Youth Culture and Fading Memories of War in Hanoi, Vietnam
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 I met Mai and her young college friends outside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum on a warm, fall Sunday morning in Hanoi in 1999. For many Vietnamese, a visit to the mausoleum is a meaningful, emotion-laden experience, and visitors typically stand in long lines that wind around the massive granite tomb waiting to pay their respects to their nation’s founding father, also affectionately referred to as “Uncle Ho.” It was 8:00 am. I emerged from the mausoleum and found a shaded park bench on the pedestrian walk across from the eleventh-century One-Pillar Pagoda that also occupies the grounds. Mai and her friends approached me without delay. “Do you speak English?” they asked. I replied that I spoke Vietnamese. They laughed. “Have you already visited the mausoleum?” I queried. They laughed again. Mai spoke up in hesitant English: “We do not come here to visit Uncle Ho, but to meet Western tourists and improve our English-language skills.” This chapter addresses what appears to be a growing tension in Vietnamese society: the increasing historical distance and disconnect of Vietnam’s youth (who constitute the majority of the population) from their country’s history of socialist revolution and war with France and the United States to achieve national independence. I use the words “appears to be” to identify the widespread sentiment among government officials and other older people who experienced and survived the war that Vietnamese youth growing up in a time of peace and prosperity no longer understand nor recognize the immense sacrifices made to liberate and reunite the country.

To be sure, Vietnamese youth, most of whom were born after war with the United States ended in 1975, have grown up in an era quite different from that of their parents and grandparents who participated in the revolution and the wars of resistance between 1945 and 1975. Yet it would be mistaken to think that young people who grew up in peacetime are wholly disconnected from the violence of the past. On the contrary, while they may not have experienced war directly, youth in Vietnam have also suffered its severe and enduring aftermaths. Substantial socioeconomic shifts took place in Vietnam in 1986 when the government instituted a series of economic reforms called doi moi, which opened the country to global market forces and foreign capitalist investment. As standards of living began to improve and poverty rates dropped, Vietnam was hailed as a “little Asian tiger,” despite the alarming disparities in wealth that appeared. New global technologies and commodities flooded the markets, allowing younger generations to familiarize themselves with inter�national brands and consumer products that remained largely unknown or inaccessible to their elders. Such are the social and economic conditions under which many Vietnamese youth have come of age. A rising, vibrant youth culture, thought to uncritically and irresponsibly embrace the global market and its commodities, as well as the association of young people in the press with “social problems” (drugs, promiscuity, night clubbing, motorbike racing, etc), have instilled moral panic in older generations who feel the youth have forgotten their nation’s history, its moral values, and its cultural identity.1 But the story is more complex than this. We can see youth as embodying the values and ideologies of betterment and development that were central to the revolution, although they use capitalism as their tool to achieve similar goals of national progress, sovereignty, and prosperity.

 

 

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