Four Decades On: Vietnam, the United States, and the Legacies of the Second Indochina War (Duke University Press, 334 pp., $89.95, hardcover; $24.95, paper) is a collection of essays by historians, anthropologists, and literary critics dealing with—as the subtitle indicates—a common theme: post-1975 events surrounding the Vietnam War.
Editors Scott Laderman (a University of Minnesota history professor) and Edwin A. Martini (a University of Western Michigan history prof) refer to the what most Americans call the Vietnam War as the Second Indochina War because it was “fought by multiple entities on multiple fronts from at least 1961 to at least 1975.” Said war, they say, was a “lengthy and complex struggle that will long serve as a defining moment in the histories of many nations and, indeed, the world.”
In keeping with the prevailing view of the history establishment, the book contains essays that deal, mostly in an academic way,with varied aspects of the war—not just the American experience. So we have —among other things—entries that look at the building of the new communist nation of Vietnam in 1975; the evolution of the so-called postwar “Vietnam Syndrome” in the United States; the transnational legacy of Agent Orange; and the birth and growth of the POW/MIA movement.
The latter essay is from the word processor of long-time POW/MIA observer H. Bruce Franklin, the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University, Newark. Franklin is the author of M.I.A.: Or Mythmaking in America, a strongly worded critique of the POW/MIA movement. In his essay in Four Decades On, Franklin zeroes in on the “POW” part of the movement, arguing that “there is no rational basis or evidence for the belief that Americans were kept captive in Viet Nam after the war.”
Franklin says that lumping the prisoners in with the still-missing was a “quite deliberate” move on the part of the Nixon administration. It was “arguably the cagiest stroke of the Nixon presidency,” Franklin says, “forever linking ‘POW’ and ‘MIA.'” Why has this “myth of imprisonment,” as Franklin calls it, taken hold? Because, he says, it is “a myth that draws deep emotional power by displacing into Viet Nam the imprisonment, helplessness, and alienation felt by many Americans in an epoch when alien economic, technological and bureaucratic forces control much of their lives.”
In addition to Franklin, Laderman, and Martini, the contributors are Alex Bloom, Diane Niblack Fox, Walter Hixson, Heonik Kwon, Mariam B. Lam, Ngo Vinh Long, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Christina Schwenkel, and Charles Waugh.