Yet for all that, I know comparatively little about this war that seared my early consciousness. In part, that is because what my generation learned was not to trust the confident voices of men in charge who kept telling us lies; reading the mainstream media about Vietnam or listening to politicians and generals made a person less informed rather than more. So for some decades, I stopped consuming mainstream news about foreign places. This lifelong habit has served my shit-detector well.
Fifty years later, Professor of History (U. Kentucky) Lien-Hang T. Nguyen provides a new narrative: Hanoi's War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam. Having acquired access to some (but not yet all) of the archives of the victorious Vietnamese state, she reconstructs a war history in which the North (DRV -- Democratic Republic of Vietnam), the various Saigon-based Southern regimes (RVN -- Republic of Vietnam) and southern insurgents (NLF-PRG -- National Liberation Front, later Provisional Revolutionary Government) take center stage.
She aims to redress the balance in our collective picture of what happened.
Central to Professor Nguyen's reconstruction is that the North Vietnamese leadership did not function the way the outside world long believed. We even had a very incomplete apprehension of who was calling the shots in Hanoi.
This book is the story of how the uncharismatic, somewhat unimaginative, Le Duan led the Hanoi government through Washington's deadly assaults, encouraged competition between Russia and China in their support, and built international sympathy. These were all elements in the DRV victory in 1975 after the U.S. finally pulled out. She believes the last element tipped the balance in favor of the DRV:
Oddly, I feel less equipped to assess whether Professor Nguyen has written a "good" history of the Vietnam war than I might if she'd written about some more distant conflict. What was really going on then outside Washington is still not common knowledge or assimilated understanding, at least in the U.S. Those who care to revisit that agony still have to wait for more Vietnamese points of view. This 2012 volume has been well reviewed by the experts. Though Professor Nguyen's style takes on some of the turgid qualities of the Party prose she so diligently explores, she is offering a fascinating new vantage point.