Gadkar-Wilcox publishes book about Vietnam

In his most recently published work, Dr. Wynn Gadkar-Wilcox, WCSU associate professor and co-chair of the Department of History and Non-Western Cultures, offers a wide-ranging investigation of historical allegories exploited during the 20th century by leaders of North and South Vietnam to provide ideological justification for their conflicting visions of a unified Vietnamese state. His book, “Allegories of the Vietnamese Past: Unification and the Production of a Modern Historical Identity,” was published in December 2011 by Yale University’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies.

Gadkar-Wilcox observed that one of the most heated conflicts in historical interpretation during the Vietnam War concerned the Tay Son uprising and short-lived dynasty spanning the period from 1771 to 1802. North Vietnamese historians emphasized the Tay Son rebellion’s origins in peasant discontent, focus on land and wealth redistribution, and resistance to foreign intervention as “a precursor of the communist revolution of the 20th century,” he said. By contrast, South Vietnamese historians viewed the Tay Son reign as a period of anarchy and credited the Nguyen dynasty who followed for ushering in an opening of Vietnam to trade and modernization during the 19th century, he added.

“Why do people become so emotional about events that occurred hundreds of years in the past? In my book, I explore the ways in which North and South Vietnam each interpreted their earlier histories in order to justify their existence. Our perceptions of 18th- and 19th-century Vietnam were filtered through the lens of the war experience,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.

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Digging Deeper

The dust jacket of Gadkar-Wilcox’s new book depicts President Lyndon B. Johnson during a 1967 Guam summit between U.S. and South Vietnamese government and military leaders at the height of the Vietnam War. Gadkar-Wilcox notes that Johnson’s celebrated toast to a reputed – but fictional – 19th century encounter between a Vietnamese envoy and President Ulysses S. Grant provided a catalyst for his research.