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Contesting Indochina

Contesting Indochina: French Remembrance between Decolonization and Cold War

M. Kathryn Edwards
Copyright Date: 2016
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Contesting Indochina
    Book Description:

    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 Indochinais 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96346-7
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. Map of France (pp. xviii-xviii)
  7. Introduction (pp. 1-11)

    The french indochina war presents an immediate dilemma for the scholar of historical memory: it is a “forgotten” war and yet has left indelible traces in the French imaginary. It has not captured public attention as have the German Occupation and the Algerian War; and while the Algerian War is the “war without a name” (la guerre sans nom), the Indochina War has rightly been described as the “overshadowed war” (la guerre occultée).² Explanations for this state of affairs are readily available: it was a faraway conflict; it was met with the general indifference of the metropolitan public; it was...

  8. ONE French Indochina from Conquest to Commemoration (pp. 12-33)

    In 1924 the governor general of indochina, Martial Merlin, proclaimed that French Indochina “is increasingly active, its influence grows, and its role as a Second Metropole, an outpost of France in Asia [ … ] grows stronger.”¹ This “Pearl of Empire,” as French Indochina was known, occupied an important place in the colonial imaginary. With its lush tropical landscapes, its temples, and its opium, it served as the exotic setting for novels by Pierre Loti, André Malraux, and Marguerite Duras. Like the rest of the French empire it was also the focus of modernization projects, often under the guise of...

  9. TWO Remembrance and Rehabilitation: THE ANAI AND THE ANTICOMMUNIST NARRATIVE (pp. 34-53)

    Veterans’ organizations have long played a critical role in the commemoration of the wars in which their members fought, and in many cases in the maintenance and transmission of a particular narrative of those conflicts to the public. The First World War led to a new style and scope of war monuments and commemorations, and French veterans’ organizations played a central role in these developments as well as in creating support networks and in lobbying for benefits for themselves and their families.² The ranks of these organizations, like the National Union of Combatants (UNC; Union nationale des combattants), were later...

  10. THREE From Activism to Remembrance: THE ANTICOLONIAL NARRATIVE (pp. 54-87)

    This description of the indochina war from historian Charles Fourniau’s 1966Vietnam at Warillustrates several important themes of the anticolonial narrative: the emphasis on the colonial dimension of the conflict, its identification as a war of national liberation, and the characterization of French reconquest as illegitimate. Some proponents of this interpretation of the conflict overlook its Cold War context, while others engage with it directly. The anticolonial narrative is further characterized by an emphasis on the antiwar movement and even a celebration of it. Henri Martin and Raymonde Dien,² both antiwar activists who gained considerable public attention, are central...

  11. FOUR Morts pour la France? OFFICIAL COMMEMORATION OF THE INDOCHINA WAR (pp. 88-115)

    On 7 june 1980, twenty-six years after the Geneva Accords, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing honored an unknown soldier of the Indochina War in the main courtyard of the Invalides in the presence of some two thousand attendees. The ceremony, months in the making, had begun with the exhumation of an unidentified soldier from the Dong Hoi cemetery in Quang Binh province just north of the 17th parallel in December 1979. After being held at the Ba Huyen cemetery just outside of Hanoi, the remains were repatriated to France by air, arriving at Roissy on 28 March 1980. The casket was...

  12. FIVE “The Forgotten of Vietnam-sur-Lot”: REPATRIATE CAMPS AS SITES OF COLONIAL MEMORY (pp. 116-144)

    In mid-April 1956 some 1,200 French so-called repatriates² (rapatriés) from Indochina arrived at their new homes just outside of the small community of Sainte-Livrade-sur-Lot, in the southwestern department of the Lot-et-Garonne. Experiencing considerable disorientation and exhausted after weeks of travel, first by boat to Marseilles, then by train to Agen, and finally by bus to the reception center, these repatriates began what was to be perhaps the most difficult part of their journey: adjusting to life in metropolitan France and reconciling the promises of colonial officials in their homeland with the realities they faced. Their homes, provided by the state,...


    On 13 february 1991, just as he was about to present his paper at a conference on Vietnamese current affairs at the Senate in Paris, Professor Georges Boudarel was interrupted by a member of the audience who introduced himself as Jean-Jacques Beucler, a former prisoner of war and a government minister under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Accompanied by a small group of veterans who had all gained access to the conference armed with fake invitations provided by the National Association of Veterans and Friends of Indochina (ANAI),² Beucler described a letter he had received in 1986 from a certain Colonel Mitjaville,...

  14. SEVEN Missing in Action: The Indochina War and French Film (pp. 167-207)

    The release of three major motion pictures set in colonial Indochina—L’Amant(The Lover),Diên Biên Phu, andIndochine—in the first months of 1992 caught the attention of the French public and the media, who rushed to cover this cinematic “reconquest” of the former colony.² The release of these films in such a short period of time was deemed to be indicative of a return of the subject of the colony and of the Indochina War within the French film industry and within public consciousness. However, the notion of a “return” of Indochina as a cinematic subject implies an...

  15. Conclusion (pp. 208-214)

    In 1994 Daniel Lindenberg wrote about France’s so-called memory wars and the way in which the French relationship with memory provoked “particularly violent controversies.”¹ He opened by tracing the phenomenon back to the French Revolution, before shifting his focus to several critical periods of the twentieth century: the First World War, the Vichy period, and the Algerian War. The Indochina War was omitted save for a brief discussion of the Boudarel affair contained within the rubric of “Communist memory, Anticommunist memory.” A decade and a half later, Pascal Blanchard and Isabelle Veyrat-Masson published an edited volume on the subject of...

  16. NOTES (pp. 215-276)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 277-296)
  18. INDEX (pp. 297-306)