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Vietnam's Southern Revolution

Vietnam's Southern Revolution: From Peasant Insurrection to Total War

DAVID HUNT
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk50d
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    Vietnam's Southern Revolution
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-113-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR
    (pp. 1-9)

    Regime changes, military campaigns, and big-power politics hold center stage in the literature on the Vietnam War. Accounts begin with the August Revolution of 1945, which brought the Viet Minh and the Communist Party to power and led to the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and then to the First Indochina War, pitting the Viet Minh against French colonialism. The conflict became a battleground in the cold war, with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and the DRV on one side and the United States and France on the other. In 1954 the French were...

  6. CHAPTER TWO AN ITINERANT PEASANTRY
    (pp. 10-28)

    In the years leading up to the Second Indochina War, rural dwellers in My Tho often traveled back and forth between the countryside and the towns, and many were familiar with Saigon, by far the largest agglomeration in the South. In the context of the social transformation, one might assume a state of dependency in the hamlets and attribute this movement of peoples to the power and allure of the city, a core area strong enough to impose its will and ethos on agrarian populations. But evidence in the DT series indicates that country people fashioned multiple readings as they...

  7. CHAPTER THREE THE PEASANT REVOLT OF 1959–60
    (pp. 29-46)

    In 1959–60 a movement arose against the Saigon government of South Vietnam. Washington blamed the Hanoi-based Communist Party for fomenting the insurgency, and party leaders in the DRV, who at first feigned noninvolvement, in the end claimed credit for what they called the “concerted uprising.” Scholarly treatments have developed a more complex picture of what happened while continuing to assign the party a leading role. Typical is the analysis of William Duiker, who, in an often-quoted passage, affirms that “the insurgency was a genuine revolt based in the South, but it was organized and directed from the North.”¹

    In...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR CONTESTED UNITIES OF THE GOLDEN PERIOD
    (pp. 47-67)

    Fresh from its triumphs in 1959–60, the movement entered a “golden period.” According to an informant from Thanh Phu (CL), “revolutionary fervor increased every day, and the Front was winning everywhere.” Contributions from the population obviated the need for a formal tax system, and volunteers competed for selection to newly formed military units. “Students left school to ask to be Liberation soldiers,” recalled a cadre from Thoi Son. “We didn’t push the enlisting movement, but even so, many people volunteered to be soldiers.” As part of therassemblementbrought about by the concerted uprising, “people who lived in the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE THE POPULAR MOVEMENT AND THE GENERATIONAL DIVIDE
    (pp. 68-89)

    In 1964, at the age of twenty, interviewee no. 182 joined the Front. Her mother was shot during an ARVN sweep, her father died of typhoid fever, her fiancé was killed in combat, and two younger siblings “had to make their living by themselves” and had “moved elsewhere.” After serving as a liaison agent, a first aid specialist, and a clerk typist, she rallied to the GVN in March 1967. But her affiliation with the Communist Party appears to have remained intact in the Chieu Hoi Center, where, she reported, there was a difference between those who “served in the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX MODERN GIRLS AND NEW WOMEN
    (pp. 90-114)

    Undaunted by rising violence, interviewee no. 253, a woman I will call the Feminist, joined the movement in 1965. The transcript reveals her as a person of exceptional discipline and ambition. Unschooled and self-educated (“I learned to read and write by myself at home”), she looked forward to a time when a woman no longer “blindly” followed “the desires of her husband, children or relatives” or confined herself to household chores. Movement feminism spoke to her aspirations. “I was taught the duties and responsibilities of a woman in a time of national danger. First of all, if a woman wants...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN ESCALATION AT GROUND LEVEL
    (pp. 115-135)

    The Soldier was a man of force and intelligence. Attracted by the Front’s promise to “help the Poor Farmer class” and to provide education and a better life for young people like himself, he joined the movement in 1961, served as a village guerrilla, and in 1964 was invited to participate in a six-month course for medics, a coveted posting and a signal that he was held in high esteem. In March 1965 he asked for transfer to a combat unit and was seemingly headed for a distinguished career in the Front.¹

    Then in December 1966 came a shattering blow....

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT MAPPING THE EXODUS
    (pp. 136-152)

    In the years before escalation, rural dwellers were on the move. During the Resistance many rose to higher echelons of the Viet Minh, and the guerrilla army and the French both drafted young people away from their homes and assigned them to distant battlefields. After 1960 the Front promoted a number of village activists out of their native hamlets, and as war intensified, the armed forces of the two sides uprooted a new generation of soldiers. Destabilizing dynamics associated with the political and military history of the region were only part of the story, for even without war and revolution,...

  13. CHAPTER NINE THE AMERICAN OTHER
    (pp. 153-170)

    During the golden period, internationalist perspectives inspired the Vietnamese to think that their revolutionary dream was more than a parochial fancy and gave them warrant to imagine the future in a global, a utopian, register. “As a rule,” an informant recalled, before introducing new policies “the village secretary always spoke of the international and home political situation so as to make the villagers become more enthusiastic about paying taxes to help the Front to feed the soldiers and to buy armaments.” Cadres assured them that “the 13 socialist states in the world all supported the liberation war in South Vietnam”...

  14. CHAPTER TEN FATE OF THE LIBERATED ZONE
    (pp. 171-192)

    Speaking in October 1967, a poor peasant from Nhi Binh declared:

    Because of the war, the ways of life of the population have completely changed. Everybody is afraid of thinking of tomorrow and of the future. Trade and farming in the village have actually undergone a lot of changes to fit the new ways of life—a life in which everything seems to be just temporary and risky. Many families, having settled in their new houses along the highway, sold all their valuable objects to get a capital (amounting to about two or three thousand piasters) to start some kind...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN “LIVE HOUR, LIVE MINUTE”
    (pp. 193-211)

    In My Tho, the evolution of temporal as well as spatial categories was marked by abrupt and confusing shifts. The starting point was hardly tranquil, as revolutionary and government clock times diverged, the co-belligerents imposed time disciplines that were out of step with the agrarian cycle, and solar and lunar calendars uneasily coexisted. Just as it had done with space, U.S.-sponsored modernization “compressed” time. When it speeded up the pace of warfare, the Front was compelled to adopt slow-down tactics that frustrated the Americans but also impeded villagers in their daily rounds. The present chapter analyzes these instabilities in the...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE THE TET OFFENSIVE
    (pp. 212-224)

    By 1967 the armed forces of the two sides had arrived at a stalemate on the battlefield, and the same might be said of the competition between the modernization of the Americans and the modernism of the popular movement. As warfare made a shambles of the countryside, many fled from their homes. Some of the refugees settled in urban areas and never came back, but people who doubted that they could survive in town or who were attached to native places or who wished to stay “with the revolution” did not fully embrace a new life in the GVN zone....

  17. APPENDIX: THE USES OF A SOURCE
    (pp. 225-234)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 235-264)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 265-272)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-274)