In his book A Vietcong Memoir, Truong Tang gives the audience in-depth insights into the war which tore Vietnam apart for many decades. The author urges the reader to look at those events from the position of Vietnamese people, who definitely suffered most from this social and political disaster; its long-term impacts are noticeable even nowadays. This autobiography is helpful because it increases our knowledge of this war by describing contradictory nature of French rule in the region. The writer points out a very curious paradox; he says that France and other Western nations immensely shaped political thinking of the Vietnamese but these states did not give them any resources to sustain the development of the local society (Truong, 191). This is one of those reasons why the influence of the Soviet Union became so strong. In fact, it is quite possible to agree with his argument because that this military conflict was largely caused by economic instability, poverty of the population, poor education, cultural chauvinism etc. Provided that these problems had been solved or at least alleviated this war could have never occurred. Furthermore, Truong Tangs ideas are not entirely original because many Vietnamese take similar view on these issues.
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In order to substantiate this argument, we should first refer to the history of Vietnam. It should be borne in mind that for more than a century the country was one of French colonies (Hall, 99). In fact, the nation gained the independence from France only in 1945. Despite the fact that the world superpowers agreed on the idea that Vietnam had to remain French colony, these people achieved their autonomy through military insurgence. Truong Tang believes that the origins of war can be traced back to the period when Vietnam “was politically suppressed and economically exploited colony of France” (Tang, 62). This included violation of civil rights of the population, their inability to participate in political decision-making. France established a new order that was supposed to be democratic and beneficial to average people, but they did not enjoy these democratic privileges. Such situation could be observed on economic and cultural levels.
For a very long time, this country was predominantly agricultural and peasants were accustomed to subsistence production. In other words, they produced goods only to feed their families rather than sell them. French government introduced new forms of mass production, which were oriented for export, for instance factories. The emergence of factories drove many people of their homes. In fact they were deprived of their land, which was turned into a commodity and sold to those who were able to purchase it. Additionally, new forms of production necessitated the use of entirely new technologies, unheard of this region. On the one hand, this improved performance and but also increased unemployment. French authorities did nothing to regulate economic development. Ironically, this example confirms and refutes Truong Tangs argument. On the one hand, the West contributed to the social and technological progress in the country. But at the same time, Western countries did not help Vietnamese people adjust to new environment.
Furthermore, we should remember about educational situation in Vietnam. For instance, Truong Tang says that his nation “starved for education” but only very few could satisfy this need. The thing is that education was virtually inaccessible for many people, living in rural areas (Jayne & Hunt, 81). On the whole, these factors paved the way for communist ideology. The large portion of the population was hardly literate and practically no measures were taken to give at least some training to them. It appears that peasants were virtually left to their own devices. So, it is not surprising that later many of them decided to support Ho Chi Min
In addition to that, we should mention that French government took a very imperialistic approach to the people living in this region. Certainly, they brought a new culture in Vietnam with its political, educational, judicial institutions and so forth. Nonetheless, at the same time they repressed native culture. When describing his childhood and adolescence, Truong Tang says that students in his school spoke “exclusively French” (Tang 5). They learned literature, mathematics, natural science, but the history of their own nation was excluded from the curriculum. This evidence demonstrates how contradictory the impacts of the West were. On the one hand, they enriched scientific knowledge but it also downgraded the local cultural tradition. This eventually gave rise to racial prejudices because native people were frequently regarded as inferior. To some degree, this intensified the nationalism among Vietnamese people (Tang, 6).
It should be noted that such policy of cultural chauvinism was very widespread among many colonial powers and France was not an exception. In order to reach success in a new environment, a person had to abandon his or her language, traditions etc. The only way to attain social status was to assimilate oneself into a foreign culture. Truong Tangs childhood experience is just another proof that substantiates this standpoint. The outcome of such colonial rule was that the host society was broken into multiple parts which could be hostile to one another. Again, we have to emphasize the idea that such social instability is extremely conducive to communism philosophy. It seems that such cultural chauvinism was utterly impermissible but the French government was unwilling to adopt a different approach to the host population.
Overall, this is one of the reasons why French rule was eventually overturned by Ho Chi Minh. Certainly, it has to be admitted that that not all people could agree with Truong Tang because many of them successfully adjusted to the new environment. They obtained education, employment, relative respect of others. They had a sense of belonging to the elite. The author calls them “members of small French-educated elite” (Tang, 37). Actually, he was also a part of this community. But this community was very small and many intellectuals understood that the part the country had needed a drastic change in order to overcome achieve continuous growth and development.
Truong Tangs work is an extremely helpful guideline for people, who may not be well aware about of political, economic and cultural situation which emerged in Vietnam at the middle of the twentieth century. The author eloquently demonstrates the paradoxical nature of Western influence: France brought both improvements and deprivation into the lives of ordinary people. Schools and institutions of higher learning raised educational level of Vietnamese people but, education was not available and affordable to all layers of the population. This inability or reluctance or Western powers to assist the nation prepared the ground for communist insurgence, war, and the dominance of the Soviet Union in this region.
Hall. M. The Vietnam War. Pearson Education, 2007.
Tang. Truong. A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and its Aftermath. First Vintage Books, 1986.
Werner Jayne & Hunt David. The American War in Vietnam. SEAP Publications, 1993.