It has never been easy to write the history of Vietnam. This small country’s role in one of the most violent wars of decolonization of the 20th century and in one of the Cold War’s longest conflicts has meant that its past has been endlessly abused for all sorts of purposes, both inside and outside the country. It is perhaps only now, in the early 21st century, that the events which created the modern state can be seen from a more dispassionate, historical perspective. To illustrate this point, Christopher Goscha examines two themes that have been left out of standard accounts of Vietnam – the question of Vietnamese colonialism and collaboration. He will also suggest why it might be useful to revisit the question of periodizing Vietnam’s ‘modern history’ in terms of this country’s colonial encounter with the French in 1858 in order to push it further back in time or leave it open.
Christopher Goscha is associate professor of international relations at the department of history at the Université du Québec à Montréal. His works focuses on colonial Indochina, the wars over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and the Cold War in Asia. He recently published Vietnam, A New History (Basic Books, 2016) and is currently working on a social history of colonial Saigon and Hanoi in a time of war (1945-54).