Viet Thanh Nguyen's new book is Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. He just won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: You note that wars take on identities, with World War II as “the Good War” and Vietnam as “the bad war.” What would you say is the legacy of the Vietnam War today, both in the U.S. and in Vietnam?--Marshal Zeringue
A: For the United States, there are two basic lessons, the positive and the negative. The negative lesson is that the U.S. should never engage in this type of criminal war again, one that involved occupying another country and compromising morality. This is the motivation of the antiwar movement, and while it remains visible, its power seems to be fading.
The positive lesson is the opposite. Those who have absorbed this lesson believe the war was noble and just, but flawed in its execution. They blame the media, the government, the antiwar movement, and military policy for the failure, and have crafted various strategies to prevent that failure from happening again.
The belief here is that wars after this one can be conducted more successfully if we learn from this war’s failure. This is the lesson put forth by both generals and politicians, including every president of both parties since the end of the war.
It is the basis for the continual expansion of American power globally, the increase in American military bases all over the world, the ever greater expenditure of treasure on the military budget, the detachment of the American military from American society, and the increasing entrenchment of the military-industrial complex. All of these factors practically guarantee our engagement in perpetual war of both high and low intensity.
For Vietnam, the lesson is that the Communist Party must do whatever it can to control the memory of this war as a heroic, revolutionary effort that was worth the sacrifice of one million soldiers and two million civilians.
This war was fought to unify and liberate the country, and also to bring to the people both freedom and equality. But while the country is unified and independent, the people are neither equal nor free. Class inequality is great and growing, and while some few become rich, and while a middle-class is expanding, the majority of people struggle.
The irony of living in an unequal communist society is exacerbated by the fact that the country is a de facto crony capitalist economy, run by a corrupt Communist Party. Everyone knows this to be true, but no one is allowed to say so in public.
This corruption, inequality, and hypocrisy is a betrayal of those three million lives, and so the Communist Party continually repeats the idea that the war was worth all the blood because...[read on]