March 12, 2006
Written by C.N.
More than thirty years after it ended, Americans are still acutely aware of the legacy of the Viet Nam War. But in these ongoing discussions about the meaning and consequences of the war, apparently nobody bothers to ask us Vietnamese how we feel about it, as illustrated most recently by several high-profile conferences in which not one Vietnamese speaker was invited to participate:
For two days (March 10-11), the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston will host a conference on “Vietnam and the Presidency,” under the auspices of the National Archives and all 12 presidential libraries. Conference organizers have invited an impressive list of political big-shots. . . . The organizers claim to address a wide range of issues and new information, yet curiously, not a single Vietnamese was among the invitees.
In politics, the media and academia, the voice of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans is rarely heard. From the “Vietnam as History” conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., to the (USC) University of Southern California’s “Vietnam Reconsidered” event in early 1983 to the recent Oakland Museum conference and exhibit, “What’s Going On: California and the Vietnam Era” to the upcoming JFK library conference, the Vietnamese voice has always been circumscribed and gagged. . . .
By purposely framing the conference around Vietnam and the presidency, the organizers have effectively shut the Vietnamese voice out of the historical debate and sidestepped the issue of why America went to Vietnam in the first place. In case the pundits have forgotten, the American promise and premise was to secure the blessing of liberty and self-determination for the (South) Vietnamese people.
Unfortunately, while that last premise may have been used as the humanitarian ideal at one time in the past, we should know by now that the real why the U.S. got involved in Viet Nam — and as a result, the reason why Vietnamese are consistently excluded from contemporary discussions about the war — was to further their own geo-political interests, not to “liberate” us Vietnamese.
Similar to how President Lincoln’s ultimate goal in going to war was to keep the country intact, rather than often-cited magnanimous ideal of freeing the slaves, the U.S. went to war for itself, plain and simple. That’s the reason why the war is called “The American War” inside Viet Nam.
Hmmm, that kind of selfish approach couldn’t possibly happen these days, can it? An American regime using some idealistic and ultimately flawed rationale for going to war, and then struggling mightily to conduct it properly while fending off increasing opposition to it at home? The conference speakers would do well to talk about that past-present connection as the war’s biggest legacy.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Vietnamese Excluded from Viet Nam War Discussions" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/03/vietnamese-excluded-from-viet-nam-war-discussions/> ().
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