In Vietnam, the American government vowed to win the “hearts and minds” of the people. On the other side, among those who led and sympathized with the insurgents, the term “people’s war” gained a wide currency. Yet while much has been written about those who professed to speak for the Vietnamese population, we know surprisingly little about the everyday life of the peasants who made up the bulk of the country’s inhabitants. This book illuminates that subject. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including interviews conducted by the Rand Corporation with informants from My Tho Province in the Mekong Delta, David Hunt brings to light the daily experience of villagers in the midst of war and revolution.The peasants of southern Vietnam were neither onlookers nor mere victims as fighting raged throughout their country. From the “concerted uprising” in 1959–1960 to the Tet Offensive of 1968, the revolutionary movement they created was in fact the driving force within the war. Known as the “Viet Cong” to their adversaries, the rebels called themselves the “Liberation Front.” They demanded an end to landlordism and an egalitarian distribution of the means of subsistence as well as a democratization of relations between town and countryside, parents and children, men and women. They hoped the Vietnamese people would achieve a fuller sense of their place in the world and of the power they possessed to fashion their own destinies, without reliance on supernatural forces.In the first half of the book, Hunt analyzes this cultural revolution. As fighting spread and became more destructive, especially after the U.S. escalation in 1965, villagers were driven from their homes, the rural infrastructure collapsed, and customary notions of space and time lost purchase on an increasingly chaotic world. In the second half of the book, Hunt shows how peasants, who earlier had aspired to a kind of revolutionary modernism, now found themselves struggling to survive and to cope with the American intruders who poured into My Tho, and how they managed to regroup and spearhead the Tet Offensive that irrevocably altered the course of the war.
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