How do nations remember wars? That is the question Viet Thanh Nguyen has posed to countless students over the years at the University of Southern California.
Since 2010 Nguyen’s students have been tasked with interviewing American and Vietnamese soldiers and survivors to, as Nguyen writes on Twitter, “study how all wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”
Compiled over the course of several semesters, his students interviewed 170 Americans, Vietnamese refugees, Cambodian refugees, troops, civilians, men, women, the children of veterans, and refugees as a larger part of Nguyen’s An Other War Memorial.
On May 27, the professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer took to Twitter to share some of the remarkable stories collected and preserved by his undergraduate students.
Like Milan Kundera who warned the world about historical amnesia in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Nguyen’s class expounds upon his 2016 book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. The author explores the fact that there is no one true historical narrative that comes out of this controversial war, which is certainly highlighted and supported by the interviews conducted by Nguyen’s students.
From the South Vietnamese soldier who was haunted for years by his memories of life in a hard labor prison, to the Black naval aviator shot down over North Vietnam who experienced compassion from his captors, how a nation and its people remember trauma is a vast spectrum.
All 170 interviews are archived on An Other War Memorial, with several highlighted by Nguyen below:
Cam Vu was a South Vietnamese soldier who was sent to re-education, which he calls a hard labor prison, and became a refugee. For years he would have nightmares about being shot by the Viet Cong. "The war is over, but actually it’s not over."https://t.co/MU6QtjGoDw pic.twitter.com/smjNJsCsiA
— Viet Thanh Nguyen (@viet_t_nguyen) May 28, 2021