Suspended futures : the Vietnamization of South Vietnamese history and memory

Doctoral thesis OPEN
Bui, Long Thanh (2011)
  • Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
  • Subject: UCSD Dissertations, Academic Ethnic studies. (Discipline) | Psychological aspects Vietnam War 1961-1975 History Influence | Social aspects Vietnam War 1961-1975 History Influence | Psychology Vietnamese | Defeat (Psychology) | Vietnamese Americans Psychology | Motion pictures and the war Psychological aspects Vietnam War 1961-1975 | Psychological aspects Vietnam War Art and the war 1961-1975

In 1969, President Richard Nixon announced the "Vietnamization" of the Vietnam War, a handover of responsibility for winning the war from the U.S. to its allies, the South Vietnamese. Vietnamization articulated the challenges of achieving political freedom and historical agency for South Vietnamese people. Conceptualizing this term in the early 21st century, I seek to address the ways the war (and its subjects) is called into the present to speak about the representability and addressability of the South Vietnamese now. My chapters examine different figurations of South Vietnamese as subjects of modern discourse in the U.S., Vietnam and the diaspora showing how they are resignified and reimagined not simply as the "lost" side of history but those phantoms of the past that must be recognized and reconciled in a post-millennial moment characterized by the "Vietnam Syndrome." I argue that the South Vietnamese historical experience remains the inassimilable trace of war and product of (geo)political history that poses challenges to how the war is traditionally remembered and for whom. Employing a cultural studies and Foucaultean genealogical approach, I analyze contemporary efforts to reconfigure and incorporate South Vietnamese historicity. The first chapter on a U.S.-based Vietnam War archive examines how American recent efforts to represent and include Vietnamese American refugees in their memory work and historical preservation is another instance of Vietnamization that tries to give "voice" to the South Vietnamese without contending with the political contradictions such inclusion entails. The second chapter on the 2006 film Living in Fear depicts postwar struggles of a South Vietnamese soldier trying to survive in post- reunification Vietnam clearing landmines left by Americans --the enduring consequence of Vietnamization. I end with an examination of a protest over a Vietnamese American art exhibit in Orange County and how the issue of anticommunism that emerged from it revives the unassimilable memories and politicized histories of former refugees from South Vietnam. This last chapter illustrates how the South Vietnamese war memory is not a matter for assimilation into contemporary discourse but provides the grounds for endless conflict in negotiating the terms of a war that for many never truly ended
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