Anvi Hoàng: How has the narrative of the Vietnam War in the United States changed over time?
Viet Thanh Nguyen: The way Americans remember the Vietnam War has changed a lot. In the 1980s, the Vietnam War was a horrible thing that happened to Americans and that America needed to get over the division and the wounds that they experienced. All the movies from that time period were about being the catharsis for Americans that allowed them to confront their version of the past. What changed since then is that Americans have basically retold the stories of that war – from the dominant version of the war as a horrible thing that happened to Americans and what Americans did to the Vietnamese, to now when it is remembered more as a misguided war, but American soldiers were simply doing what they were told to do, and we should honor and respect them. That allowed Americans to avoid dealing with other issues that were much more prominent from the 1960s through the 1980s which is that maybe Americans soldiers were not following orders but they were doing evil and horrible things. That part of history has been submerged beneath other narratives that honored and respected American soldiers. And that went hand in hand with the fact that by the 1990s the United States has been gradually rebuilding relationship with Việt Nam. So Việt Nam, instead of only being remembered as the horrible war-torn country, is now more and more seen as a tourist destination, a wonderful place to visit, but also a place where the United States has economic, political and military opportunities. Now Việt Nam is seen as the potential partner for U.S. efforts to contain China. That is another major way by which the American narrative about Việt Nam has totally changed – that with the rise of China and with the gradual forgetting of the American experience in the war, Việt Nam has become a place not so threatening. Continue reading