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TOURS OF VIETNAM: WAR, TRAVEL GUIDES, AND MEMORY

In Tours of Vietnam, Scott Laderman demonstrates how tourist literature has shaped Americans’ understanding of Vietnam and projections of United States power since the mid-twentieth century. Laderman analyzes portrayals of Vietnam’s land, history, culture, economy, and people in travel narratives, U.S. military guides, and tourist guidebooks, pamphlets, and brochures. Whether implying that Vietnamese women were in need of saving by “manly” American military power or celebrating the neoliberal reforms Vietnam implemented in the 1980s, ostensibly neutral guides have repeatedly represented events in ways that favor the global ambitions of the United States.

Tracing a history of ideological assertions embedded in travel discourse, Laderman analyzes the use of tourism in the Republic of Vietnam as a form of Cold War cultural diplomacy that, according to one pamphlet published by the Vietnamese tourism authorities, was joining the “family of free nations.” He chronicles the evolution of the Defense Department pocket guides to Vietnam, the first of which, published in 1963, promoted military service in Southeast Asia by touting the exciting opportunities that Vietnam offered Americans to sightsee, swim, hunt, and water ski. Laderman points out that, despite historians’ ongoing and well-documented uncertainty about the facts of the 1968 “Hue Massacre” during the National Liberation Front's occupation of the former imperial capital, the incident often appears in English-language guidebooks as a settled narrative of revolutionary Vietnamese atrocity. And turning to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, he notes that while most contemporary accounts concede that the United States perpetrated gruesome acts of violence in Vietnam, many tourists and travel writers still dismiss the museum’s display of that record as little more than “propaganda.”

 

ENDORSEMENTS

“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 Philip 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 yet brilliant vision of interrelations among history, memory, foreign policy, and culture.”

H. Bruce Franklin, Rutgers University, Newark

 

REVIEWS

“[Laderman’s] use of guidebooks ... as primary documents is a clever approach to [the study of American social memory], one yielding a first-rate example of what good 'public history’ looks like. Laderman’s background in American Studies gives him a solid grasp of cultural studies and his writing an interdisciplinary flair and stylistic shading that will invite readers from many academic fields and levels, the book-buying public, and thoughtful travelers.”

Jerry Lembcke, American Historical Review

“[A] wide-ranging and well-researched book. [...] [Laderman] combines scholarly interest in international travel with scholarship on memory to provide an innovative account of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.”

Michael J. Allen, Journal of American History

“Thoroughly researched, [Tours of Vietnam] offers a different angle on the conflict through the lens of tourism and collective memory. Highly recommended.”

Patti C. McCall, Library Journal

“[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

“[A] lucid and original scholarly account....”

Jamie Gillen, Journal of Vietnamese Studies

“Historians of U.S. foreign relations continue to produce expertly researched and persuasively written works that demonstrate the linkages between diplomacy and cultural phenomena. In this vein, Scott Laderman is no exception. [...] Laderman succeeds in connecting the strands of diplomatic and public history in an elegantly written, approachable work.”

Kristin L. Ahlberg, The Public Historian

“[An] impressive and original analysis of the ways in which 'Vietnam’— the country, as well as the war — continues to shape political and cultural life into the twenty-first century.”

Chris Dixon, Australian Journal of Politics and History

Tours of Vietnam makes a powerful intervention into the ongoing scholarly reassessment of the Vietnam wars and their memories along with providing new insight into the ways in which the practices of tourism and the employment of American power did, and do, go hand-in-hand.”

Mark Philip Bradley, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

“Laderman has identified an important and under-studied factor shaping Americans’ comprehension of recent events. [...] This is high-quality scholarship.”

Seth Jacobs, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

“Scott Laderman’s Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory is a welcome addition to the growing body of United States scholarship on the American War in Vietnam that takes seriously Vietnamese points of view. [...] [A] rich and rewarding book.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

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 U.S. power. Laderman’s work can be situated in a longer tradition of scholarship on U.S. 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 U.S.-Vietnamese relations today.”

Christina Schwenkel, Journal of Tourism History

Tours of Vietnam is a valuable addition to the scholarship on the larger questions around ... U.S. foreign policy and the unexpectedly substantial role that presumably apolitical cultural products play in shaping national memory and global imaginations.”

Lana Lin, Left History

“What first appears to be a narrow academic study — how U.S. guide books and other tourist materials over the past half-century have described Vietnam — becomes an interesting window into Americans’ often inaccurate perceptions about our own country and the rest of the world.”

Matt Witt, New Labor Forum

“Laderman ... is quick to challenge any notions of the inevitable triumph of capitalism or democracy and smart at exposing the ideological underpinning of such notions.”

Michael Sherry, International History Review

“[Scott Laderman] makes a broadly researched and persuasive argument that the presentation that exists in travel guidebooks is ideological and problematic, for it obscures as much as it reveals. [...] [H]is nuanced, carefully qualified arguments and innovative use of sources cannot be easily dismissed. For specialists and interested general readers, including travelers to Vietnam, Laderman offers much to ponder, as well as pointing the way to future research directions on international travel, cultural constructions of meaning, and Americans’ understanding of their country in the world.”

Derek N. Buckaloo, History: Reviews of New Books

“Laderman makes a significant contribution to the cultural history of America’s war in Vietnam.”

Christina Klein, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

“[O]ne cannot but be impressed by Laderman’s immensely keen eye for connections and detail and the eloquence with which he puts forth his nuanced arguments. That he delivers his critique with a lucid soberness, allowing the facts to speak for themselves, makes his arguments all the more persuasive. This is indeed an extraordinary work in it[s] own right, but even more so considering how extraordinarily timely it is.”

Victor Alneng, Pacific Affairs

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