The 1960s-70s in the United States and Australia are often remembered as times of upheaval, social change, and activism. The Vietnam War and the civil rights movements for African-American, Native American, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been central to studies of the 1960s-70s. What has not received significant historical attention, though, has been the intersection of these themes: Indigenous participation in the Vietnam War. This paper compares Indigenous military service in Vietnam, exploring the various parallels and divergences between the experiences of Native American and Australian Indigenous servicemen. Oral histories from both groups have generally described the war in a similar manner as their nations’ respective non-Indigenous servicemen. Even so, there are stark similarities and differences between the experiences of the two peoples ranging from their motivations to enlist, their treatment in Vietnam, their adjustment back to civilian life and their roles in Indigenous Affairs in the United States and Australia. Through the lens of comparative history, this paper analyses the Indigenous Vietnam experiences of Native Americans and Indigenous Australians, using personal stories to ground the comparisons in the lived experiences of the Indigenous servicemen.
The end of the Vietnam War in 1975 led to one of the largest and most visible diasporas of the late twentieth century. More than two million Vietnamese left their homeland in the following two decades. The major countries of resettlement were the United States, Australia, Canada and France. In Australia, the number of Vietnamese grew from only 1,000 in 1975 to approximately 233,000 in 2011 or just over one percent of the Australian population. The Vietnamese community in Australia is a legacy of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Among the Vietnamese refugees were many former soldiers. General mobilisation was decreed in South Vietnam in 1968 and nearly male over the age of twenty had some form of military experience. Vietnamese veterans have marched on Anzac Day in Australia since 1981 and are accepted as full members of the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL), yet few know of their life stories, their war experiences or their perspectives of the war. Based on an oral history project conducted in Australia, this paper will explore a little known aspect of Australian government policy towards a significant component of the Vietnamese refugee and migrant community in Australia–namely veterans from the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF)– and examine the recognition of their war service by the Australian government as well as the political controversies that surrounded this issue in the Australian Parliament in 1985-1986.
Fifty Years On: Half-Century Reflections on the Australian Commitment to the Vietnam War
In the 1970s and 1980s, Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War was widely perceived to have been grievously mistaken, if not immoral. Numerous aspects of Australian social and political life reflected a reaction against not only Australia’s commitment to the war but to many policies and attitudes that the commitment was seen to symbolise. These included Australia’s strategic policies, especially the Australian-American alliance and Australia’s relations with Asia; the structure and doctrine of the Australian armed services; attitudes to conscription; relations between the military and the media; and the treatment of Australian veterans. In recent years, much has changed. Since the late 1990s, Australia has become involved in a number of military conflicts, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, alongside the United States, despite protests that these commitments were repeating the mistakes of Vietnam. This paper reviews some of the arguments for and against Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, in the light of more recent developments.
Peter Edwards has published extensively on the history of Australian defence and foreign policies, especially the Vietnam War and other conflicts in Southeast Asia, the Australian-American alliance, and the policy-making process. As the Official Historian of Australia’s involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts 1948-75 (Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam), he was the author of Crises and Commitments (1992) and A Nation at War (1997), and general editor of the nine-volume series. A graduate of the Universities of Western Australia and Oxford, he is currently an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University. He is a Member of the Order of Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and the winner of several literary awards.
DAY 2 – Friday 11 October
Thanh-Vân Ton That
Stories of Passion and Decolonization from the Indochina War to the Vietnam War
At a time when we are approaching the sixtieth anniversary of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, it seems relevant to compare four novels of contemporary French writers of Vietnamese origin evoking tragic love stories in wartime and symbolizing the impossible union of opposites: the West and Asia, colonizers and colonized, male and female, life and death. The four novels are Kim Lefèvre’s Les Eaux mortes du Mékong (Dead Waters of the Mekong) (Points, 2010); Hoai Huong Nguyen’s L’Ombre douce (Gentle Shadow) (Editions Viviane Hamy, 2013); Anna Moï’s Riz noir (Black Rice) (Folio, 2006); and Tuyêt-Nga Nguyen’s Le Journaliste français (The French Journalist) (Le grand miroir, 2007). This paper will discuss the myths and topoi of thwarted love in France and Vietnam as well as the weight of culture and tradition, and will seek to decipher the meaning and allegory of the heroic female figure. From one war to another (the Indochina War to the Vietnam War), these four contemporary novels provide a reflection of a meeting of worlds and clash of cultures at the crossroads of history and literature.
Thanh-Vân Ton That is Professor of Comparative and Francophone Literature at the University of Paris-Est Créteil. A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure (Ulm) she obtained her doctorate from the Sorbonne. She has published critical editions of Les Pas effacés by Robert de Montesquiou and the poetry of Anna de Noailles (Éditions du Sandre, 2007, 2013), translations (Gogol, Chekhov), and Proust ou l’écriture prisonnière, Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein: un roman de la folie amoureuse (Éditions du temps, 2000, 2005), Léon Cladel et l’écriture de la Commune (L’Harmattan, 2007). Her current work focuses on Francophonie in Vietnamese and Russian.
Vietnam’s Unfinished Revolution: Rising Voices for Alternatives to an Outmoded Ruling System
Revolution in South East Asia has centred around two great peoples, Indonesian and Vietnamese. The Indonesian Revolution was completed (1945-1998) when GeneralSuharto was removed in 1998 and a liberal democratic system introduced. Today it seems remarkably flexible and stable. The Vietnamese Revolution, on the other hand, has yet to shed its totalitarian, oppressive Communist system that has for fifty years been so costly to its people, through first civil then open warfare. The North Vietnamese regime’s invasion of South Vietnam followed the typical path of Soviet territorial expansion and implantation of military and commercial influence, so common in the immediate post-World War II decades. First was the forced redistribution of land and wealth, followed by other moral and property punitive actions that sent more than one million people fleeing to South Vietnam. The northern Communists then began their first stage of a takeover by inciting terror, using violent hit and run assassinations of village leaders, police posts, religious and political leaders, and taking hostages of innocents. In the second stage, guerrilla warfare was begun, using border protections in « friendly » countries that would prevent counteractions by free world forces. The final stage was open warfare, which required tens of thousands, building to hundreds of thousands in Hanoi’s case of indoctrinated troops. The « victory » of the Communists in South Vietnam was followed almost immediately by a breakdown in all forms of government (except for the requirement of a strong armed force to police the state). The new Vietnamese Dong after twenty years of Communist rule was worth one 42,000th of its value in 1978. Roads, rail, shipping, communications, education, child-care, hospitals, and all public buildings were in a failed state of disrepair. Vietnam was listed as the fourth poorest nation in the world, ahead of just three of the worst African dictatorships. The Vietnamese Revolution is incomplete. The world would naturally be hoping that the final stages will not be as bloody and costly as the Communist driven stage of enforced « reunification. »
Frank Palmos is an historian and former journalist. He was a Vietnam War correspondent for five tours between 1965 and 1968, accompanying 33 land, sea and air missions from bases in Da Nang, Saigon and Nha Trang. He was the sole survivor of a Viet Cong ambush of five Western war correspondents in Cholon, Saigon, on 5 May 1968 during the Second Tet Offensive. His experiences as a correspondent in Vietnam, and in his successful, two-year investigation into the Tet incident, constitute his autobiographical book, Ridding the Devils (Bantam, Sydney 1990) which has been translated into Vietnamese and read in serial form over Vietnam National Radio, 1990-1991. He compiled and authored the English version of Bao Ninh’s celebrated Vietnam War novel, The Sorrow of War (Secker & Warburg, 1993), winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Award 1994, and rated by the Society of Authors, London, as one of 50 best translations in the 20th century. He was a contributor to Requiem (Jonathan Cape, 1997), edited by Horst Faas and Tim Page, in memory of the 135 combat photographers and correspondents killed over two decades in the Indochina Wars. He received his PhD from the University of Western Australia in 2012 for his study of the Indonesian revolution, Surabaya 1945: Sacred Territory.
The Vietnam War: A Personal Journey
This essay describes the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of one person in the years leading up to, during, and after the Vietnam War. The journey described has not ended because the war and its aftermath continue to preoccupy his thinking now over forty years since his military service in Vietnam. From an emotional perspective, it was the dominant theme of his life, and continues to trouble him as he attempts to understand and reconcile his feelings of gu ilt at the United States’ and his own personal abandonment of the Vietnamese at the end of the war. For those who did notexperience the war directly, it may help to illustrate the confusing, often distressing, and at times overwhelming events that made the war the central event in the lives of a generation of Americans and several generations of Vietnamese.
Robert McKelvey received his BA in German and English History and Literature from Harvard University in 1966 and then spent a year on a German Academic Exchange Fellowship at Eberhardt-Karls University in Tuebingen. Subsequently, he was an officer in the United States Marine Corps, serving in Vietnam and earning a Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V.” He graduated from Dartmouth Medical School in 1974, completed his psychiatry residency at Cambridge Hospital/Harvard Medical School in 1977, and his child psychiatry fellowship training at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School. He has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Western Australia, and Oregon Health and Science University. He is presently Professor of Psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University and is in private practice. His academic interests include cross-cultural psychiatry involving refugee populations from Vietnam, physicians coping with the deaths of child patients, and the so-called “euthanasia” program in National Socialist Germany. He has published numerous articles and three books including The Dust of Life: America’s Abandonment of Its Children in Vietnam and A Gift of Barbed Wire: America’s Abandonment of Its Allies in South Vietnam.
Protests over the museum exhibit, What’s Going On?– California and the Vietnam Era exhibition in Oakland, California (USA 2004-2005), initially appeared to arise from a cluster of Southeast Asian Americans finding voice and demanding inclusion. However, they actually showed that discontent with the exhibit was more wide reaching. Chicanos, veterans, free-speech protestors, peace activists, and others also wanted their views represented. From this point, my research revealed that no single segment of society owns the “Viet Nam War” as an experience. It is not even the exclusive domain of people who lived in Southeast Asia during the fighting. Many communities internationally embrace the “Viet Nam War” era wholeheartedly. For some involved in the war directly, it meant helping keep democracy alive; for others, like Latin Americans, it was about global revolution. For Southeast Asian Americans it signaled a new beginning as diasporic peoples building communities away from “home.” This paper examines the various and divergent views of the Viet Nam War experience and its role in the development of personal, community, and national identities. This serves to help us rethink the Viet Nam War period and its aftermath with a much more globally inclusive perspective. Coming full circle as a co-curator for the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second Indochina War, I am invested in a broader understanding of the impact of this era and the assertion that the Viet Nam War as concept is owned by the world.
Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde is Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her teaching, research and organizing interests include: Southeast Asian American history and contemporary issues, mixed race and gender theories, Fashionology, Aesthetics, Diaspora, and Transnationalism Studies. She authored Transnationalizing Viet Nam: Community, Culture, and Politics in the Diaspora (Temple University Press 2012). Professor Valverde founded Viet Nam Women’s Forum (1996-2006), a virtual community with hundreds of women internationally that mobilized for change in Viet Nam and abroad,and Fight the Tower (2013), a movement to resist and demand justice against discriminatory practices directed against women of color in the academy. ProfessorValverde was a Luce Southeast Asian Studies Fellow at the Australian National University (2004), Rockefeller Fellow for Project Diaspora at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (2001-02), and a Fulbright Fellow in Viet Nam (1999). As a passionate advocate for the arts, she curated the exhibit Áo Dài: A Modern Design Coming of Age (2006) for the San Jose Museum of Quits and Textiles in partnership with Association for Viet Arts, and consults for the annual Áo Dài Festival held in San Jose, California (2011-present). She is currently co-curating an upcoming exhibit for the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second Indochina War.