VIET THANH NGUYEN – “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War”

Viet Thanh Nguyen joins Michael Vann on New Books in History to discuss Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.

According to Viet Thanh Nguyen, all wars are fought twice: first on the field of battle, and then in the struggles over memory. In Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard University Press, 2016) he explores the various ways in which the American War in Vietnam has been remembered and forgotten. But this wide-ranging, erudite, and joyously inter-disciplinary book is more than just a study of how we talk about this war. Professor Nguyen argues that we need to create a new ethics based on a “just memory” that recognizes not only ourselves and our own humanity but includes the humanity of others and also our own inhumanity. Nothing Ever Dies critiques what he terms the “industries” of memory production. As with the actual war which pitted lightly armed guerrilla fighters against the vast American war machine, asymmetry characterizes memory production. Nguyen contrasts the success of Hollywood films such as “Apocalypse Now” in globalizing the American narrative of the war with the more localized efforts of the Vietnamese Communist Party to promote their version of the war through monuments, museums, and massive graveyards. Nothing Ever Dies is a transnational project that engages both the United States of America and north and south Vietnam, but also brings South Korea, Laos, and Cambodia into the discussion. The book combines history, literary and film criticism, and museum studies into a larger philosophical exploration of ethics and a call for peace grounded in justice.

While Nothing Ever Dies is an impressive book and was a finalist for the National Book Award for non-fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen is best known for The Sympathizer. This novel won the 2016 Pulitzer for fiction and a host of other awards. Professor Nguyen, who holds the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and is a Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, was been awarded fellowships from the MacArthur and Guggenheim Foundations in 2017. Importantly, Nothing Ever Dies is a very personal work. The author places his identity as a refugee born in Vietnam but airlifted to the United States of America in 1975 at the center of the text. Growing up in San José, California, he learned about the war that shaped his life through American film and fiction. However, he often felt otherized in these often-racist depictions of the war. Nothing Ever Dies is his contribution to writing diverse Vietnamese experiences into our memory of Vietnam.

Audio works best on Firefox and Chrome.

Read the transcript below.

Michael Vann: Welcome to this episode of New Books in History, the channel and the New Books Network. I’m your host, Michael Vann of Sacramento State University. You can call me Mike. Today we’ll be speaking with Dr Viet Thanh Nguyen of the University of Southern California, author of Nothing Ever Dies, Vietnam and The Memory of War. Viet Thanh Nguyen is best known for his novel, The Sympathizer. New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It also won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for best First Novel from Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association and a number of other awards. He is a university professor, the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and professor of English American Studies and Ethnicity and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California.

He’s won numerous awards including the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundation Awards and is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. He’s also the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America and the collection of short stories, The Refugees. He’s the editor of The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives and NPR listeners will know that his most recent publication is Chicken of The Sea, a children’s book written in collaboration with his six year old son, Alison. Today we’ll be discussing Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and The Memory of War, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. The book came out with Harvard University Press in 2016. Professor [Lynn 00:01:46], welcome to New Books in History.

Viet Nguyen: Thanks for having me Mike.

Michael Vann: Yeah, it’s a real pleasure to have you on and I have to just state right out that I’m a total fanboy. I absolutely love your work. So this is really a great honor for me to get to chat with you about this book. And I wanted to get this book in particular, Nothing Ever Dies, on New Books in History because it’s a book that I felt slipped under the radar of most historians. But I thought that it was a book that historians should definitely be aware of. So we normally start interviews on New Books in History by asking the author to tell us about themselves and how they came to write this particular book. For you, this is sort of a silly and kind of obvious question as you start the book by placing yourself, your birth, your identity as Vietnamese American refugee in the text. So understanding that, please tell us about yourself and how you came to write, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.

Viet Nguyen: Well, I think one of the reasons why it might’ve fallen under the radar of many different peoples radars is that I think it’s an interdisciplinary book that is working in different registers. And so it’s not a conventional history book, it’s also not a conventional cultural studies book or theory book and so on and so forth. And the reason why it’s written the way it is, is I was just driven by a sort of a personal ambition in writing this book to do something that would be theoretical about memory and how it works, but also something that was very personal to me that would incorporate elements of my autobiography. And one that would also speak to my training in literary and cultural studies. All of these things are happening.

And the roots of the project are quite personal as you alluded to. I was born in Vietnam, fled the country as a very young refugee with my parents, grew up in the United States, totally conversant in American culture and certainly conversant in the American way of remembering the Vietnam war or forgetting in the Vietnam war as well. And I felt that despite the enormous amounts of material that Americans have produced about the Vietnam war, that there were still some serious oversights in terms of what Americans were looking for and how they were looking for it.

And that was true also for how the Vietnamese were dealing with it as well. And this project started off as a compensatory project trying to fill in the gaps of memory and became something else by the end. I think it does try to fill in gaps in memory in both Vietnam and the United States, but also from the perspectives of the Vietnamese refugee population and from other populations like the Koreans who also fought in this war. But besides filling in gaps, the book is also an attempt to talk about how we remember and how we forget and what might constitute adjust memory and adjust forgetting which were in the end the really important philosophical questions for me.

Michael Vann: Yes, it’s a very interdisciplinary book and that’s one of the things I absolutely love about it. It forced me to read and think outside of my am sort of intellectual silo as a historian. Who was your intended audience for the book?

Viet Nguyen: When I first started writing this, it was supposed to be my second academic book. My first academic book was about Asian American literature is a very sort of dissertation oriented book that anybody in literary and cultural studies would recognize methodologically. And I wanted to write a second book about Vietnam in some way and about being Vietnamese American. That was always my original ambition going to graduate school. But in the early nineties in an English doctoral program, I was told by my department chair, “You can’t write anything about Vietnam. You’re not going to get a job.” So I decided to postpone it to the second book. And it just became more and more complicated, I think if the book had been your conventional academic book about Vietnamese American memory about the war, I probably could have done that in about five or six years.

But as I delved into it I thought that was too limited of an approach because again, what I had to realize was that I just wasn’t interested in filling in a gap by talking about how an excluded population has remembered this war, in this case, Vietnamese Americans. But I wanted to talk about the processes by which exclusions and memory take place, which would mean that I’d also have to talk about how Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans, despite being erased from American memory, have themselves engaged in their own processes of eraser. Now that that process was what was really compelling for me to think about and took a long time to work through that issue. And another thing is that I’m also a fiction writer. And as I-

Michael Vann: So we’ve heard.

Viet Nguyen: Well, academics have a hard time dealing with that because I think the true interdisciplinarity for me was not really working across multiple academic disciplines. It was working from academic writing to fiction writing or creative writing. Learning how to write non-academically took me a couple of decades. So that was the real reason why the book took so long to write. The gap between my first academic book and this book was 14 years. And a lot of it had to do with just my struggle to learn how to be a writer, not in the academic sense, which I already knew how to do, but a writer in the broad sense. And my audience in that case was not just going to be, first of other English professors, it was going to be as broad of an audience as I could come up with. Not operas audience but at least I wanted to write a book that the fellow academics in different disciplines could read and understand.

And then I had written a whole bunch of articles struggling to get to this moment, this writerly moment. And then I interrupted myself to write a novel, The Sympathizer, and when The Sympathizer was done in 2014, my publisher and I decided not to publish the book until 2015 to align with the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam. And that gave me well over a year of nothing to do. So I went back to this project that would become Nothing Ever Dies. I looked at all the academic articles that I’d written and I thought, “I don’t want to publish a collection of articles or essays. I want this to be a book with a narrative that would be organic.” So I just threw out all those essays, not the idea, but just threw out the writing and I just [inaudible 00:08:09] year, wrote the book from scratch.

 And I’d written and finished the first draft by the time I went on book tour with The Sympathizer. And on tour with The Sympathizer, I met a lot of booksellers, people who run bookstores. And I had some interesting conversations with them about what am I doing now? It was Nothing Ever Dies. And I thought, these people are very intelligent. They’re just not academics of any kind. I want my book to be able to reach them as well. And so that was the final layer of the book that I wanted this book to speak broadly to intelligent, interested people who were not necessarily academics.

And I have to say that as gratifying as it has been to see that academics have indeed read this book, including people from all kinds of disciplines I never would have anticipated reading this book from law to clinical psychology and things like this, what was really gratifying is having lay people read it. And I get messages from students from American Veterans of the War, just some interested people, saying they’ve been able to read this. Sometimes with difficulty, but oftentimes they don’t make any mention of the difficulty and simply talk about how meaningful the book has been to them. And that’s has been enormously gratifying.

Michael Vann: Well, it’s on my list of books that I give as presents to people as Christmas presents. And I also put it into the hands of a high level administrator in the CSU system, in charge of International Programs and said, “You must read this book.” So that’s my little approval. And it’s beautifully written. It’s so engaging. And one of the things I love about it is how wide ranging it is. And the way it engages film, art, history, literature, photography, graphic memoirs, graphic novels. So in your methodology, you place art at the center and you make an argument for the importance of art for historical memory and history. Can you speak speak to that point? Especially keep in mind this is mostly historians listening. Why should historians really think about art and the significance of historical memory?

Viet Nguyen: Well, I was driven to write about art and all of its related sub fields from literature to cinema to memorials and monuments and so on, because that’s my natural gravitation. I knew this would be facetious or it’d be crazy for me to try to match a historian in terms of historical methodologies about archives and all that type of thing. So I wasn’t really interested in writing a conventional history about this. I was driven by the object by which I was studying, which was the memory of a war. And in terms of trying to work with my own natural inclinations towards artistic versions of a remembrance, it struck me that while historical narratives, historiography, historical books and so on are obviously really important. And I learned a lot from reading historians, for most people, those, these are not the ways that they’re going to encounter the past.

I think people encounter the past through objects of popular culture and narratives of popular culture, whether that is through novels or through movies or through memorial spaces. And this it felt to me was the set of objects I wanted to explore, but also these objects provided me with the kind of narratives that I wanted to work through as well. So just to give you some examples, my exposure to the Vietnam War growing up in the United States was partly through the stories of the Vietnamese refugee community and my parents, but mostly through reading American novels and American movie and watching American movies about this war. And I think for most Americans, this is exactly how they experience it, especially through movies and especially finally through my lens, Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

And all of these works construct history and memory through particular kinds of narratives, including the narrative that [Myelin 00:12:25] deploys in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial also. And so I wanted my work to both talk about these things but also to induce feeling in its readers through the narrative that they would encounter in Nothing Ever Dies. So there is a structure of the book is important, the rhythm of the sentences of the book is important because I think that… And another issue that [inaudible 00:12:49] academics is not enough emphasis is placed on feeling in academic writing. The feeling that the academic writer herself or himself undergoes or the feeling that they hoped to induce in their readers. I think primarily the reaction that most economic writers want to get out of their readers is an intellectual reaction, which is completely valid.

But I think intellectual reactions also have emotional basis as well. And as for myself the works of academia that I’ve responded to the most, initially were the theoretically compelling ones, which induced feelings of excitement. But eventually I was also really attracted to academic works that through their style and their unique voice also induce feelings of pleasure and seduction and things that we’re not supposed to feel, I think generally in academia. And that’s also why I think people respond very viscerally to history and memory when they feel something, not just at the level of argument but the level of narrative pleasure. And so that’s where Nothing Ever Dies works.

Michael Vann: Yeah. Great. So one of the games I play with my graduate students whom we’re dealing with a book is you’re working in Barnes and Nobles or Borders or I don’t even know which bookstore still exists these days, but you’re a staff member and you have to place this book on the shelf. Where would you put this book?

Viet Nguyen: That’s a good question because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it in a bookstore[crosstalk 00:14:23] it would go. I assume people would stick it under history or military studies or-

Michael Vann: Which it’s not. It’s not military studies.

Viet Nguyen: Yeah, it’s not really military study either or war studies whatever you call them. So this is the other problem in terms of writing books that are sort of unique to the demands of an object of study is that you just have to give yourself over to the object of study and not worry about classifications. And this is true whether we’re talking about academic work or in the case of fiction. I’ve often experienced the problem of classification as well. Does my work go under American literature or does it go under Asian American literature and so on and so forth. So in the end I wasn’t really too worried about the classification of the book.

Michael Vann: Okay. Okay. So question about terminology. So in Nothing Ever Dies, you addressed difficult terminology for the series of Wars in mainland, Southeast Asia in the 20th century. Obviously we know the phrase Vietnam is a country not a war. But so many Americans and so many people around the world say Vietnam to mean that war of the sixties into the seventies. I’ve made it my mission as a world historian, as a scholar of Southeast Asia to get my Americanist colleagues to say the American War in Vietnam. And I personally prefer when I’m teaching to use first, second and third Indochina Wars but that’s a bit clunky and a bit too pedantic I think for most audiences. But what terminology do you prefer for these Wars? And do you have any thoughts on what’s at stake with this naming?

Viet Nguyen: Well, obviously a lot is at stake in the naming because these terms, except for the first, second and third Indo-China Wars are highly politicized. So American liberals who don’t have any understanding of this war like to use American war in Vietnam, but if you use that term in front of Vietnamese refugees or Vietnamese Americans, they’ll immediately accuse you of supporting communism because that’s the term for the victorious Vietnamese as well. I’m fairly Catholic about all of this. I think there’s many possible terms that you can apply to this war. I use them all fairly interchangeably, but in the book I talk about the meanings of these names and what the complications in them are. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that naming Wars is partly how we contain the meanings of Wars.

Obviously for most people, as terrible as this war was for those who underwent it, for most people in the world it’s just a line in history book and a name. So if you call it the Vietnam War, it means one thing if you call it the American war in Vietnam, it means something else. And in the book I just unfold the different complications of these terms that the Vietnam War, as you said is something Americans like to use because it objectifies Vietnam, it has a very particular meaning in American culture and memory as this bad, divisive war. If you use American war in Vietnam, it shifts the responsibility of the war to Americans but it also validates a victorious Vietnamese perspective. So you have to be cognizant of the implications of these terms that you use. And I say, “Well, look. Why don’t we call wars by something else?”

You could use the terminology of the first, second, and third Indo-China Wars which might be what wins in the history books a hundred or 200 years now as we look back retrospectively on this. Or perhaps we should call wars by how many people died in them. So if that was the case, this would be the war in which for Americans 58,000 plus Americans died. But for the Vietnamese 3 million died. Or if you were to talk about this war in relationship to Laos and Cambodia who were also involved, you’d have to talk about 6 million dead. And so the terms themselves, Vietnam and American war, the last thing to note is again, they center on the names of countries, but these were not the only countries involved. Laos [inaudible 00:18:25] Cambodia were also involved. And even for American liberals and leftists to you use the term the American war in Vietnam would still continue to erase the experiences and the existences of those two countries and their peoples.

Michael Vann: Yeah, it also aligns the Vietnamese and this really was a Vietnamese Civil war that America inserted itself into.

Viet Nguyen: Right.

Michael Vann: May I ask what are some of the terms used in the [Foreign Language 00:18:51] or Vietnamese diaspora community would be.

Viet Nguyen: That’s a good question. I think we just call it the war. I don’t get engaged in academic conversations with folks about that. Just in the families that go, that’s the war and that’s one of the things I point out in the book is that for everybody who’s been through a war, it’s always the war. All right? So in the United States when we say the war, we usually mean World War II. Even the whole terminology of like post-war is all based around World War II because it’s the central defining event in which Americans could feel good about themselves in the 20th century. So the Vietnam War doesn’t ascend to that status for Americans, but it does for everybody in Vietnam who’s been through it. And so, yeah, I think in the Vietnamese familial colloquial context that I’m used to, it was always simply the war.

Michael Vann: Okay. Getting the argument of the book you state that the book is an argument for “A complex ethics of adjust memory. This tries both to remember ones owned and others while at the same time drawing attention to the life cycle of memories and their industrial production. How they are fashioned and forgotten, how they evolve and change.” I think that that quote really captures the book as a whole. And in the book you call for adjust memory but in the end also just forgetting. So could you unpack these terms for us and what you mean by calling for an ethics of adjust memory?

Viet Nguyen: Well, we’ll talk about the industrial part of memory later. I just want to note now that I think I wanted to include the industrial part because I think memory studies is very comfortable with talking about the ethics of memory. But not so much about the industries of memory, the economics of how memories are made, produced, received, circulated and so on. But the ethics of memory itself is also a very complicated topic. And I was always interested in the question of what might constitute justice in memory. Because anybody who’s been a part of a population that feels that their experiences have been erased or excluded or marginalized in some way feel themselves to be a victim of an injustice. And so they demand to be remembered, they demand to be included and this is their gesture for a justice.

So that’s very important and I do think it’s crucial that excluded populations be remembered. And in the American context of what I just talking about the United States, that would mean both the Vietnamese people in Vietnam, but also the Vietnamese refugees of South Vietnam who came to the United States. So ironically, in the case of the United States, Americans have been more interested in remembering the victorious Vietnamese to the extent that they remember any Vietnamese at all versus their own former Vietnamese allies.

And so a lot of South Vietnamese people and their descendants clammer to be remembered in this fashion. And that was the initial impetus for this book until I realized something that was always present, which is that in as much as Vietnamese refugees from South Vietnam feel themselves to be unjustly forgotten both in Vietnam and in the United States, the problem is that they themselves enact the very same processes of erasure and forgetting. They’re very quick to demonize their Vietnamese enemies in Vietnam, they don’t want to hear alternative perspectives. There’s a very dominant view of how the war should be remembered and everything else is considered treason.

So adjust memory needs to be about more than simply including the forgotten. Adjust memory also needs to address the processes by which groups are both remembered and forgotten and everyone has to be held accountable. All groups have to be held accountable to adjust memory to an ethics of memory. It can’t simply be the case that we say we can only remember the victimized and the weak and the forgotten and the poor as if those populations have never themselves also enacted the exact same processes of exclusion. And this is, I think for me, important in the American context because a lot of guilty American liberals and leftist will say, “Well, we’ve forgotten the Vietnamese people, we got to remember the Vietnamese people,” without realizing that the Vietnamese people that they’ve elevated as victims and heroes have themselves engaged in these very same processes of exclusion and forgetting.

And then finally, of course after all of this when is it possible to forget. Also a very difficult question as well? And the short answer, and I draw heavily from [inaudible 00:23:44] memory history forgetting, the short answer is that there is no just forgetting without justice in all aspects of society. So an ethics of memory that is divorced from a material context, from understanding how memory and forgetting are embedded in the economics and politics of a society, can never actually work.

You can’t have an idealistic ethics of memory. You always have to talk about an ethics of memory, an adjust memory, an adjust forgetting in the context of how an entire society operates. So we can really only have adjust forgetting where everyone is okay. Leaving the past behind them when the root causes of inequality and injustice have been and addressed which is why just forgetting is really, really hard to do. Which is why in the United States, Americans cannot actually just forget slavery or The Civil War because the root inequalities and divisions and structural problems that gave rise to The Civil War and slavery are still with the United States today.

Michael Vann:Yeah. And then you’re also very critical of any notion of victimization and the damage that does to the subject. Correct?

Viet Nguyen: Yeah, because I think that it’s very tempting to want to be the victim. Everybody wants to be the victim. Even Americans want to be the victims. Like for example, after 911, the immediate American response to that, prefer pretty much the overwhelming majority of Americans, was we’re the victims here. And victimization is obviously sometimes very important because there are real victims out there, but victimization also allows a very convenient forgetting of everything that we ourselves, wherever we are, might’ve done to other people. How we ourselves might have victimized others. And that enables all kinds of terrible things to happen as a result, whether it’s interpersonal crimes or whether it happens to be nations committing wars. The United States sees itself as a victim which helps to justify American Wars overseas.

From the perspective of a minority like being a Vietnamese refugee, it’s obviously also very tempting to embrace victimization because it allows us to dwell on and even melancholically enjoy the damages that have made us into minorities, that turned us into refugees. But it also is very disempowering in a lot of ways because who wants to be a victim. The United States in its role as a global power and in Vietnam was highly castigated for what happened during the Vietnam War because many people including Americans, felt that the United States that created so many victims, had done so many terrible things. But the United States as a victimizer in that situation also was able to accrue all kinds of narrative power because the United States control the means of storytelling at least on the global stage. And if you control the means of storytelling, you want to be at the center. And to be at the center it’s oftentimes much more effective to be the victimizer then to be the victim. That’s certainly what we see in American movies about the Vietnam war.

The last thing to say here is, a lot of Americans do look at Vietnamese people as the victims of this war. And that might be a good thing because it acknowledges American guilt, but at the same time, forever pins Vietnamese people of all backgrounds to being these inarticulate victims of American policy and the American military and American soldiers whose only fate is to suffer. Whereas the real drama would be around investigating the guilt of Americans. And this is a very subtle way by which Americans continue to retrain themselves to the center of the wars that they fight. Even in acknowledging American atrocities we continue to center American perspectives and American experiences and nothing has changed. The exact same sort of liberal framework of guilt that Americans have applied to the Vietnam War continues to apply to our current Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and so on and so forth where despite our acknowledgement, perhaps that many, many, many more Iraqis and Afghans and people from the other countries have suffered because of these wars, we continue to recenter the experiences and the stories of Americans.

Michael Vann: Absolutely. I believe in the book you argue that the Vietnam War, the second Indochina War or American War is just one moment in a 20th century American War in the greater Pacific and in the world. Correct?

Viet Nguyen: Yeah. And that’s another problem with naming wars. We name a war, there is a beginning date and an end date and we think, “Well, the Vietnam War of 1965 or so to 1973 it’s over.” And that is, I think a false way of looking at many wars. If we look at the United States, my view of the United States is that it is a military industrial complex. It’s very difficult to talk about the United States apart from the Wars that it has fought to establish itself as a country and to expand its frontiers and to continue to exercise global power.

And in that sense, I think thinking of the United States and it’s having been on a very long time war footing, which sometimes peaks in wars like the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but most of the time is that this sort of low level hum of military operations is really critical because it allows us to see how the Vietnam War came out of the previous Wars that America has fought and how the Vietnam war continues to influence and to shape contemporary American Wars as well.

Michael Vann: When you were speaking I flashed on the Classic Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi and he’s playing Henry Kissinger and he’s being interviewed by Barbara Walters and she says, “What was your proudest moment as Secretary of State?” He said, “Well, receiving the Nobel peace prize for ending the war in Vietnam.” And she says, “Well, what was your most disappointing moment as Secretary of State?” Says, “Well, 1975 when the war actually ended after having received the prize.”

So the books is organized into three sections. I just want to go through a few minutes in the structure of the book your prologue and the section on just memory where you sort of set up the book and you’ve got three sections, ethics, industries and aesthetics. And each of three chapters, the section on ethics on remembrance are [inaudible 00:30:23] chapters entitled on remembering one’s own on remembering others and on the inhumanities. Can you quickly talk us through this section, what the arguments are?

Viet Nguyen: I argue that there are three major models of ethical memory. And the first one, the ethics of remembering our own is the most dominant version in any society. Of course, we want to remember our own. We don’t remember our own who will remember us. And this is true, whether we’re the majority or whether we’re the minority. The ethics of remembering others is what would be considered the liberal version of memory. Here we worry about whether we’ve forgotten or excluded anybody. And that comes in into two versions both the liberal and the radical. The liberal version says, “Okay, we’ve forgotten other people. We have to include them.” The radical version says, “Not only have we forgotten other people, we’ve victimized them and we are the victimizers.” And this narrative of reading the victimizers is very common in the United States.

Viet Nguyen: And then finally though, I argue that these models are all insufficient for an ethics of just memory, we really need to acknowledge instead that it’s not simply that the other in our memory is either the villain or the victim. It’s that the other is as human and inhuman as we are. So if we’re to look at this in the context of the Vietnam war, I don’t want the Vietnamese people to be remembered as either victims or heroes, which is how they fall into the binary of American memory having grown up among Vietnamese people and read a lot about the Vietnamese experiences of the war from [inaudible 00:32:03] I can safely say Vietnamese people are just like Americans in the sense that they are fully capable both of being victimized and of victimizing. That’s the complexity of Vietnamese history that we need to understand of anybody’s history that we need to understand and I think which Americans poorly understand.

Viet Nguyen: This is directly connected to the fact that we ourselves, wherever we happen to be in this case, Americans have to acknowledge that not only are we the victims, we are also capable of victimization also. So what I argue in that chapter is that in humanity, our own inhumanity is the thing we least want to acknowledge. We want to blame the inhumanity of war on the inhumanity of our enemies and our others but we really need to acknowledge both the humanity of the enemy and our own inhumanity at the same time. That’s why this book is a project not of the humanities but of the inhumanities, which I think is for me a more compelling subject to think about.

Michael Vann: Yeah, yeah. The use of that term was just a really great sort of intellectual provocation. It really stops us and forces us to think. The methodology in this chapter, the sources, you draw a lot from your visiting memorials and graveyards in Vietnam and the famous site to Americans in Washington DC. Can you talk a bit about your experience visiting some of the memorials and graveyards in Vietnam today or at the time you were researching this?

Viet Nguyen: Yeah, one of the more interesting parts about writing this book, given that I’m a literature scholar and a writer was doing the field work which got me out of my chair. Unlike the United States, the memory of the dead in Vietnam is very present. In the United States you have to make a pilgrimage travel to Washington DC to see this very specific Memorial for the most part. There are smaller memorials scattered around the United States and traveling versions of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but they’re not always present in the American landscape. And then as a matter of fact, I think their manifestations are fairly rare. In Vietnam however, I traveled from the North to the South along the Central Highway, Highway One and along the highway the memorials and the cemeteries of the dead are absolutely visible.

They’ve been deliberately built on the very side of the roads so you just cannot miss seeing them. And every village has its own small cemetery and every major battle has it’s kind of memorial or a cemetery to market and so on. So the visual presence of the dead especially or actually only the dead of the North is present throughout the country. You just cannot escape it. Now you can just drive by and ignore them, which is probably what happens in most cases as we drive by and ignore statues but nevertheless, the state has been very, very deliberate in putting these cemeteries in such a way that they are a part of the visual landscape for anybody who is a traversing Vietnam.

And so that I think is quite different than the way that Americans have remembered it. Americans have remembered this war mostly through their movies and they’ve broadcast a simplified version of history through the movies all over the world and the Vietnamese not having that same kind of narrative power have been forced to narrate them more to themselves in an equally simplified version through the use of memorials, monuments and cemeteries.

Michael Vann: And the War Museum and others absolutely. Well, that segues nicely into the next section of the book industries which has the chapters on war machines on becoming human and on asymmetry. Could you talk to us about this section, industries? What do you mean by industries?

Viet Nguyen: Well, one of the ironies about the war in Vietnam is that usually it’s the case that the victors write the history. But this might be the first war in history where the losers got to write the history. So the Americans let’s say, generally speaking lost this war. Without getting into all the nuances and the war itself has been perceived globally and within the United States for the most part as a bad war. Even Americans who supported the war bear with them the residue of these terrible images of American journalism, global journalism and American films and so on about the war. The irony here though is that even though the war has pretty much been roundly condemned globally, it’s been the American version of the past that most people around the world are familiar with.

So, for example I went to Italy, gave an interview with a communist journalist who was completely against American imperialism, but loved Apocalypse Now. And she did not in any way detect the irony of this that Apocalypse Now is a movie in which the American experience was natured and Vietnamese voices were pretty much completely erased. And so the United States because it is a global industrial and post-industrial power has been able to export its stories globally, especially through the mechanisms of Hollywood and American popular culture. Vietnam won the war despite being a much weaker power but what that has meant is that post-war, it has not had the capacity to export its stories in the same way. It has a film industry, for example but the film industry is literally decades behind Hollywood. It has a publishing industry, but it sensors its own writers for the most part and writers who write in Vietnamese have great difficulty in having their works translated into another language. So-

Michael Vann: And if they were to export their film or literature, it’s not going find a great audience in the Vietnamese diaspora. Correct?

Viet Nguyen: Absolutely. And the irony is I’ve seen, for example a Vietnamese movies of the Vietnam war. They generally do not look that good there. There are in no way going to be competitive at the level of the global blockbuster with Hollywood movies. And so in the same way that the Americans were able to apply enormous amounts of firepower to this country, which did not in the end subdue it, Americans have applied the enormous firepower of their memory machinery to this war. But in this case, they’ve won at the level of memory.

In Vietnam of course the dominant version of memory is still victorious Vietnamese memory which it’s surprising for a lot of Americans. Americans have grown up imbibing the American point of view of this and not realizing that the American point of view is propagandistic. They go to Vietnam, they encounter the Vietnamese point of view and a lot of Americans think it’s only propaganda that they’re encountering there without realizing that they’re caught between two different versions of propaganda that are happening. It’s just that the American version was a lot more powerful.

So this is what I mean by the industries of memory. That we have to look at memory not only as an individual phenomenon or as a cultural or collective phenomenon, which is how memory studies has talked about group memories, but as industrial as well. That nations or groups that are more powerful economically and politically, will have greater capacity to determine memory narratives. And so not only do I talk about the United States in this regard, but there’s a chapter in this section on Korea. Korea was as poor or poor, South Korea was as poor or poor than Vietnam in the 1960s but because of decisions that the Korean government made in relationship to this American war, Korea was able to transform itself.

So 300,000 South Korean troops were sent to fight in South Vietnam ostensibly as volunteers on the behalf of Americans. These men sent money home from their salaries as remittances that helped Korea developed and a lot of Korean conglomerates, the Chaebol, companies like De Wu and Samsung and so on were working in Vietnam as American contractors and this was the beginning of the transformation of the Korean economy. So fast forward 40 or 50 years, South Korea is now one of the top 10 economic powerhouses in the world. They too have an industry of memory about what happened in Vietnam as really interesting to look out because the initial early efforts to talk about this war in literature and film in Korea in the 1980s and 1990s was very much like the American effort to look at this as a very terrible war that the Koreans found themselves caught up in. In which the Koreans also did some terrible things.

But over the decades, as Korea’s economic and political wealth has grown, it’s film industry, music industry, pop culture industry has grown as well, has continued to make stories about this war. And the narrative has changed very much so, so that now the narrative about this war in Vietnam for Koreans is that, “Well, we were forced to do this. The Americans were the real villains here and we were just other innocent ponds caught up in this experience.” So they’re also using their industry of memory too, re-narrativize, to tell new versions of the past that are more palatable to the present for Korea.

Michael Vann: Right. And I recently visited the War Museum in Seoul and the section on the war in Vietnam was quite interesting. And I was also struck in the film Roma from a few years ago. You’ve seen-

Viet Nguyen: You mean the Mexican film?

Michael Vann: Yes. Yeah.

Viet Nguyen: Yeah. Yes.

Michael Vann: Yeah. The subplot there with the main character sort of terrible love interest and he’s training TaeKwonDo and their South Korean government sponsored a martial arts training and they’re creating right wind thugs to go after the students in 68. I noticed that in the Korean War Museum there was a diorama showing martial arts training in South Vietnam as part of their effort. And it was just after I had seen that film and it made me think so much about non American, non global North narratives of the cold war. And these other national narratives, which obviously resonates with your book.

Viet Nguyen: Yeah. And the scholar Quen Ching Chen [inaudible 00:42:39] the term sub imperialism to talk about what’s happening in Asia in terms of South Korea for example. But the narratives of victimization were very evident in the War Memorial of Korea, their big central museum. It’s mostly about the Korean war. That’s the central haunting conflict in Korean memory. And there the narrative of the museum is we’re the victims of communism and the North Koreans and the free world has come in to support us. And then when we successfully fought off the North Koreans and have the stalemate, we ourselves ascended to the global stage by becoming a country that would go out and help others. And so there’s no wing devoted to the Vietnam War. Instead there’s a very small wing devoted to the expeditionary forces that [inaudible 00:43:22] globally. So there’s a mention of a bunch of different countries where the Koreans sent troops and so on. Undoubtedly the focus of these rooms is on the Vietnam War and there are all these diorama and pictures and so on.

It’s very interesting because the Korean War in this museum is very bloody. They talk about murders and terrible atrocities and things like that. The expeditionary forces room, especially with the focus on Vietnam purely is bloodless. It’s literally just like while we were there to help the Vietnamese people and they’re basically these pictures of Korean soldiers arriving in Vietnam and going back to Korea, but no pictures of battles, nothing like that. No combat, nothing of that sort. So there it’s been completely sanitized as well. And it allows Koreans to think of themselves again only as the victims of the North and communism and as people helping other victims in Vietnam.

Michael Vann: Yeah. And that’s completely at odds with the interviews and the conversations I’ve had with American war veterans about the Korean expeditionary force. And they talk about these guys being the biggest bad asses and the most blood thirsty and the most sort of like off the chain, off the leash kind of violence and a couple of [inaudible 00:44:32] that I interviewed spoke of that in very adoring and affirmative way. But the reputation of the Korean troops was really fierce. And these are troops from the right wing, South Korean dictatorship as well.

Viet Nguyen: Yeah. And Vietnamese people certainly remember that as well. So it’s interesting that the South Koreans have wanted to tone that down because you think they might want to talk about their marshal prowess. That would be one way to re narrate the terror that the Vietnamese people felt about Korean soldiers. But I think the other reason for the re-narration of memory about the South Korean role is that again South Korea is a global economic power at this point. It wants to have good trade relations. So South Korea and Vietnam have very strong economic and political relations. I remember for example, studying Vietnamese at the national university in Ho Chi Minh City. Almost all the students we’re the children of Korean business people who were in Vietnam. So that relationship there has meant that troublesome aspects of the war have to be erased both by the Vietnamese government and by the Korean government.

So the fact that Korean soldiers went to Vietnam and committed atrocities and massacres, which is documented fact has to be papered over in some way. And the book talks about one incident where South Korean soldiers went into this village in central Vietnam and massacred 136 Vietnamese civilians. Well, some of the Korean veterans in the years afterwards wanted to build a Memorial to this incident and they provided the money for it. The Vietnamese villagers wanted the Memorial to say that Korean soldiers killed Vietnamese people. And because the fact that Korean veterans were funding this, what the Memorial ended up saying was Vietnamese villagers were killed on this site without mentioning who was doing the killing. This killing site is only a couple of miles from the beach in central Vietnam around Denang where now if you visit it’s completely transformed. It is all golf resorts, fancy hotels, this kind of thing. A lot of it built by Korean corporations, the same ones that were there during the Vietnam war.

Yeah. Yeah. Just anecdotally the archives that I work in Hanoi, the [inaudible 00:46:58] French colonial period archives one is in a neighborhood that’s entirely South Korean oriented businesses. All the signs are in Korean. It was great for me because I grew up in a half grain households. I can get all my comfort food in the various restaurants, but it’s just shocking that there’s this little colony of Korean business people. And you move around Hanoi and its Lotte and Samsung. This is really a major source of capital.

I felt a bit ambivalent about that because at least it’s a sign of contemporary capitalist arrangements and so on in Asia. But it was a relief to get away from the Western tourists.

Michael Vann: Oh yeah. I lived in Hanoi in the mid nineties where I literally stopped traffic walking across the street, being a big white guy to now where there is no shortage of big white guys in the whole Hong [Kim 00:47:58]. So the last section aesthetics, again has three chapters on victims and voices on true war stories and on powerful memory. Can you walk us through that and I know where we’re coming up on being pressed for time here, but could you tell us about this last section?

Viet Nguyen: Well, this is where it gets into how do we tell stories about the past? And I guess one way to just talk about these three sections is I was just really interested in effect that aesthetic form has on our memory. For example when we talk about Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it’s become a classic of Memorial architecture in the United States. And a lot of people talk about the beauty of the form. How it compels identification and memory and mourning and so on.

And I think that all that is valid but it’s possible that it doesn’t work. I met at least one Swiss tourist. He said, “Well, I went to the Memorial and I didn’t feel anything.” So what do forms actually do for us and in what way? And this is driven home for me by my visits to the sites in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia in which the war is been remembered. Everything from the war Remnants Museum in Saigon or Hutchinson city to the S-21 museum in Phnom Penh and many other smaller sites as well. If you go to these sites, I remember my first visit to the War Remnants Museum when it was still just a collection of small buildings in the early 2000s I was-

Michael Vann: Before the big new building.

Viet Nguyen: If you go now it’s a big, big great Bahama thing[crosstalk 00:49:36] that just a bit, but I mean I felt physically sick. It’s basically an unedited almost collection of atrocity photos. And at that time there were bottled fetuses of agent orange, victims.

Michael Vann: They’re still upstairs and War Remnants has still one or two.

Viet Nguyen: One or two. They used to be like a whole display case and I just felt at the time, I can’t even take a picture of what’s going on this museum. I felt that it was way too raw. And if you go to the S-21 museum in Phnom Penh up until very recently that was likely the same experience. I remember visiting S-21 and the killing fields in the same day and just returning to my hotel and not being able to do anything because I felt so terrible basically after encountering the raw images of what had happened in S-21.

So what’s a better way of aestheticizing or remembering the past, sort of the beautiful sheen of Western approaches symbolized by [myelins 00:50:41] wall in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which allows us to think of death and memory as something beautiful and sad or these really graphic horrifying images in the Southeast Asian museums that show us exactly what a dead body or tortured body looks like. And I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong way to answer that question. It’s simply that these forms, these aesthetics have very different effects and they’re driven to a large extent by the material resources that societies have. So the United States has the capacity to produce what is considered world-class level memorialization and world class level films and so on. And in Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos they simply don’t have that capacity.

Now what’s happened if you go and you visit these museums over the course of 10 or 20 years is that you see in fact that they do change. So the War Remnants Museum went from a collection of tiny buildings to becoming a gigantic, great edifice that follows more closely Western standards. So initially if you went to the museum for example, they would have pictures of atrocities and they’d have these like poorly worded ungrammatical English captions, which only reinforces the sense for Western visitor that this something primitive both in terms of aesthetics and museum curation.

But now if you visit most of the horrible stuff has been edited out and the captions of all should’ve been transformed. So you’re less likely to see what Westerners would consider propagandistic language about puppets and colonizers and bandits and things like this in terms of characterizing what the Western presence. Is this a good thing or a bad thing that now when American or foreign visitors come to Vietnam, they’re likely to encounter versions of the past that have been formerly rendered in a way that would be more suitable for a Western taste?

Likewise, at the S-21 Museum, changes are or are undergoing or are taking place because Japanese curators who worked at this really beautiful Memorial on Okinawa, the Peace Memorial which is one of the best memorials, I think in the entire world devoted to war have had a hand in training the curators for the S-21 Museum. So inevitably we’ll see changes there too. But if you go to visit, it’s still a very difficult place because Cambodia is still very poor country.

But as wealth increases people will want to change. So one of the curators at the S-21 Museum told me, “Yeah, we do want to change because it’s not beautiful the way things are.” And I understand where he’s coming from because do you want to see your people in your past rendered in this really atrocious fashion or would you rather try to create a museum that you know is going to be validated by these global Western dominated standards. Phnom Penh [inaudible 00:53:48] tourists, most of them don’t want to go to the S-21 Museum. Most of them want to go to the Royal Palace where they can see this beautiful rendition. One of the best parts of [00:53:57] society not these horrifying things that are happening and depicted in such a horrifying fashion.

Michael Vann: I’m doing this project where I’m working on the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, S-21, the War Remnants museum and in Jakarta there’s the Museum of Communist Atrocities, which is this fervent anticommunist museum all built about the same time. All very similar style wise and their meaning. But one of the things I’ve been looking at is the sort of the silences around the Tuol Sleng, that genocide museum or S21. One of which is there’s very little discussion of the fact that the vast majority, like 99%, 95% of those who were tortured and then executed, they’re 14 to 17,000 were Khmer Rouge cadre. They were participants in the revolution and that sort of a lighted. It’s touched on a bit more now, but that bit silent. But the other huge silence and this is relevant to to your work, is that the museum was set up not by Cambodia. It’s not by [inaudible 00:55:02] but by Vietnamese Colonel Mae [lam 00:55:06] and then also working with East German advisers in the 1980s. And I was wondering how that foreign hand complicates this Cambodian memory site.

Viet Nguyen: Well, the foreign hand as you mentioned, and the fact that so many of these victims of S-21 were themselves Khmer Rouge are not very evident in the narration of the museum, the curation of the museum. I think for example, like the first time I visited I had no idea that most of these people that you see in the pictures on the wall were Khmer Rouge cadre. So it’s important to foreground that because again it points to fact that yes, there was this mechanism of victimization and horror that was happening, but it was a Khmer Rouge, at least in S-21 victimizing itself. And then there were other places where it wasn’t just cadre were being executed, it was everybody else. But [crosstalk 00:56:00]

Michael Vann: These are the high value prisoners. It’s just curious that that becomes the site when it has this complicated history.

Viet Nguyen: And the fact that you’re right. The Vietnamese have their own interests in establishing a narrative of Khmer Rouge atrocity here and two sort of erase or at least minimize the complications of the Vietnamese being present in Cambodia as simultaneous liberator’s and aggressors is very crucial there too. So most Memorial sites, museums, et cetera, are built on a simultaneous process of remembering and forgetting. So you’re absolutely right that Tuol Seng or S-21 does this for the Vietnamese presence and Maya Lin’s Memorial remember commemorates a 58,000 American dead, but has nothing to say about the three or 6 million Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian dead, which you might argue is beyond the purview of a Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But a lot of South Vietnamese veterans would say, “We are not Vietnam veterans still.”

25,000 or so South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war and they’re not featured at this Memorial either. And when South Vietnamese soldiers have petition to be included in American memorials about the war, as far as I know, they’ve been roundly rejected. So that process of remembering and forgetting is present in American memorials as well.

Michael Vann: Right, right. And you know staying with the Cambodia thread here. One of the things that I thought was missing from the book, I can politely say that was Vietnam to Vietnam, right? So Vietnam invades Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Cambodia in 1978 and quickly topples the government, but then this starts a decade of Vietnamese occupation. And this is when the landmines are laid and the suffering continues. Can you speak to this? Have you worked on this at all looked at the legacy of the war in Cambodia what historians call the third Indochina war for Vietnamese memory?

Viet Nguyen: Well, I deal with it a little bit more in my course, but not so much in the book but I think that it’s certainly the case that again all the irony about this whole war is that how quickly Victorious Vietnam went from being an icon of global resistance and heroism to becoming its own little Imperial power in Southeast Asia. And this I think is simply a repetition of the past. One of the reasons why Cambodians hate Vietnamese people is not just because of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia but the fact that Vietnam had already invaded Cambodia like centuries before and [crosstalk 00:58:50] to become South Vietnam.

So for Vietnam of course this war like every war is a process of remembering and forgetting that this war was supposed to be Vietnam is way of defending itself against Khmer Rouge incursions, which really were taking place in the South and liberating Cambodia. But of course it was also a terrible bloody war of occupation that Vietnamese people were terrified of fighting it. For example, when I was growing up in the 80s, my parents way of trying to instill lessons in me was saying, “Be thankful we brought you to the United States because if we didn’t you’d be fighting in Cambodia right now.” And I was like[crosstalk 00:59:24]-

Michael Vann: Yeah, you’d be a young soldier.

Viet Nguyen: Exactly. Yeah. So it was Vietnam Vietnam in that sense. I just hate using that term because it just keeps repeating the idea of Vietnam as being a war but yeah, no surprise that the Vietnamese have not been able to deal with it in terms of narrative memory any more than other countries have been able to deal with their own contradictory wars. Well, the closest that the Vietnamese have been able to deal with it has been through Dhang Nhat Minh’s film. Oh, shit. What’s it the title of the film?

It’s about the widow who won’t tell her family that her husband has died in the war. She gets a letter in… It’s probably considered to be one of Vietnam’s best movies. And it is a very powerful movie which, so embarrassed to have forgotten right now it’s title, but the war is actually never mentioned. What war is, is never mentioned in there but it’s almost in undoubtedly the war, either the war in Cambodia or the border war with China that immediately ensued the Vietnamese invasion in 1979. Examples like this are few and far between. So it just again speaks to the inability of many countries and many peoples to try to grapple with things that are contradictory to their own national imagination.

Michael Vann: Right, right. Yeah. And again one of the things I really love about this book is the transnational component. Obviously it’s one foot in America, one foot in Vietnam. We talked about how you worked in the South Korean component. The Cambodia is very, very important for your story. It actually finishes with you visiting Pol Pot’s grave out in far flung in Anlong Veng province. And you also spend a good deal of time. And this made me very happy as a professor at Sacramento State. Where we have a very large and significant Hmong student community. You talk about the Hmong experience and could you say a few words there. Why was that important to bring in? This is one of the least known aspects of the war to most Americans. Can you just say a few words?

Viet Nguyen: Sure. By the title of the film that I’ve recalled, When the 10th Month Comes by Dang Nhat Minh. That movie was made in the early, maybe 1978 actually, which is the same year that Apocalypse Now was released. But if you compare the two movies, Apocalypse Now was this global blockbuster, When the 10th Month Comes looks like it was shot in the 1950s in black and white. [inaudible 01:02:09] the difference, again in industrial Memorial power.

Michael Vann: We talked about the asymmetry, right?

Viet Nguyen: Yeah. The asymmetry here and that doesn’t reduce the emotional power of When the 10th Month C because when I show it to my students, my students are really moved by it. But again you can’t compare the look of these two movies. And of course that’s what determines box office to such a large extent. Now as for the Hmong, obviously the Hmong played a huge role in the war and they fought on both sides and the reason they fall on both sides was due to their colonial history of being colonized by the French and some Hmong accepting that and some Hmong rejecting that.

And so the Hmong who supported the French moved on to support the Americans. And I thought it was important to talk about the Hmong because the war was enormously devastating for them. For the ones who fought for the Americans, some estimates say that a quarter of the Hmong died who were fighting for the American side. And yet most Americans have no idea who the Hmong people are, about this history which is why it’s called the secret war, about the role of CIA in secretly building and training this army and so on and so forth.

So it’s absolutely crucial to bring this history forth. But it’s also crucial because the Hmong are people without a country. They exist in the Highlands and on the borders of various countries in Southeast Asia and so they themselves are marginalized and minoritized in every national context. And they paid the price for it. And so that was just the most basic reason for including their stories, especially when the only time the Hmong have been remembered in the American context have been either to turn their experience into a comedy as in this horrible movie called Air America[crosstalk 01:03:52]

Michael Vann: It’s really bad film.

Viet Nguyen: Terrible movie. Or appropriating in some other weird way like Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. So Hmong stories are brought out in the American context only to turn them into stories that affirm American liberalism and Americans rescue of these poor people, when in fact it was the Hmong who were rescuing Americans.

The reason the Hmong were deployed, one of the reasons was so that they could rescue downed to America over the bombing Laos and the secret campaigns are flying over Laos to bomb North Vietnam. And the Hmong were absolute crucial in this particular effort. Now the other side of it is that in Southeast Asia the Hmong who supported the Americans were then vilified after the war and hunted down in [Camnes 01:04:44] Laos and suffered terribly there as well. And so they were also erased and suppressed there. So again, just really, really crucial to talk about their experiences.

Michael Vann: Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you. We’ve taken up quite a bit of your time but I’ve just got a few quick questions before we let you go. What are you currently working on? What’s coming next?

Viet Nguyen: Well, I finished the SQL to the sympathizer called The Committed [crosstalk 01:05:11]in March, 2021 delayed due to COVID. And in the interim I guess I can write another book. I have to write this nonfiction book, which is going to be about everything. It’s going to be about memoir and about America, about storytelling, about being a refugee and probably about COVID now since I have to write it during the time of COVID.

Michael Vann: Yeah. Well, we’d love to get you back on to talk about The Sympathizer and The Committed if that works out. The Sympathizer is just a wonderful novel also on my list of regular Christmas gifts. And finally we’ve traditional question we have on the podcast. Do you recommend two related books on these subjects that you think highly of.

Viet Nguyen: I’ll recommend two quite different books simply because I enjoyed reading them more than anything else. One is Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia, which is a very readable poetic book about memory, but even memory in general in these different nostalgic forms which were influential for me thinking about Vietnamese refugee memory. And a lot of the book is spent dealing with Eastern European immigrant memory in the United States.

And then the other one is again, Paul Ricoeur’s Memory History Forgetting, which is a gigantic thousand page tome about those three key words. And I understood maybe a half to two thirds of the book which is no reason to not read a book. It’s just magic. It’s magisterial and it’s so enormously insightful about memory, history of forgetting and its own way poetic as well and so struggling through that book taught me a great deal about those three terms.

Michael Vann: Great. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for your time and thank you for speaking with us today. This is just fabulous. I really enjoyed this conversation.

Viet Nguyen: Thanks[crosstalk 01:07:03]

Michael Vann: So I’m Michael Vann and this has been a conversation with professor Viet Nguyen author of Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. This has been an episode of New Books in History, a channel on the New Books Network. Thank you for listening.

Category: Interviews


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *