Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta

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In the twentieth century, the Mekong Delta has emerged as one of Vietnam's most important economic regions. Its swamps, marshes, creeks, and canals have played a major role in Vietnam's turbulent past, from the struggles of colonialism to the Cold War and the present day. Quagmire considers these struggles, their antecedents, and their legacies through the lens of environmental history.

Beginning with the French conquest in the 1860s, colonial reclamation schemes and pacification efforts centered on the development of a dense network of new canals to open land for agriculture. These projects helped precipitate economic and environmental crises in the 1930s, and subsequent struggles after 1945 led to the balkanization of the delta into a patchwork of regions controlled by the Viet Minh, paramilitary religious sects, and the struggling Franco-Vietnamese government. After 1954, new settlements were built with American funds and equipment in a crash program intended to solve continuing economic and environmental problems. Finally, the American military collapse in Vietnam is revealed as not simply a failure of policy makers but also a failure to understand the historical, political, and environmental complexity of the spaces American troops attempted to occupy and control.

By exploring the delta as a quagmire in both natural and political terms, Biggs shows how engineered transformations of the Mekong Delta landscape--channelized rivers, a complex canal system, hydropower development, deforestation--have interacted with equally complex transformations in the geopolitics of the region. Quagmire delves beyond common stereotypes to present an intricate, rich history that shows how closely political and ecological issues are intertwined in the human interactions with the water environment in the Mekong Delta.

David Biggs is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Riverside."No one before Biggs has focused so intensely on the landscapes and waterscapes in which the Vietnam War was fought and their relationship to the complex colonial history of transformation that had been occurring for the century prior to the conflict." -William Cronon

"This brilliantly researched book explains the part that the environment has played in several colonial schemes in the Mekong Delta and in America's most tragic war there, and how the environmental history of the Mekong Delta has been part of the process of nation-building in Vietnam." -Mart Stewart, Western Washington University

"The delta, has played a decisive role in the successes and the failures of colonial and post-colonial regimes, of the American war efforts, and of modernization and development. Biggs's focus on the muddied delta and its 'quagmire' characteristics that shaped every economic, agriculture, and political project is among the first of its kind." -Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Blending disciplinary perspectives from history, anthropology, and geography, Biggs approaches the Mekong Delta as a landscape—as things on the land, as people, institutions, discourses, artifacts, metaphors, and eco-logics—with a particularly unstable morphology." -Michael Kantor, H-HISTGEOG

"Quagmire is also an example of the challenges faced when trying to translate ambitions in historical narrative. How to tell a story of such complexity and nuance? . . . I expect [the answer] will come pretty close to the way Biggs has written his story." -Maurits Ertsen, Technology and Culture

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295990675
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2011
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Pages: 322
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword: Nation-Making in the Mekong Mire William Cronon ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 3

1 Water's Edge 23

2 Water Grid 53

3 Hydroagricultural Crisis 91

4 Balkanization 127

5 Modernization 153

6 American War 197

Epilogue 227

Notes 237

Bibliography 271

Index 289

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