When people think of the “Vietnam War” they usually think of the hugely devastating and divisive conflict between North Vietnam and a United States-backed South Vietnam that finally ended in 1975. We know much less about the earlier conflict, often referred to as the “First Indochina War”, from 1946 to 1954, which ended almost a century of French colonial rule and brought about the division of the country into North and South Vietnam. In his new book, The First Vietnam War: Sovereignty and the Fracture of the South, 1945-1956 (Cambridge UP, 2021), Shawn McHale examines this earlier conflict, focussing on the complex and diverse society of south Vietnam. The book begins with a provocative question: why did the communist-led resistance against French colonial rule in Vietnam fail in the south? This is an exhaustively researched book which does a lot to change our understanding of how south Vietnam became independent, and helps explain what came after the end of the “first Vietnam War”. In this episode from New Books in Southeast Asian Studies, Patrick Jory talks to Shawn McHale about how his book pivots on the question of “what is violence?”
Patrick Jory teaches Southeast Asian History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. He can be reached at: [email protected].