Remembering War, Dreaming Peace: On Cosmopolitanism, Compassion, and Literature

“Remembering War, Dreaming Peace: On Cosmopolitanism, Compassion, and Literature” was originally published in The Japanese Journal of American Studies, issue no. 20, pages 149 – 174 (2009). It has been reprinted in Four Decades On: Vietnam, the United States, and the Legacies of the Second Indochina War (2013).


All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. So it is with what Americans call the “Vietnam War,” and what Vietnamese call the “American War.” The significance of this war for the United States and the way it would be remembered is expressed succinctly in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prophecy of 1967, in which he said that “if America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam.” From the perspectives of many artists working on the war, the American soul was indeed poisoned, but not fatally. It would be art’s task to perform both the diagnosis and to provide the treatment for the American body politic, wounded and staggered by its failures in Southeast Asia. The fact that this treatment would hardly be a cure is borne out by the current symptoms displayed by the American body politic, its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are telling indicators of a persistent and ongoing American syndrome, the bellicose urge for violence and domination.

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Category: Essays


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