Normalization or Recolonization? Volunteers in Asia (VIA) and Viet Nam - US Relations
Author(s)Do, Bich Ngoc
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Abstractxi, 115 leaves
My intention to conduct research and write a thesis about Volunteers in Asia developed while taking the course HIST 639C, U.S. Diplomatic History, in the Department of History, University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, during the Fall semester 2001 with professor Naoko Shibusawa. Among the books she assigned for that course, Michael Latham's Modernization as Ideology provoked me the most, particularly its two last chapters "Modernization for Peace: The Peace Corps, Community, and America's Mission" and "Modernization at War: Counterinsurgency and the Strategic Hamlet Program in Vietnam." In his book, Latham examines the U.S. government's application of development theory and modernization ideology to its implementation of non-military Cold War policies. Reading about the Peace Corps volunteers and their complicity to the anticommunist war in Viet Nam through community development and teaching assignments, I could not help but relate it to Volunteers in Asia (VIA), a Stanford-based, non-government, and non-sectarian organization with which I have had close relationships through my VIA teacher, Ms. Miranda Arana. I discovered that many of the Peace Corps' teaching materials and ideals were similar to what I learned from Ms. Arana. For example, my teacher provided us with critical readings about development policies in Southeast Asia, agricultural and industrial revolution, and materials that train independent, critical, and assertive thinking for personal growth and professional success, all of which have U.S.-based contents. On the one hand, this forced me to question whether or not my VIA teacher had intended to reshape Vietnamese students' thinking and transform Vietnamese society into an American model through her teaching as accomplished by the Peace Corps volunteers. On the other hand, my long-held belief in her progressive and conscientious character remains and challenges such an assumption. These concerns inspired me to examine VIA's objectives and accomplishments through its teaching and administrative principles. In writing this thesis, I hope to offer readers a better understanding of this "non-governmental and apolitical" organization, shed a more critical perspective toward "international volunteerism" and, more importantly, explain the policies of the United States toward Viet Nam during and after the Cold War.