Returns of War
South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory
In 1975, South Vietnam fell to communism, marking a stunning conclusion to the Vietnam War. Although this former ally of the United States has vanished from the world map, Long T. Bui maintains that its memory endures for refugees with a strong attachment to this ghost country. Blending ethnography with oral history, archival research, and cultural analysis, Returns of War considers how the historical legacy of a nation that only existed for twenty years is being kept alive by its dispersed stateless exiles.
Returns of War argues that Vietnamization--as Richard Nixon termed it in 1969--and the end of South Vietnam signals more than an example of flawed American military strategy, but a larger allegory of power, providing cover for U.S. imperial losses while denoting the inability of the (South) Vietnamese and other colonized nations to become independent, modern liberal subjects. Bui argues that the collapse of South Vietnam under Vietnamization complicates the already difficult memory of the Vietnam War, pushing for a critical understanding of South Vietnamese agency beyond their status as the war’s ultimate “losers.” Examining the lasting impact of Cold War military policy and culture upon the “Vietnamized” afterlife of war, this book weaves questions of national identity, sovereignty, and self-determination to consider the generative possibilities of theorizing South Vietnam as an incomplete, ongoing search for political and personal freedom.
“Returns of War is an important intervention into the ways that Americans and Vietnamese have remembered their shared war. With great nuance, Bui shows himself to be a careful and rigorous critic, highlighting the passions and ambivalences of Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans as they engage the fraught history and conflicted memory of the war and its aftermath.”
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer
“In an original and important interdisciplinary feat, Long T. Bui reads the ‘returns of war’—histories of violence that do not stand still, but instead impose debt into the present and future—of the U.S. wars in Southeast Asia through the figure of the South Vietnamese refugee. Tracing the impact of Nixon’s ‘Vietnamization’ throughout the period, and its resonance in the histories that follow, Bui re-centers the war away from American foreign policies and onto the refugees who carry war with them, across oceans and generations. In doing so, Bui considers the absent presence of ‘South Vietnam’ as a lost country, a failed state, a haunted archive, and an enduring object of intense attachment, with which both the United States and this refugee have yet to reckon.”
—Mimi Thi Nguyen, author of The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt and Other Refugee Passages
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