US historian recounts why he chose Vietnam for his career
Edward Miller first came to Vietnam in 1995 as an ordinary tourist, and has since returned multiple times as a historian dedicated to studying the country and the American-led war that ended in 1975.
Miller, now a historian and associate professor of history at New Hampshire-based Dartmouth College, did not know much about Vietnam on his first trip 20 years ago, before he began his graduate study of history.
“I knew that I wanted to study the war in Vietnam because it was a very big event in American history,” Miller told Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City, as part of his latest Vietnam visit in March.
Miller said he was convinced that in order to understand the history of the war, he had to learn about Vietnamese culture, history and society.
“You had to look not only at American actors and American sources, and to read American archives of documents, but also at Vietnamese actors, Vietnamese leaders and ordinary people,” he said.
“So, starting in 1995, I began my graduate study. I began to study Vietnamese, which was the beginning of my career as a historian.”
Wowed by a modern Vietnam
During his March visit to Vietnam, Prof. Miller led a group of MBA students from the Tuck School of Business on a Global Insight Expedition (GIX).
While the historian is not unfamiliar with Vietnam, the American students were very excited.
“Our students are very interested to see what Vietnam is like today…they are also very surprised and excited to see the changes in Vietnam, and to see the level of development,” Miller said.
The professor said on the first night in Ho Chi Minh City, they came out for dinner in the downtown area and were stunned to see how beautiful and modern the city is.
“When we walked back to our hotel along Le Loi Street, my students could not believe it. They could not believe they were in Vietnam because they had imagined Vietnam as a third-world country that is not very modern,” Miller recounted.
The American historian said he tries to come to Vietnam “as often as possible,” because he loves it, and because “I have many friends here.”
“I think Vietnam is a great and exciting country and I learn so much every time I come to Vietnam,” he added.
As a Vietnam expert, most of Miller’s research and studies are about the American war in Vietnam and the Southeast Asian country’s history before 1975. But this does not mean he would never view Vietnam as it is today.
“On this trip, we still talk about history because history is very important but the students really want to understand what Vietnam is like today and why,” he said.
In only ten days, Miller managed to take his students to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, plus a brief stop in Da Nang and Hoi An in the central region.
“We have got an opportunity to see many parts of Vietnam even though the trip is short. I think we have learned a lot about Vietnam today,” he said.
Vietnamese do care about history
Miller said the American media like to say that young Vietnamese today do not care about the history of their country, focusing only on making money, an idea he believes is wrong.
“I think young Vietnamese people today are interested in the history of their country and they really want to learn more about it,” he said, before recounting a visit in the summer of 2015 to support his statement.
In August 2015, Miller was invited by the Consulate General of the U.S. in Ho Chi Minh City to give a talk about his work on Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of the South Vietnam administration before 1975, at the American Center in the city’s downtown.
Many young Vietnamese people attended the talk, even though they did not know who the speaker was.
“But they knew I am an American historian who wrote a book about Ngo Dinh Diem so they were very interested in that. I think that shows that Vietnamese people today, including young Vietnamese people, are very interested in the country’s history,” he said.
In 2013 Miller had his book, 'Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam,' published in the U.S.
He once expressed his hope that the Vietnamese translation would soon be made available in Vietnam, so that he could “have many conversations with Vietnamese readers and with other Vietnamese historians.”
And that book was released in Vietnam on April 25.
Coming book on Ben Tre
In 2014 Miller initiated the Dartmouth Vietnam Project, an oral history project in which undergraduate students are trained to interview other people about their memories of the war in Vietnam and also the effects of the war in the U.S.
The program has so far interviewed about 50 people, including American soldiers who fought in Vietnam, those who protested against the war, and those who were affected by the war in the U.S.
“We want to try to capture the personal stories of the people we interviewed,” he said. “The students are learning a lot about the history through the project, which has been very successful.”
Miller is working on another research project in the southern province of Ben Tre, which will be much different from his first one.
The historian said his first work is “a very high-level book” as it is about the relationship between two governments and about the leaders of the two governments -- Ngo Dinh Diem and John Kennedy and other high-ranking Americans and Vietnamese.
“For the next work I am interested to see what it was like for Vietnamese and Americans who were at a lower level, on the ground, such as American soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers, the revolutionaries, and also ordinary people who lived in Ben Tre,” he elaborated.
Tuoi Tre News - May 2, 2016