Schwenkel, Christina. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation.

Author:Blaser, Kent
Position:Book review

Schwenkel, Christina. The American War in Contemporary Vietnam: Transnational Remembrance and Representation. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009. x + 264 pages. Paper, $24.95.

The subject at the heart of this book, evident from the title, is an important one. Given the prolific scholarship on the effect of the Vietnam War on recent American culture and society, the shift of focus here to the much less studied and understood Vietnamese side of the equation is much welcomed. The subtitle hints at a second important project, that is, examining the conflicts and interactions between Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese (primarily American) views of the war. Schwenkel, an anthropologist at the University of California-Riverside, situates her work within the emerging and broadly interdisciplinary field of "memory studies." This approach allows her to overcome sometimes limiting disciplinary boundaries, while her background in anthropology leads her to unconventional sources and an appreciation of the importance of "everyday" culture.

Schwenkel's book explores these broad topics by considering three illustrative sub-themes, covered in two chapters each. The first explores divergent Vietnamese and American understandings of the war by examining the growing phenomenon, especially since the normalization of relations in 1995, of American veterans, often seeking personal "healing" and "reconciliation," returning to Vietnam, and how they are understood and received by the Vietnamese. Related issues are covered in a juxtaposition of Vietnamese and American photography in the "Requiem Project," an exhibit based on the works of 135 photo-journalists, about half of whom were North Vietnamese, who were killed during the French and American wars in Vietnam. The project was funded and put together in the United States but was moved to and permanently located in Vietnam in 2000.

Schwenkel's second window into Vietnamese attitudes about the war comes from an examination of major "war tourism" sites in Vietnam--the Cu Chi tunnels, Khe Sanh, China Beach, Dien Bien Phu--ironically mostly designed for and appealing to non-Vietnamese visitors. Conflicting Vietnamese views of various examples of "monumental" architecture commemorating the war--Ho Chi Minh's massive Soviet-style mausoleum is by far the best known also reveal some of the diversity and complexity of Vietnamese attitudes about the war.

The final section of the book emphasizes the "transnational"...

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