A New Past: Hidden Narratives of the Vietnam War from the North Vietnamese

Lecture | October 10 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Hai Nguyen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Vietnam Center, Texas Tech University

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies

This talk will examine the motivations of some North Vietnamese fighters as derived from their personal memoirs, in particular unpublished documents collected directly from the battlefield by the CIA and U.S. allies and archived at the National Archives and at the Vietnam Center, Texas Tech University. These letters, diaries and military records in Vietnamese offer important clues to understanding the enlistment, deployment, and rationale of the People’s Army of Vietnam, as well as political struggles within North Vietnam’s Worker’s Party and divergent opinions over the war’s cause. These materials also reveal the soldiers’ feelings of national, familial and individual duty, along with their personal impressions of life at war, depression, and their nostalgia for home and their families. The analysis here seeks to show how personal memory may conflict or be compatible with collective memory, as well as how it may be used to shape or even reshape the stories of history, to amplify understanding of and fill gaps in historical narratives. Such organic memories contribute an unvarnished immediacy that can clarify the North Vietnamese fighters' perceptions and activities during the war.

Hai Thanh Nguyen (pen name Van Cam Hai) is a writer, filmmaker, journalist, and scholar. He is an advisory board member of an ongoing public health research project on war and trauma among elderly Vietnamese for the University of Utah, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, where he recently received his Ph.D. in History. He has written and directed documentary films in Vietnam and other countries, primarily for Vietnamese television. Along with a number of publications in Vietnamese, his poems have appeared in translation in Three Vietnamese Poets (2002) and The Deluge (2013), both translated by Linh Dinh. He has been a U.S. State Department Cultural Affairs Fellow, a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale University, and a visiting scholar at the William Joiner Center of the University of Massachusetts Boston. His project “Memory of Conflict: A New Past of the Vietnam War from Vietnamese Perspectives” in which he has conducted interviews with 100 Vietnamese veterans and politicians, was sponsored by the First Division Museum McCormick Research Center in Illinois.

 cseas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-3609