Contesting Indochina: French Remembrance between Decolonization and Cold War (From Indochina to Vietnam: Revolution and War in a Global Perspective)

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9780520288607: Contesting Indochina: French Remembrance between Decolonization and Cold War (From Indochina to Vietnam: Revolution and War in a Global Perspective)
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How does a nation come to terms with losing a war—especially an overseas war whose purpose is fervently contested? In the years after the war, how does such a nation construct and reconstruct its identity and values? For the French in Indochina, the stunning defeat at Dien Bien Phu ushered in the violent process of decolonization and a fraught reckoning with a colonial past. Contesting Indochina is the first in-depth study of the competing and intertwined narratives of the Indochina War. It analyzes the layers of French remembrance, focusing on state-sponsored commemoration, veterans’ associations, special-interest groups, intellectuals, films, and heated public disputes. These narratives constitute the ideological battleground for contesting the legacies of colonialism, decolonization, the Cold War, and France’s changing global status.

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“Until the publication of Kathryn Edward’s Contesting Indochina, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Algerian War was the only conflict to have divided the French over empire, the nation, and identity. Edwards has definitively put that idea to rest with the publication of this book. Carefully researched and brilliantly argued, Contesting Indochina shows how a wide range of French politicians, officers, intellectuals, journalists, and academics went to battle over the meaning of the Indochina War (1945–1954). At the heart of the debate were opposing interpretations over decolonization and the Cold War and how they related to France’s changing position in the world and from within during the second half of the twentieth century. To her immense credit, Edwards takes all sides seriously, providing finely textured accounts of the ‘anticommunist’ and ‘anticolonialist’ memory-makers who are still going at it to this day.”—Christopher Goscha, Professor of International Relations, Université du Québec à Montréal

“Caught between the Vichy and the Algerian traumas, the Indochina War has been under-researched as has the divided memory that continues to surround it in France. With this book, Kathryn Edwards skillfully fills this lacuna and provides the reader with a compelling, complex, and subtle account of the various and often-conflicting narratives of this allegedly forgotten war. Examining different agents of memory—veterans, intellectuals, politicians, and filmmakers—Edwards demonstrates the centrality of the Indochina War and its remembrance to our understanding of the so-called French memory wars and the on-going debates surrounding France’s colonial past.”—Ruth Ginio, author of The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization

“In this illuminating and elegant study, Kathryn Edwards brilliantly uncovers the polarized politics of remembering the Indochina War, France’s most forgotten twentieth-century conflict. Since the mid-1960s, competing veterans groups, citizens’ associations, scholars, municipalities, and repatriates have struggled to impose their version of the war’s meaning, replicating Cold War divisions and more recent debates about France’s colonial legacies. Edwards has restored to view a fascinating set of commemorative practices that even the larger French public has often ignored.”—Alice L. Conklin, author of In the Museum of Man: Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 18501950

“This comprehensive and insightful book shows the conflicting memories that different groups of people in France retain of the Indochinese War of 1946–1954 and the difficult challenges of coming to terms with the colonial past. An original and valuable contribution to the history of France and to colonial studies.”—Robert Aldrich, author of Vestiges of the Colonial Empire in France: Monuments, Museums, and Colonial Memories


About the Author:

M. Kathryn Edwards is assistant professor of modern French history at Tulane University.

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