I liked most of this recent Time magazine essay by Viet Thanh Nguyen (VTN). (The title is the very definition of patriotism, by the way.) I was, however, troubled by the parts in bold italics in the following statements. It’s as if he’s trying to sugarcoat his message in an effort to make it more palatable for a mostly US audience. In doing so, he dilutes its overall impact. My comments follow each excerpt below.
Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. And while there is some truth to that, it was also simply a continuation of French colonization, a war that was racist and imperialist at its roots and in its practices. As such, this war was just one manifestation of a centuries-long expansion of the American empire that began from its own colonial birth and ran through the frontier, the American West, Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and now the Middle East.
Oops! He did it again. An assertion followed by equivocation followed by contradictory statements. Why not just leave out that part about there being “some truth” to the notion that the US War in Viet Nam was a noble example of American good intentions, when it was a yet another example of US hubris and galactic stupidity, a pointless and epic tragedy that cost the lives of nearly 4 million Vietnamese and 58,300 US Americans, not to mention war legacies that haunt Viet Nam and, to a much lesser extent, the US, to this day? Call a spade a spade, don’t water down the remainder of the thought by telling US Americans what most want and need to hear in order to continue living in their sociopolitical fantasy world.
I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. Every country believes in its own best self and from these visions has built beautiful cultures, France included. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included.
Is he referring to the Republic of Viet Nam (South Viet Nam), the country of his parents in what should have been a temporarily divided Viet Nam? I’m tired of this kind of moral equivalency, as if each of these three countries is comparable in terms of “the blood of conquest and violence.” Seriously?
In what ways is Viet Nam “soiled” by this, aside from its gradual expansion southward from what was the original Viet Nam? The overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s doesn’t count because, while technically an invasion, it was in reality a liberation for the survivors of the KR.
In short, to mention France, the US, Viet Nam, and “the blood of conquest and violence” in the same paragraph is to grossly misrepresent and distort reality. It’s as if VTN is pandering to his fellow US Americans, as if to say “this is what all three countries have in common,” when nothing could be further from the truth. The US and France are a league of their own in this respect.
Has Viet Nam every been a colonial or neocolonial empire? On the contrary, it’s been the victim of several through its long and tumultuous history, including China, France, and the US, each of which it roundly defeated, much to its everlasting credit.
VTN often speaks the truth, even sometimes uncomfortable truths, especially for a US American audience, but with the occasional equivocation and misstatement, for example, like the time he said in a nationally televised US interview that “the US won this conflict” – in reference to the US War in Viet Nam – because Viet Nam adopted a capitalist system, again telling his US American audience what it wants to hear and not the cold, unvarnished truth.
I wonder if Time or any other mainstream US media outlet would publish what he writes, if he did? Is it self-censorship or does VTN really believe everything that he says in print and interviews?
Shalom (שלום), MAA