The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam by Christopher Goscha – review


A destroyed French tank and an aircraft propeller that are still kept as war relics in the Dien Bien Phu valley.

“In 40 years, the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has swung about as widely as is possible between two countries. In 1975, the US cut diplomatic ties with Hanoi after the end of the Vietnam war (AKA the second Indochina war), which left more than a million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 Americans dead. US officials and allied South Vietnamese famously fled Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the biggest helicopter airlift in American history. Now, though the country remains a highly repressive, nominally communist state, it has become one of Washington’s dearest friends in Asia. The US navy pays regular port calls in Vietnam. President Obama lifted the ban on sales of lethal arms to Hanoi, which had been in place since the end of the war. The two nations have roughly $45bn (£35bn) in annual bilateral trade. When the head of Vietnam’s Communist party visited Washington last year, he made the rounds of official meetings, think-tank talks and private briefings like a conquering hero. Such a swing in relations might seem unusual. Since the Vietnam war introduced Americans to the country, journalists, historians and many foreign leaders have viewed it through a narrow prism: Vietnam is a country repeatedly invaded by foreign powers, from imperial China to colonial France to the US; it is a country with a tenacious people, whose identity has been forged by fighting invaders. Vietnam’s foremost heroes, such as the 18th-century emperor Quang Trung, and Ho Chi Minh, are those whose wars forced foreign powers out. But as Christopher Goscha shows in his groundbreaking book, Vietnam has always been a far more complicated place – politically, strategically, economically and culturally – than this image of a country of stubborn, united fighters. He manages the (not easy) task of showing Vietnam’s complexity without losing the reader with too much detail. Goscha understands that Vietnam is a land long coveted by major powers – it is a narrow spit of coast with fertile deltas, astride one of the most important trade routes in the world. But it has also been a major regional power itself. At times, it has fought back against foreign powers, but at other times it has sought diplomatic alliances, or welcomed migrants into what is a very ethnically and religiously diverse country. Vietnam has enjoyed periods of unity, but even the Vietnamese Communist party was more divided than most outsiders realised. And today, Vietnam’s unity has serious fractures….”
Guardian – Joshua Kurlantzick
amazon: The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam by Christopher Goscha

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This entry was posted in Agent Orange, Books, Cambodia, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Laos, Lyn. Johnson, My Lai, Napalm, Nixon, R. McNamara, Saigon, Viet Cong, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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