Understanding the Fanatic Mind? The Viet Minh and Race Hatred in the First Indochina War – a seminar by Assoc Prof Shawn McHale (Fri, 9 May 2008)

Speaker: Assoc Prof Shawn McHale (George Washington University)
Date: Friday, 9 May 2008
Time: 3:00pm – 4:30pm
Venue: AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

Our understanding of the Vietnamese resistance war against the French (1945-54) is still heavily focused on the themes of revolution, nationalism, and organization. It is a somewhat antiseptic narrative, one which is divorced from the actualities of Vietnamese popular culture. This talk contests the dominant view of the war. It will take a bottom-up approach, focusing on the Mekong delta during the First Indochina War. At the center of the analysis are some fascinating and disturbing Viet Minh texts on cannibalism, race hatred, and race transformation. Why did the Viet Minh circulate such texts, and why did it believe audiences would be swayed by them? This talk will assess some common arguments used by social scientists to explain the rise of fanaticism (e.g. the role of endemic violence, the breakdown of state control, and the breakdown of social trust). I will argue that many of these arguments are insufficient, reductionistic, and ignore culture. Culture, it turns out, is part of the explanation. But how?

About the speaker
Shawn McHale is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs George Washington University Washington, DC 20052 USA. Currently, he is on leave at Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.