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Body Counts

Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees

Yến Lê Espiritu
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Body Counts
    Book Description:

    Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es)examines how the Vietnam War has continued to serve as a stage for the shoring up of American imperialist adventure and for the (re)production of American and Vietnamese American identities. Focusing on the politics of war memory and commemoration, this book retheorizes the connections among history, memory, and power and refashions the fields of American studies, Asian American studies, and refugee studies not around the narratives of American exceptionalism, immigration, and transnationalism but around the crucial issues of war, race, and violence-and the history and memories that are forged in the aftermath of war. At the same time, the book moves decisively away from the "damage-centered" approach that pathologizes loss and trauma by detailing how first- and second-generation Vietnamese have created alternative memories and epistemologies that challenge the established public narratives of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese people. Explicitly interdisciplinary,Body Countsmoves between the humanities and social sciences, drawing on historical, ethnographic, cultural, and virtual evidence in order to illuminate the places where Vietnamese refugees have managed to conjure up social, public, and collective remembering.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95900-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Critical Refuge(e) Studies
    (pp. 1-23)

    At this moment of reinvigorated U.S. imperialism and globalized militarization, it is important to interrogate anew public recollections of the U.S. war in Vietnam—“the war with the difficult memory.”¹ As a “controversial, morally questionable and unsuccessful”² war, the Vietnam War has the potential to unsettle the master narratives of World War II—in which the United States rescued desperate people from tyrannical governments and reformed them “into free and advanced citizens of the postwar democratic world.”³ It is this “good war” master narrative of World War II, in which the United States is depicted as triumphantandmoral, that...

  6. 2 Militarized Refuge(es)
    (pp. 24-48)

    Just days before the Fall of Saigon,¹ my mother and I were among the thousands of people who were waiting anxiously at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport to board overloaded U.S. military cargo carriers that were evacuating American personnel and their South Vietnamese allies. Since cargo carriers are not designed for passengers, we crouched uncomfortably on the aircraft floor, packed tightly against other exhausted bodies, as the carrier hurriedly exited the city, heading toward the Pacific. Approximately three hours later, the aircraft landed in the Philippines, where a group of Catholic nuns greeted us with refreshments and prayers; after refueling...

  7. 3 Refugee Camps and the Politics of Living
    (pp. 49-80)

    The artist team Lin + Lam reports that, whenever a Vietnamese internee was discharged from a refugee camp in Hong Kong or Malaysia, the beloved Vietnamese song “Biển Nhớ” (“The Sea Remembers”),¹ with its familiar refrain “Tomorrow, You Leave,” would be played over the intercom to broadcast the pending departure.² Even though resettlement was a coveted opportunity for refugees, many of whom had languished for years in refugee camps, “Biển Nhớ” is not a celebratory song. Sung from the perspective of the one who stays behind, this melancholic song mourns the abrupt leave-taking and the interrupted relationships, as departing refugees...

  8. 4 The “Good Warriors” and the “Good Refugee”
    (pp. 81-104)

    There is no such event in history. Noam Chomsky’s admonition¹ underscores the fact that much of official U.S. history about the Vietnam War is based on organized forgetting. Thirty years (1945–75) of warfare destruction, coupled with another twenty years of postwar U.S. trade and aid economic embargo, shattered Vietnam’s economy and society, leaving the country among the poorest in the world and its people scattered to all corners of the globe.² By most accounts, the Vietnam War was one of the most brutal and destructive wars between Western imperial powers and the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America....

  9. 5 Refugee Remembering—and Remembrance
    (pp. 105-138)

    Ðại Tá[Colonel]Hồ Ngọc Cẩn. I stared at the Vietnamese name on my computer screen, startled. I was searching online for stories on South Vietnamese soldiers when the name of mycậu hai(oldest maternal uncle) and a headshot of him in full military gear popped up on my screen—an unexpected sight(ing) from the past. When I was a child in Saigon, my uncle was seldom around, but his presence loomed over our extended family. We were at war, and worries about my uncle’s safety hovered uneasily as we went about our daily lives. His rapid rise through...

  10. 6 Refugee Postmemories: The “Generation After”
    (pp. 139-170)

    One day, in a class on U.S. wars in Asia, I lectured on the spraying of chemical defoliation on Vietnamese soil by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, which killed or maimed an estimated 400,000 people and poisoned the country’s water, land, and air. That night, a young Vietnamese student in the class dreamed that her body was covered with the toxic Agent Orange. Like many U.S.-born Vietnamese Americans of her generation, she knew little about the details of the war prior to taking the class. Yet, in her nightmare, her body somehow “recalled” the physical pain endured by...

  11. 7 “The Endings That Are Not Over”
    (pp. 171-188)

    For close to ten years, Vĩnh Liêm’s poem “Người Tị Nạn” has sat in my office—a reminder, a prodding, an invitation. But, for a long time, I did not know how to tell the story of the refugee. What stories could be told that would highlight the costs of war yet not reduce the refugees to mere victims, even if their losses have been significant? Over the years, I have looked for ways to tell the story of the refugee—not as an object of study but as a source of knowledge. I have looked for the refugee story...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-216)
  13. References
    (pp. 217-240)
  14. Index
    (pp. 241-250)