Friday, May 18, 2012

A Select Bibliography on the Vietnam War

Here is a select and somewhat idiosyncratic bibliography on the Vietnam War. It is much shorter than most of our lists to date, but perhaps in this instance we might conclude that “less is more.” What follows will serve as an introduction.

This bibliography, while far from exhaustive, should be broad and deep enough to help one arrive at a fairly sophisticated intellectual and emotional understanding of the Vietnam War and its myriad effects on American society, politics, and culture. I hope it also provides some sense—to put it all too feebly—of the devastating impact the war had, and continues to have, on the people and land of Vietnam. Over the years I’ve slowly but intimately come to appreciate the many ways the Vietnam War in particular and “the 60s” generally, have decisively shaped the contours of my worldview (and no doubt subconsciously, my lifeworld as well): hence my attraction to Buddhist spirituality and identification with Left politics and economics. (At least I’m in good company, the Dalai Lama having described himself in an interview as ‘half-Marxist, half-Buddhist’). Indeed, upon learning of this compilation (and in light of over thirty previous bibliographies), my wife expressed surprise that it took me so long to put this particular one together. I suppose it has something to do with a reluctance to fully confront in complete lucidity those mysterious forces we sense—presuming a capacity for episodic transcendence of self-deception and states of denial—have determined in large measure the notion of who we are with regard to our most cherished beliefs, values, and commitments.

I Returned to My Native Village

O my native land—emerald in the shade of the coconut trees,

I return today! A dream I never dared hope.

So many of the ones I love have fallen on this earth.

But here, everything still stood.

I could see again the faces I loved.

I looked, I stared, as if I were lost.

My hands trembled, their hands clasped in mine.

They burned with all the longing, the loss.

I saw again—the old stretch of road

I walked across in dreams.

I could hear the distant cracking of hammocks.

And the singing—“Ah!…how much I love, how much I miss”

The white trang flowers.

Like the purity and the steadfastness of your love.

Like the carmine brilliance of your heart.

The small river where I swam as a child

Stood there still. Its current still ran the same course,

And the water hyacinth dyed its banks violet.

My mother—her back stooped, her hair white,

Told me stories in a sorrowful voice.

On the way back from school

Eight children killed in a napalm attack.

The ten in the hamlet killed by the enemy;

Villagers piled their bodies on a sampan,

Took them to Ben Tre to confront the soldiers.

The times bombs flattened our village,

Bamboo hedges torn, coconut trees uprooted;

To hide from the wind and rain my mother made a simple tent.

I had no idea that in that tent of my mother’s

A burning fire was lit beneath the earth.

Morning and night, my mother broke her back,

Supported our people in hidden tunnels.

Her entire life she made fearless sacrifices.

Twenty years she held onto the home,

She held onto the land

Mother! You are the mother of the South.

I had no idea the young sister I remembered

In that tent had now grown up.

So beautiful, like the springtime in flower.

So beautiful, the rifle strapped on her shoulder.

O sister! How fragrant your hair.

Have you just passed through a durian grove?

I love your crystal-like laughter,

Sweet as the xiem coconut milk.

I love your walk across the monkey bridge,

As gentle as a lovely angel.

You are a courier, you are a guerrilla,

You are my native land.

For eleven years I’ve missed you, eleven years I’ve dreamed

Tonight, the first night I sleep again in my village.

I feel a strange rush of warmth.

Even when the monsoon rains fall hard,

And cannon fire shakes the thatched walls,

How beautiful is our native land!

Even with the roads still pockmarked with bomb craters

Even with your shirt still peppered with patches!

In this return, dear sister, I have no present to give you

Except what’s in the heart—faith, boundless love,

And the rifle in my hand

Burning hot with indignation.

—Lê Anh Xuân (September 1965)

Lê Anh Xuân’s given name was Ca Lê Hiên. He died on May 24, 1968, in the suburbs of Saigon. “He worked briefly as an assistant lecturer in the history department of Hanoi University. At the end of 1964, he volunteered to return to the South and worked in the educational subcommittee, then in the literature branch of the Liberation Association of Literature and Arts for South Vietnam.” He published several books of poetry and one prose collection. This poem is found in Kevin Bowen, Nguyen Ba Chung, and Bruce Weigl, eds., Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry from the Wars, 1948-1993 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998, and published with the support and cooperation of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences).

Please Note (May 20, 2012): One book inexplicably missing from the bibliography is Walter Capps’ The Unfinished War: Vietnam and the American Conscience (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2nd ed., 1990). Inexplicable and inexcusable as I was a Reader and Teaching Assistant for a couple of Capps’ courses at UC Santa Barbara, including his groundbreaking (and nationally renowned) course, “Religion and the Impact of the Vietnam War,” in the 1980s.


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