war opened new chapters in the histories of refugee communities22 and genocide23, and constituted a challenge to well-established precedents in international law.24
    The aftermath of the wars in Indochina, as described in the literature of the Cambodian holocaust and of Viet Nam's political re-education camps, has provided the world with major contributions to the comparative literature of genocide and political repression. Conditions in Viet Nam also spurred other literary genres. Marguerite Duras's The Sea Wall (1950), Graham Greene's The Quiet American (1955), William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdett's The Ugly American (1958) and Tranh Van Dinh's Blue Dragon, White Tiger, A Tet Story (Philadelphia: TriAm Press, 1983) do not merely expose Western imperial pretensions. They also lend insight into how, when cultures clash, the best intentions can pave the way to hell even in as beautiful a place as Viet Nam. This theme is underscored by Philip Caputo's Rumor of War (1977, filmed by Richard T. Heffron in 1980), Gustav Hasford's The Short-Timers (1979, filmed by Stanley Kubrick as Full Metal Jacket in 1987), Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (reprint, 1998) and Chfong-hyo An's White Badge: A Novel of Korea (1989), some of which are discussed in more detail below. It will, however, be as discourses on the human condition and on the universal experience of coming of age that these works will be remembered by future generations.
    As might be expected, the French, with their extensive filmography of the First Indochina War, were among the first to address the American War in such once well-known films as The Anderson Platoon (1966) and Live for Life (1967). Even less known, however, is the Viet Nam cinema of other nations, such as Britain's Tell Me Lies (1968), Germany's The American Soldiers (1970) Japan's Summer Soldiers (1972), the United States- Chile co-production, Self-Portrait (1973), and Australia's The Odd Angry Shot (1979). Many of these films exhibit the same failings as the antipodal Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985) and Platoon (1986) in that they perpetuate stereotypical and ideologically constructed images of the Viet Nam experience. Like their American counterparts, however, they do reflect the place of the war in contemporary popular culture.
    It is likely that the potential of literature and film to deliver more universal and complex messages will increase with the passage of time and healing. Bao Ninh's Sorrow of War (1995), Chfong-hyo An's White Badge: A Novel of Korea (1989, filmed in 1994), and In Country (Bobby Ann Mason's novel, filmed in 1989), again, to be discussed below in more detail, with their examinations of memory and the process of coming of age, are a corrective to the common portrayal in literature and film of the Viet Nam War veteran as a drug-addicted psychopathic killer. In the future, we may see the battlefield internalized and the enemy an agent that acts to spur self-evaluation and the examination of larger truths. The scene is certainly set for American film-makers to exploit the coming normalization of relations with Viet Nam in such a way as to contribute to, rather than to detract from, the new spirit of internationalism that is currently sweeping much, if not all, human society. Mel Gibson's film (We Were Soldiers, 2002) of a utterly moving historical account of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965 (Lt. General Harold G. Moore and Joe Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, 1993) was the first to include a sympathetic (if brief) glimpse of the Vietnamese foe (though it fails to show the Vietnamese victory over supporting American troops the day following this account, which is fully explored in Moore and Galloway's book, which lacks the film's climactic fixed-bayonets charge that was not only fictional, but harkens back to the Second World War films of John Wayne that, Philip Caputo argues, left American troops going to Viet Nam unprepared for the nature of the conflict there). Nonetheless, should the small opening of the cultural lens provided by We Were Soldiers mark the beginning of a trend in American cinema, the latter will find itself on a parallel course with its Vietnamese counterpart. While the Vietnamese cinema has produced its share of self-aggrandizing war films, Vietnamese film-makers have been able to view that conflict as merely one of the many trials that have beset the Vietnamese people during their long history, trials which are traditionally ascribed more to malign forces of fate than evil human agency.57 Perhaps enough time has not yet passed for film-makers drawn from the combatant nations to make an expansive record of the Viet Nam War for their own societies or for the larger human community that possesses the humane vision of Ken Burns's The Civil War (1991), but if or when they do, they will speed the healing from a war whose wounds still fester in the body politic of both Viet Nam and America, and whose larger meaning for the world the cinema has more often obscured than revealed. 17

Part II: Viet Nam in the World History Classroom

Getting Up to Speed


Figure 3: Students learn about Vietnamese culture by preparing a meal.

Some instructors avoid addressing Vietnamese culture and its place in world history merely out of a lack of preparation. The following materials range from ready-made case studies, to Document Based exercises, to materials useful for student assignments in comparative world history, none of which require a great deal of preparation However, it is first worth noting that there is a short, but spectacularly valuable and accessible reading list that can be used to help a novice instructor get up to speed in the field. Neil Jameson's Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995) offers an excellent introduction to Vietnamese culture and society in historical perspective. Victor Leiberman has produced a breath-through in placing the region in world historical perspective with his Strange Parallels: Volume 1, Integration on the Mainland : Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2003), part of a series of works entitled "Studies in Comparative World History" edited by Michael Adas, Edmund Burke III and Philip D. Curtin. A companion study focused principally on island southeast Asia is Anthony Reid's much praised two volume study, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: Volume One: The Lands below the Winds (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1990) and Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: Volume Two: Expansion and Crisis (New Haven, Connecticut: 1995). See also Linda Shaffer's Maritime Southeast Asia to 1500 (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1996). Mark W. McLeod's The Vietnamese Response to French Intervention, 1862-1874 (New York: Praeger, 1991), helps bring this narrative forward by placing the encounter with the West in the context of European activities in Japan and India. Anthony Reid's The Last Stand of Asian Autonomies: Responses to Modernity in the Diverse States of Southeast Asia and Korea (New York: Macmillan, 1997), which offers individual chapters that connect the responses of traditional Asian systems to the West, may be the most useful of these monographic works in a world course. Students can be asked to compare the experiences of each state, or prepare scenarios as to what they could have done to avoid their fate, if anything, or better still, examine why their options were limited. Also worthy of student attention is Craig Lockard's seminal article, "Meeting Yesterday Head On: The Vietnam War in Vietnamese, American and World History," Journal of World History, vol. 5, no. 2 (1994): 227-70.
    In truth, national or regionally specific monographs and academic journal articles are often difficult to integrate into the world history survey course at some levels of instruction, and instructors are often are too overwhelmed with work to engage them themselves. There is, however, no reason to leave students to find out on their own that the Vietnamese New Year holiday is similar to that observed in China. As a remedy, instructors might turn to such sources as P. T. Nguyen and P. S. Campbell, From Rice Paddies to Temple Yards (Danbury, Connecticut: World Music Press, 1990) which offers materials suitable for any world history course. It includes an audiotape that is keyed to lessons introducing Vietnamese music and features a classic of Vietnamese literature, "Song of a Soldier's Wife," (Chinh Phu Ngâm Diên Ca) set to music. The entire text of this ancient, yet still beloved, work is available at It offers a universal reflection on soldiers gone to war and on women left behind to man the home front.
    Instructors wishing to further employ Vietnamese literature in world historical context will find guides to the subject prepared by John Balaban (whose work as a volunteer aid worker in Vietnam is recalled in the moving memoir Remembering Heaven's Face, New York: Poseidon Press, 1991). These guides include John Balaban, "The Poetry of Vietnam," Asian Art & Culture (Washington, D. C: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery-Oxford University Press), Winter, 1994, VII, No.1: 27-43, and the general survey of Vietnamese literature Balaban prepared for the Encyclopedia Brittanica online.25 John Schafer has prepared a bibliography on "Vietnamese Perspectives on the war in Viet Nam," presently online at Those wishing to compare Vietnamese folk literature with others may wish to consult Balaban's Ca Dao Vietnam: Vietnamese Folk Poetry (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, Revised edition, 2003. Nha Trang Pensinger has prepared an article that combines both Vietnamese folklore and gender/women's issues, and is suitable for students of any age, at 20

A Country Not A War

The American Museum of Natural History has created an online exhibit entitled "Vietnam: Journeys of Mind Body and Spirit," that features fine photographs, contemporary images, historical commentary and other materials on Vietnamese culture (see that can be easily integrated into a survey course. The site also features lesson plans for the use of these materials (See Another very fine site, entitled Viettouch ( offers superb images and an excellent survey of Vietnamese history. Such sites offer a great deal of material allowing students to explore Vietnamese cultural values and attitudes. My own practice is to use the "holidays" section as preparation for student visits to local Vietnamese community celebrations of the Tet or New Year holiday that, in 1968, marked one of the turning points of the American War in Viet Nam (see below for teaching resources). As such celebrations are now common even in the bedroom communities of American south, it is quite possible that these festivities can be found near any school location. 21


The American Museum of Natural History site includes a discussion of the Tet Rung Thru or Mid-autumn festival in Viet Nam, featuring masks, parades and evening walks under lantern light (see This discussion includes the same socio-economic pressures that today (imported plastic ritual items and gifts, etc.) bear upon such traditional festivals elsewhere. Several websites sites devoted to Vietnamese culture offer activity and resource pages, including the making of "mooncakes" (banh Tet Trung Thu), masks, shadow lanterns, and special noisemakers connected with what is also often described as the "children's festival" (see, for example, or Another web site at,, strives to compare such holidays and festivals around the world. 22


Figure 4: Festival Masks, Hanoi


Figure 5: Dong Son drum


Early Vietnamese History

Few would doubt Viet Nam's place in modern history, but many instructors might not see the country as having much relevance to a survey course addressing the ancient world. However, it is worth noting Viet Nam offers a spectacular early example of cultural diffusion that transformed much of the Southeast Asian world during what in the West is called the Bronze Age. The course of the development of Dong Son culture in northern Viet Nam in 850-840 B. C. E. is a matter of much debate, as are the origins of its now famous bronze Ngoc Lu "rain drums." However, there is no debate that the indigenous style of these drums, reflecting Southeast Asian life-styles, became a symbol of high culture for the entire region and can be found among the most cherished possessions of the national museums of many Southeast countries. Students can visit the many sites on the internet that explore how the drums reflect characteristics of the region, how this heritage was largely stolen by Europeans, how the Chinese seek to claim themselves as their originators and a host of other issues as rich as those that shadow the Eurocentric exploration of the "Middle Eastern" and Egyptian past, to the near exclusion of other civilizations, at least in the classroom. A complete bibliography, permitting student research into comparisons of Ngoc Lu drums in Southeast Asia, can be found at Han Xiaorong's essay, "The Present Echoes of the Ancient Bronze Drum: Nationalism and Archeology in Modern Vietnam and China,"26 available online at, allows students to explore the politicization of archeology that led brother Marxists in China and Vietnam to find ways of resolving their disputes over the origins of the drums while maintaining their nationalist pride, which thus enables them to engage the concept of monolithic communism and the power of nationalism within communism. 23

Figure 6: Stele for scholars who passed Confucian examinations at Temple of Literature, Hanoi.


Comparative Confucianism

Instructors using religion as glue for a world history course or course projects may direct students to study the impact of Confucianism in Southeast Asia traced in the following works: George A. Devos and Walter H. Slote, Confucianism and the Family (New York: State University of New York Press, July 1999), Benjamin Elman, John B. Duncan, and Herman Ooms, Rethinking Confucianism: Past and Present in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, March 2002) and Russell Freeman, Confucius: The Golden Rule (New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2002). 24

Figure 7: Opera House, Hanoi


The Colonizer and the Colonized


As mentioned above, Viet Nam's experience of colonialism is something of an archetype. It fell under colonial rule via violent conquest despite popular resistance. Its rulers may have detested such status, but became, in effect, puppets rulers and complicit in the enslavement of their people. Colonial rule took a variety of classical forms from settler society (in Cochin) to indirect rule (in Annam and Tonkin). Comparador populations among Vietnamese landlords and Chinese merchants serviced the colonial economy. That world is portrayed in Marguerite Duras' novel The Lover (most recent re-issue, 1998) and film (1992), both problematic for their sexual intensity. Some select companies, such as Michelin, made large profits, but the colonial populations and their victims often paid a high price for corporate success. For the soul-distorting power of settler colonialism, see the Catherine Deneuve star vehicle, Indochine (1992), whose director deliberately exploited Deneuve's face, then being used as the national symbol of France, to dramatize the triumph of colonialism over a son's love of his Vietnamese mother. It is worth noting that the director's cut of Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now (1979), Apocalypse Now Redux, (2001) includes a 20 minute scene referencing the French in Viet Nam that helps provide the French colonial context of subsequent American War, a context still missing in the American public mind.

    It is even easier to bring facets of colonialism into high relief through documents and novels than through film. The classic statement of late nineteenth century economic imperialism (as well as the European racial "mission civilizatrice") was offered by French Prime Minister Jules Ferry when speaking of Viet Nam ("it is impossible to have an industrial policy without a colonial policy.") This speech is widely available on the Internet (see full text at or ). Perhaps the greatest answer to Ferry and all would-be colonizers as to the morality of colonialism can be found in the bitter account of a young socialist who went incognito into the labor force at a rubber plantation in Viet Nam and all but paid with his life. This famous short text, Tran Tu Binh's The Red Earth: A Vietnamese Memoir of Life on a Colonial Rubber Plantation (Ohio University Center for International Studies Center, 1985) is also readily available (like virtually all the books cited herein, it can be obtained via the Internet at very low prices). Students can be assigned both sources and given an opportunity to contrast the ideals and self-justifications of Ferry's speech with the realities of the southern Viet Nam's plantation economy. These can also be utilized alongside other classic novels of colonial exploitation, such as Jose Rizal's The Social Cancer: Noli Me Tangere (first published in 1887 and now available at (for the Philippines) and Multatuli's Max Havelaar (re-issued by Penguin in 1995, for Dutch Indonesia), George Orwell's Burmese Days (Harvest, 1974, also available as an online free text at and Ferdinand Oyono's The Other Side of the Medal (for Africa, re-issued by Heinemann, 1991). Lesson plans for the use of each of these novels are available on the Internet.27 26

Figure 8 Replica of Con Son Island Tiger Cage


Colonial Prison Islands

Prison Islands were a major means of social control in colonial societies. The French in Viet Nam maintained one of the most notorious of these on Con Son Island, about 90 miles southeast of Saigon in the South China Sea. This prison, which the Vietnamese leader Pham Van Dong described as the premier school for Vietnamese revolutionaries, is the subject of a recent book by Peter Zinoman (The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862–1940, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001). This work can usefully be used alongside the most recent writing on Britain's Andaman Island prison colony (Satadru Sen, Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) and on South Africa's Robben Island, (Fran Lisa Buntman, Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), where Nelson Mandela was long an inmate. Students can be directed to ask how the colonial authorities justified the cruelties inflicted on prisoners (which included guards urinating on the heads of prisoners from walkways above their cells); how revolutionaries used their experiences to stiffen their resistance; and what kinds of offenses led to such heinous imprisonment (often peasants who utilized forest products in their traditional way were punished for violating colonial orders that converted their forest lands into preserves for future colonial exploitation). 27

Part I     Part II     Part III  




1 For an authoritative discussion of the events of August-September 1945, See Patti's Why Viet Nam? Prelude to America's Albatross (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1997) and David G. Marr's more scholarly Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1997)).

2 The Women and World History biographies section addresses two of these women and offers a bibliography that addresses others at

3 For a brief discussion, see

4 This strategy favored a simultaneous and mutually supportive two-pronged assault upon an adversary, one tailored to defeat his forces in the field and the other to defeat his war-making capacity at the level of politics and diplomacy.

5 The emergence of Southeast Asia and Vietnam in Asian and world history can be traced in David G. Marr and A.C. Milner, eds., Southeast Asia in the Ninth to Fourteenth Centuries (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1986); and Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, Volume 1, The Lands Below the Winds (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1988). The origins of the Vietnamese state are traced in Keith W. Taylor, The Birth of Vietnam (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1983). The political culture of Vietnam is the subject of Ralph Smith, An International History of the Vietnam War (London: St Martin's Press, 4 volumes, 1983-1990).

6 See John Cady, The Roots of French Imperialism in Eastern Asia (Ithaca, New York: Cornell, 1954); Milton E. Osborne, The French Presence in Cochin China and Cambodia: Rule and Response, 1859-1905 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell, 1969); Ngo Vinh Long, Before the Revolution: The Vietnamese Peasants under the French (New York: Columbia University Press, Cambridge: 1991); and Troung Buu Lam, Patterns of Vietnamese Response to Foreign Intervention, 1858-1900 (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1967); and Alfred W. McCoy, with Cathleen Reed and Leonard Adams, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia: C. I. A. Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2nd revised edition, 2003).

7 The resistance to European imperialism may be traced in Michael Adas, Prophets of Rebellion: Millenarian Protest Movements Against the European Colonial Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1987); Samuel Popkin, The Rational Peasant (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1979); J. M. Pluvier, Southeast Asia From Colonialism to Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974); and James Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1976).

8 See Mark W. McLeod, The Vietnamese Response to French Intervention, 1862-1874 (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1991).

9 See Joseph Buttinger's two-volume study, A Dragon Embattled: A History of Colonial and Post-Colonial Vietnam (New York: Praeger, 1967). See also William Duiker, The Rise of Nationalism in Vietnam (Ithaca, new York: Cornell, 1976); David G. Marr, Vietnamese Anti-Colonialism on Trial (Berkeley, California, 1971) and Vietnamese Nationalism on Trial (Berkeley, California; University of California Press, 1981).

10 See Sibnarayan Ray, ed., Selected Works of M. N. Roy (New York: Oxford University Press, 4 vols., 2000) and compare with Ho Chi Minh, On Revolution: Selected Writings (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1972).

11 See Donald Eugene Smith, Religion, Politics, and Social Change in the Third World: A Sourcebook (New York: Free Press, 1971).

12 See William Duiker, Vietnam: Nation in Revolution (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983), pp. 33-49.

13 For Sino-Vietnamese and Soviet-Vietnamese relations, see King C. Chen, China and Vietnam, 1938-1954 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969); William Duiker, China and Vietnam: The Roots of Conflict (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1986); "China and Vietnam and the Struggle for Indochina," in Joseph Zasloff, ed., Postwar Indochina: Old Enemies, New Allies (Washington., D.C.: Foreign Service Institute, Department of State, 1988); Douglas Pike, Vietnam and the Soviet Union: Anatomy of An Alliance (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1987); and W.R. Smyser, The Independent Vietnamese: Vietnamese Communism Between Russia and China, 1956-1969 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, International Studies Center, 1980).

14 William S. Turley, ed., Vietnamese Communism in Comparative Perspective (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1980) and Duiker, Communist Road to Power attempts to place Vietnamese communism in global perspective. Laos and Cambodia have made their own unique contributions to world communism. The rise to power of the communists in Cambodia is the focus of Ben Kiernan, How Pol Pot Came to Power: The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2nd edition, 2004); and Michael Vickery, Cambodia: 1975-82 (Boston: south End Press, 1984). The best overviews of communism in Laos are Arthur J. Dommen, Laos: Keystone of Indochina (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1985); and MacAlister Brown & Joseph J. Zasloff, Apprentice Revolutionaries: The Communist Movement in Laos, 1930-1985 (Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1986).

15 See James Olson & Randy Roberts, Where the Domino Fell: American and Vietnam, 1945-1990 (New York: St. Martin's, 1990), 274-8; and Stephan T. Johnson, "Vietnam's Politics and Economy in Mid-1987," in Joseph J. Zasloff, ed., Postwar Indochina: Old Enemies and New Allies, 3-36.

16 See The New York Times (Dec. 29, 1990), p. 1A; (Mar. 4, 1991), 4A; (March 5, 1991), 5A; (Apr. 1, 1991), 1A; and the International Herald Tribune (Aug. 29, 1991), 4.

17 Nguyen Du, The Tale of Kieu, translated by Huynh Sanh Thong (New Haven, 1967).

18 See Le Ly Haslip with Jay Wurts, When Heaven and Earth Change Places (New York: Plume, 1989).

19 See Nguyen Ngoc Bich, Burton Raffel and W.S. Merwin, A Thousand Years of Vietnamese Poetry (New York, 1975) and Nguyen Khac Vien & Hu Ngoc, Vietnamese Literature (Hanoi: foreign Languages Press, 1982).

20 See, James R. Rush, "ASEAN's Neighborhood," in Joseph Zasloff, ed., Postwar Indochina, 193-223 and Thomas Havens, Fire Across the Seas: the Vietnam War and Japan, 1965-1975 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987).

21 See Jeff Doyle and Jeffrey Grey, eds., Australia R & R: Representations and Reinterpretations of Australia's War in Vietnam (Chevy Chase, Maryland: Vietnam Generation, 1991); Douglas A. Ross, "Canada, Peacemaking, and the Vietnam War: Where Did Ottawa Go Wrong?" in Elizabeth Jane Errington and B. J. C. Mckercher, eds., The Vietnam War as History (New York: Praeger, 1990). Damodar R. SarDesai's work, Vietnam: Struggle for National Identity (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1991) discusses India's role in Vietnamese affairs, as does Ramesh Thakur, "India's Vietnam Policy, 1946-79," Asian Survey, 19 (Oct. 1979), 957-976.

22 See Valerie O'Connor, The Indochina Refugee Dilemma (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1990) and David Haines, ed., Refugees As Immigrants: Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese in America (Totowa, New Jersey: Roman and Littlefield, 1989).

23 Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence (New York: Cambridge University Press, reprint edition, 1992).

24 Richard Falk, The Vietnam War and International War (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 4 vols., 1968-1976); and Peter D. Trooboff, ed., Law and Responsibility in Warfare: The Vietnam Experience (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1975).

25 See John Balaban, "Vietnamese Literature." Encyclop¾dia Britannica (2004), Encyclop¾dia Britannica online Premium Service (

26 See Han Xiaorong, "The Present Echoes of the Ancient Bronze Drum: Nationalism and Archeology in Modern Vietnam and China," Explorations in Southeast Asian Studies: A Journal of the Southeast Asian Studies Student Association, vol 2, no. 2, Fall 1998.

27 For example, for Oyono, see:,, (with study questions),, (Oyono as part of a lesson plan on Africa and Negritude); (as part of a lesson plan on French literature).


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