Realities and Opponents of the "American Way of War"

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Asian American; Crime and Violence; International Relations; Media and Communications; Military; Nationalism and Transnationalism; Politics

Papers Presented

Sharpened Vigilance: Moral Resistance to the "American Way of War" in Vietnam

In November 2021, The New York Times journalists Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt revealed that American military leaders, analysts, and lawyers knowingly covered up a 2019 mass civilian casualty incident carried out by the U.S. armed forces in Syria. Although a tragedy, this is not an aberration from the American way of war as it evolved after World War II. Americans again reckoning with their country’s capacity to commit war crimes against non-combatants can reference the millions of tons of bombs, anti-personnel weapons, and chemical agents used against civilians during the Vietnam War. This paper will evaluate war crimes evidence collected by human rights activists from around the globe during the Vietnam War as a way of allowing historians to better explain the patterns of U.S. aggression against civilians during times of war. In so doing, this paper will also ask why Americans reject these war crimes accusations as “un-American” instead of holding their institutions and leaders to a higher moral standard.

Presented By
Cody James Foster, Indiana University Southeast

“Blood Debt”: The Rise and Radicalization of Vietnamese Student-Activists in the United States Prior to 1975

This paper explores the ways in which a group of Vietnamese students-activists attending U.S. universities exploited their presence on campus to reinforce and extend the messages of the U.S. anti-war movement. The U.S. State Department provided these Vietnamese students with scholarships to U.S. universities with the expectation that when the United States won the Vietnam War, these students would return to Vietnam to become the Republic’s new administrative cadres, charged with organizing the government and its economy according to U.S. anti-communist interests. What the U.S. government did not anticipate, however, was that the education these students received, both inside and outside the classroom, aided in the expression of their critiques of U.S. colonial and military endeavors in Southeast Asia. These students came to recognize themselves as racialized subjects of U.S. empire, recruited by the colonizers to legitimate the war in Vietnam, and deployed to the metropole to learn how to further the genocide of their people and the ecocide of their homeland. Through a close reading of newspapers, letters, and archival records, this paper argues that Vietnamese activism in the United States did not originate with anti-communist refugees in the post-1975 era, but with a small-group of Vietnamese students in the 1960s and 1970s who made it their responsibility as Vietnamese nationalists to speak out against U.S. intervention in Vietnam. By recovering this little-known history of Vietnamese student activism in the United States prior to 1975, we can gain a more complicated understanding of how Vietnamese American activism has changed over time, and how Vietnamese nationalism evolved outside of Vietnam.

Presented By
Gia-Quan Thi Anna Nguyen, University of Washington, Seattle

“The only way outside of a bullet to probe the innards of a skull”: Military and Media Practices in Psychological Warfare during the Korean War

Both before and during the Korean War, media practices influenced the way United States forces attempted to persuade foreign audiences to support the United Nations in the Korean War. The U.S. Army recruited men with advertising and journalism backgrounds for psychological warfare units. These soldiers relied on their earlier civilian training as advertisers or journalists to “sell” ideas like surrender to enemy combatants. Increasingly turning to emerging expertise in academic studies and public opinion surveys, the minds behind psychological operations used the lessons of media studies and advertising success to guide their wartime efforts. Examining the individuals involved in both the planning and implementation of psychological operations illuminates the two-way influence of advertising and media practices on wartime psychological operations. Through this complex network of exchange, soldiers and civilians alike turned to the same methods for sometimes opposite purposes. Considering these connected histories of advertising and psychological operations highlights the tension of using practices designed for selling items predominantly to white, middle-class men and women when “selling” the limited choice of surrender or death to North Korean and Chinese soldiers. These connections had lasting cultural, social, and intellectual impacts on both military and civilian life. In our time of “fake news” and concerns about the power of persuasive media, the longer connections between industry and military practices help illuminate the deep roots of the power of media to influence audiences and the many limits to how persuasive certain messages truly are.

Presented By
Katy Doll, Nova Southeastern University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Michael J. Allen, Northwestern University

Presenter: Katy Doll, Nova Southeastern University
Katy Doll is an assistant professor in the Department of Humanities and Politics at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. She specializes in US history with a focus on culture, war, and society. She studies United States overt psychological warfare from the Korean War to the Vietnam War. Her research examines the changing confidence in persuasion from the 1950s to the 1970s in the realm of war and in larger American contexts. She earned a PhD in history and an MA in history from Indiana University, Blooming, and she earned a BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Presenter: Cody James Foster, Indiana University Southeast
Cody J. Foster holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Kentucky where he wrote a dissertation titled "To “Reawaken The Conscience of Mankind”: The International War Crimes Tribunal and Transnational Human Rights Activism During the Vietnam War, 1966-1967." He also holds an M.Phil in Historical Studies from the University of Cambridge and a B.A. in History and Political Science from Indiana University. You can find his work in academic journals as well as in The New York Times, the USA Today, the Courier-Journal, HNN, the Huffington Post, and others. He's taught at Indiana University Southeast since 2014.

Presenter: Gia-Quan Thi Anna Nguyen, University of Washington, Seattle
Gia-Quan Nguyen is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Washington and expects to complete her dissertation in 2023. Her dissertation is on Vietnamese political activism in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. It was recently announced that she will be a graduate fellow in the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities' Society of Scholars in the 2022-2023 academic year.