Postwar Journeys

American and Vietnamese Transnational Peace Efforts since 1975

Hang Thi Thu Le-Tormala

Postwar Journeys: American and Vietnamese Transnational Peace Efforts since 1975 tells the story of the dynamic roles played by ordinary American and Vietnamese citizens in their postwar quest for peace—an effort to transform their lives and their societies. Hang Thi Thu Le-Tormala deepens our understanding of the Vietnam War and its aftermath by taking a closer look at postwar Vietnam and offering a fresh analysis of the effects of the war and what postwar reconstruction meant for ordinary citizens. This thoughtful exploration of US-Vietnam postwar relations through the work of US and Vietnamese civilians expands diplomatic history beyond its rigid conventional emphasis on national interests and political calculations as well as highlights the possibilities of transforming traumatic experiences or hostile attitudes into positive social change. Le-Tormala’s research reveals a wealth of boundary-crossing interactions between US and Vietnamese citizens, even during the times of extremely restricted diplomatic relations between the two nation-states. She brings to center stage citizens’ efforts to solve postwar individual and social problems and bridges a gap in the scholarship on the US-Vietnam relations. Peace efforts are defined in their broadest sense, ranging from searching for missing family members or friends, helping people overcome the ordeals resulting from the war, and meeting or working with former opponents for the betterment of their societies.

Le-Tormala’s research reveals how ordinary US and Vietnamese citizens were active historical actors who vigorously developed cultural ties and promoted mutual understanding in imaginative ways, even and especially during periods of governmental hostility. Through nonprofit organizations as well as cultural and academic exchange programs, trailblazers from diverse backgrounds promoted mutual understanding and acted as catalytic forces between the two governments. Postwar Journeys presents the powerful stories of love and compassion among former adversaries; their shared experiences of a brutal war and desire for peace connected strangers, even opponents, of two different worlds, laying the groundwork for US-Vietnam diplomatic normalization.

Postwar Journeys fills a significant gap in the literature regarding post–Vietnam War efforts at creating peace and normal relations between the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam by examining nonstate groups and people and demonstrating how they influenced their governments’ policies. Employing a framework of transnationalism, Le-Tormala skillfully weaves together powerful stories with international politics to demonstrate how ‘hidden historical actors’ were able to make two hostile governments in Washington, DC, and Hanoi engage with each other to solve problems that were being ignored. There is no comparable study that has the breadth and depth in examining the efforts of veterans, peace groups, and individuals that ultimately helped forge peace between the United States and Vietnam.”

—David F. Schmitz, Robert Allen Skotheim Chair of History, Whitman College, and author of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War: The End of the American Century

“Much has been written about the normalization of US-Vietnamese relations in the 1990s. Far less attention has been given to the decades of grassroots peace efforts that led to and followed that normalization. Hang Thi Thu Le-Tormala has now beautifully excavated this history. Through poignant stories and incisive analysis, Postwar Journeys provides a much-needed examination of the ongoing importance of people-to-people diplomacy.”

—Scott Laderman, author of Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory and The “Silent Majority” Speech: Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, and the Origins of the New Right

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About the Author

Hang Thi Thu Le-Tormala is an adjunct instructor in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell Indian Nations University.