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“Laderman succeeds in connecting the strands of diplomatic and public history in an elegantly written, approachable work.” - Kristin L. Ahlberg, The Public Historian
“Tours of Vietnam is a book that overflows with good and useful questions.” - Peter Siegenthaler, Pacific Historical Review
“With its extensive analysis of historical and contemporary tourism discourses and practices, this text will be of interest to a broad and interdisciplinary readership that is also concerned with the enduring exercise of US power. Laderman’s work can be situated in a longer tradition of scholarship on US memory of the ‘Vietnam War,’ though it notably ventures to the ‘other side’ to also examine Vietnamese practices of memory. . . . Tours of Vietnam is a powerful text and an unsettling reminder of how the entanglements of war, empire, and tourism continue to inform US-Vietnamese relations today.” - Christina Schwenkel, Journal of Tourism History
“Tours of Vietnam is a valuable addition to the scholarship on the larger questions around the US foreign policy and the unexpectedly substantial role that presumably apolitical cultural products play in shaping national memory and global imaginations.”
- Lana Lin, Left History
“[T]his is an excellent revisionist interpretation of Western involvement in Southeast Asia that belongs in all library collections. Highly recommended.” - D. R. Jamieson, Choice
“In this rich and nuanced work, Scott Laderman shows us how tourism and the making of empire have been inextricably linked during and after the American war in Vietnam. Whether exploring the curious efforts of the former South Vietnamese state and the American military to promote tourism as the war unfolded or interrogating how that ubiquitous traveling bible of the backpack set, the Lonely Planet guide, obscures more than it reveals about the Vietnamese past and present, Tours of Vietnam offers a powerful model for writing a new transnational history of the United States and its engagement in the wider world.”—Mark Bradley, University of Chicago
“Not a rehash of old arguments, Tours of Vietnam is a stunningly original and truly twenty-first-century exploration of America’s war in Vietnam. Combining vast research, profound insights, and lucid prose, Scott Laderman gives us a multilayered, nuanced, and brilliant vision of interrelations among history, memory, foreign policy, and culture.”—H. Bruce Franklin, author of War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination
"[Saigon] affects me like a fine wine. There is ... something in the air, in the rhythm, in the soft water, a somnolence, a richness, something exquisite, a lightness, a quick smile, fleet foot." Thus wrote the American photographer Dorothea Lange during a weeks-long tour of southern Vietnam in 1958. The enchantment Lange experienced in Saigon, she conceded, came as "a great [s]urprise." Such warm sentiments were sure to please the tourism authorities in the newly minted Republic of Vietnam (RVN). Beginning in the late 1950s, as commercial jet travel become possible and Americans took a greater interest in visiting the Far East, the government of the RVN sought, like several of its Asian neighbors, to place Vietnam on the global tourism map. While lacking a single world-class attraction such as the Angkor ruins of Cambodia, Vietnam did offer beautiful pastoral vistas, hundreds of miles of placid coastline, outstanding big-game hunting, several architectural treasures, and a vibrant and -to those from the West, at least-exotic cultural life. The "time has come to develop and promote tourism in Vietnam," a Saigon newspaper urged in 1957. With the proper investment, the potential existed. Whereas the Viet Minh's nearly decade-long war with France after World War Two had created an unfavorable travel environment, within the first few years of the Ngo Dinh Diem era the possibility of international tourism reemerged.
The reasons for this renewed interest were several. At the most basic level, officials hoped tourism would assist with economic growth, pumping foreign currency into a corner of Southeast Asia battered for years by unrelenting warfare. Yet it was not simply a matter of capturing dollars and francs. As the director of the National Tourist Office suggested in a 1958 report to Diem, tourism's contribution to improvements in technology, transportation, and commerce would aid in the state's development in multiple ways, providing not just economic but political, social, and cultural benefits as well. For a government facing questions both internally and externally about its political legitimacy, this was an important consideration. Born out of the 1954 Geneva Accords that explicitly precluded the seventeenth parallel from serving as a permanent "political or territorial boundary," the Republic of Vietnam-or what became known colloquially as South Vietnam-was essentially a U.S. creation. That it was ruled by a Catholic despot in an overwhelmingly Buddhist nation-one who enjoyed little popular support and routinely employed terror as his preferred method of suasion-only added to the authorities' difficulties. International tourism thus came to assume a notable role in the Saigon government's cultural diplomacy campaign. In particular, tourism carried the potential to generate positive sentiments about the southern state that would translate into popular support and diplomatic goodwill, serving the interests of both America and its client in a variety of ways. Indeed, a motto of the National Tourist Office was "to make the country better known and thus better loved."
This effort by the Saigon government meshed nicely with the American concern for Vietnamese nation building. A functioning tourism industry, after all, signaled state normalcy; this normalcy, in turn, suggested state legitimacy. Given the RVN government's competition with not only Hanoi but, after 1960, the southern National Liberation Front, this question of legitimacy was a paramount concern in both Washington and Saigon. As Vietnamese opposition to the Diem regime spread and, in the early 1960s, as direct American intervention increased, tourism began to serve U.S. and RVN interests at an important symbolic level. Through both its tourism publications and the practical experiences of foreign visitors, Vietnamese authorities presented an image of the southern state that made it seem welcome to U.S. assistance. Suggesting that Vietnam and Vietnamese aspired to be like America and Americans-capitalist, democratic, et cetera-the Vietnamese tourism literature confirmed modernization theorists' prescription for a tumultuous Third World. The intended audience of such publications may have been ordinary American travelers, but it was clear that the political benefits of tourism would accrue to American policymakers as well.
Indeed, the growth of Vietnamese tourism in the late 1950s coincided with Washington's increased interest in American leisure in Asia and elsewhere in the Third World. That travel was a political activity was recognized by both civilian and military officials; tourism's proper development, it was believed, could serve important U.S. geostrategic objectives. Dwight Eisenhower, for instance, remained an enthusiastic proponent of Americans' international travel, repeatedly recognizing its potential contributions to U.S. foreign policy. In a 17 April 1958 report requested by Eisenhower, to cite just one example, Clarence B. Randall, a special assistant to the president and former chairman of the Commission on Foreign Economic Policy, outlined tourism's many benefits. Pointing in particular to "the Pacific area," Randall noted that "Americans are eagerly searching out new areas to visit and their travel expenditures could be of great assistance to the developing countries" seeking "increased dollar earnings." Yet the cultural aspects of travel "may be of even greater importance," he continued. While the media "tell their interesting story" about foreign locales, the "impact of personal experience is deeper and more lasting." The sorts of "direct personal relationship[s]" that travel afforded enriched "the lives of both the traveler and his host," with "each borrowing from the other in customs, manners, and philosophy of life." At a time when American officials were deeply invested in planting the seeds of liberal capitalism in much of the decolonizing world, this was no small concern. In this respect, Randall asserted, "American overseas travelers," if they "measure[d] up to their responsibilities" by comporting themselves honorably, could serve as "ambassadors of good will," developing "effective contacts between Americans traveling abroad and their foreign hosts" while concurrently imparting "a clearer idea of the friendly reception and special attractions to be found in the United States."
Not only, therefore, could cordial personal exchanges bolster the Cold War policies of various American administrations, putting a human face to a nation viewed with considerable suspicion by much of the Third World, but the dollars spent by Americans abroad provided the dollars necessary for states to import American goods, thus helping to grow the same booming economy that made leisurely pursuits such as international travel possible. At the same time, however, cultural ignorance or bad behavior by Americans abroad could potentially prove devastating to U.S. foreign relations. Americans who "assume[d] an air of arrogance" or transgressed "the common bonds of decency," the State Department warned in a pamphlet issued to all U.S. passport holders, could "do more in the course of an hour to break down elements of friendly approach between peoples than the Government can do in the course of a year in trying to stimulate friendly relations." Tourism, in other words, was a transnational practice imbued with political meaning. Respectful comportment was therefore critical. This was especially the case if, as Francis J. Colligan, an official tasked with U.S. cultural diplomacy, advised, "further encouragement should be given to trips to areas of the world which few Americans visit." Vietnam, by virtually any measure in the 1950s, certainly fit that bill.
Even as Vietnamese tourism peaked in the early 1960s, the number of international arrivals never reached the level of Japan or India, let alone that of France or Germany. In part this was a function of the RVN government's lack of serious commitment to the comprehensive and sustained development of the tourism industry; like its counterpart in the north, it placed much greater emphasis on rice production and industrialization. In part the failure to attract large numbers of tourists was a function of the competition for visitors in which nearby states seemed better positioned. Vietnam was not usually considered a stand-alone destination but, the authorities hoped, would attract transit passengers traveling elsewhere in Asia. And in part it was a function-especially as the 1960s progressed-of Vietnam's political instability and hazardous travel environment. Yet tourism in southern Vietnam was never merely about luring tens of thousands of sun-seeking visitors to the fledgling state. Rather, the cultural work performed by international tourism could contribute to the government's quest for political legitimization, thus helping to fulfill one of the RVN's chief diplomatic objectives.
It is not that Vietnam lacked the prerequisites of a successful tourism outlook. In a 1957 article in Holiday magazine, for example, Santha Rama Rau extolled the virtues of the "stripling Asian nation," with its "French styles and manners," that contained "all the exotic splendor of the Orient." Saigon retained its pleasant colonial atmosphere: "an ornate opera house, a red brick cathedral, charming homes, boulevards, sidewalk cafes, and the ubiquitous advertisements for Byrrh or Bastos cigarettes." The beach resort of Cap Saint-Jacques possessed "wide boulevards, shady pastel villas, and French hotels where you can eat the tiny, excellent shrimps and oysters of the China Sea" or "dance in the tepid tropical evenings under the coconut palms by the phosphorescent ocean surf." Elsewhere along the coast, Nha Trang, "with its beautiful harbor and beaches where the tide is like the 'roar of a tiger,'" contained "extraordinary marine life" viewable on one of the glass-bottomed boats that glided over the beds of coral. Hue, "situated on a river the color of celadon," was a "dim echo of the Forbidden City in Peking-imperial palaces and pavilions with lacquered columns, doors painted with golden dragons, huge bronze urns flanking shallow stairways that lead to gardens and pools." Yet "probably the pleasantest resort built by the French," Rau maintained, "is Dalat," which was recognized for two "distinctions": "its excellent hunting (as varied as the more publicized game of Africa and India, and far cheaper), and its extraordinary mountain tribes" whose "strange little villages" and "barefoot and half naked" appearances provided endless fascination.
Two years later, in 1959, Travel magazine likewise published an encouraging feature on Vietnam. While war had ravaged Indochina until 1954, wrote Richard Tregaskis, the well-known author of Guadalcanal Diary, "the land remained beautiful and various, a bright-colored array of ancient tradition with purposeful overlays of modernity." True, there appeared occasional reminders of the earlier French-Viet Minh conflict as well as a pressing need for infrastructural improvements, but Saigon was "beautiful," Hue was "handsome," and Nha Trang was "dazzling." In general, insisted Tregaskis, Vietnam's sites "were as spectacular as represented" in the artful posters prepared by the National Tourist Office.
Yet the Travel essay was not intended to simply extol southern Vietnam's undeniable charms. Much more explicitly than Rau's article in Holiday, Tregaskis, who was assisted by the authorities at various times in his and his wife's tour, situated the Republic of Vietnam within the American modernization project, effusively praising its government. For the author, there was no doubt that southern Vietnam was one of four "independent states" to have emerged out of the "colonial domain of French Indo-China." It was, moreover, "democratic," with a government "elected by universal suffrage" for which the "southern or 'free' Vietnamese are intensely proud." Despite his occasional references to the "wild men" or "half-naked brown savages of the mountain tribes plodding along the road barefoot"-all part of Vietnam's "adventures," he cheerfully noted-Tregaskis was impressed with the RVN's lurching "transition from medievalism to self-determination and modernity." He repeatedly pointed to the infusion of U.S. foreign aid and technical advice that would be happily witnessed by future tourists-he employed "you" in directly addressing his Western readers-from "new patches of waving sugar cane fostered by American agricultural consultants" to "cattle-breeding stations," "rows of young rubber trees of the more productive variety," assembly plants for "Italian-made motor scooters," and "small French taxis" and hundreds of trucks, all built with or supplied by U.S. foreign aid.
Recognizing the contribution of the "promptly created" state-subsidized airline to both Vietnamese tourism and the larger modernization mission, the "patriotic Vietnamese," Tregaskis maintained, hoped to "become prosperous, distinguished independent members of the family of nations." He had no doubt that this goal would be realized. Already "the challenge of setting up a system of tourism was being tackled vigorously" in the "new, proud little nation," Tregaskis wrote. In 1959, for instance, the RVN was represented for the first time by multiple delegates at the annual conference of the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA), which was held that year in Singapore. The Vietnamese authorities "are working hard," Tregaskis insisted, "and what we feel was sort of a preview peek at its advancement has convinced us that beautiful Vietnam will take its rightful place as a true traveler's goal in tomorrow's world of easy access by jet."
While perhaps not quite as optimistic as Tregaskis, RVN sympathizers and U.S. economic officials were nevertheless hopeful. In 1958, Lieutenant-General John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel (Ret.), former chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam and, after 1955, chair of American Friends of Vietnam (AFV), concluded after a month long visit to the southern state that hotel rooms were in perilously short supply and that new highways would need to be completed before the "tourist business" could "get underway." Yet O'Daniel was encouraged. Having discussed these matters with the director of the National Tourist Office, the AFV leader reported that the director "appears to be aware of the things that need to be done." By 1961, the U.S. Department of Commerce, in a study co-sponsored by PATA, was rating the south's "tourism potentials" as "fair to good." Saigon, considered Vietnam's likely principal attraction, possessed an "unmistakable French atmosphere, French-style bistros, and sidewalk cafes" that lent the city "great appeal," the report concluded. Moreover, its "strategic position with respect to air transportation" rendered it a "convenient and interesting stopping off or transiting point" for travelers. The RVN authorities agreed, issuing a pamphlet in 1961 whose cover advised tourists that they could "discover Vietnam at no extra cost," stopping in Saigon "on [their] way to Hongkong, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore, and Angkor Wat." What was needed to maximize the south's tourism potential, the Commerce Department recommended, was "top-level support by the Government and technical assistance," neither of which, with the south experiencing substantial political unrest, was fully forthcoming.
Excerpted from TOURS of VIETNAM by SCOTT LADERMAN Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Prefatory Note The Nomenclature of the Vietnam War ix
Abbreviations and Acronyms xvii
Introduction History, Tourism, and the Question of Empire 1
1 Tourism and State Legitimacy in the Republic of Vietnam 15
2 Educating Private Ryan: Tourism and the United States Military in Postcolonial Vietnam 47
3 "The Set About Revenging Themselves on the Population": The "Hue Massacre" and the Shaping of Historical Consciousness 87
4 The New Modernizers: Naturalizing Capitalism in Doi Moi Vietnam 123
5 "The Other Side of the War": Memory and Meaning at the War Remnants Museum 151
Epilogue Tourism and the Martial Fascination 183