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War Material: Vietnam and Transpacific Imaginaries of Capital and Transition

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Abstract

War Material: Vietnam and Transpacific Imaginaries of Capital and Transition argues that the slaughtered Vietnamese body and Vietnam more generally – both as material substance and fantasy-driven imaginary – were conscripted to inflate, deflate, and consolidate the making of permanent war as global structure and the permanent war subject as its capture. I observe how Vietnamese slaughter as signifier, because of its idiosyncratic location within the auto-recuperative mythology of U.S. empire, has been used as the material and ideological infrastructures of U.S. asymmetrical warfare domestically and abroad from the Cold War to the present – what I refer to as war material. By thinking the Vietnamese body as war material, this dissertation also seeks to understand the machinations of permanent war as part and parcel of the crisis cycle of racial capitalism, where narratives of Vietnam, or Vietnamese subjects themselves, are deployed to enable the stagnating nation-state to revitalize itself through the invention of new necropolitical targets elsewhere. At the same time, I examine how Vietnam has been used as a global signifier to mobilize anti-imperial and anti-capitalist resistance by Internationalist actors at the geographic and social interstices of empire, despite the obfuscation of this work by anticommunism within the United States.

I divide these concerns of Vietnam across two frames: the counterinsurgent and the insurgent. Based on photojournalistic images of massacre, refugee memoirs, and white ethnostate manifestos, I examine how the evocation of a slaughtered Vietnam was continually deployed for the counter-insurgent and racist exigencies of the capitalist-cum-permanent war state. On the other hand, I examine how those very same histories, images, and narratives of slaughter were used in radical Cuban film and race radical thought to amplify insurgency and radical visions of futurity within the belly of the beast. Altogether, I mark the urgency of revisiting the afterlives of U.S. warfare across Vietnam as a story of racial capitalism in the hopes of uncovering its ongoing reverberations of psychic and material violence in the present and re-enliven its otherwise vexed histories of anti-capitalist solidarities from the past. By turning to these histories, my hope is that a study of Vietnam in a way that centers a materialist genealogy of race will offer resources that can be salvaged to pry open more expanded conditions and imaginaries of collective thriving beyond the capitalist and permanent war state.

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This item is under embargo until August 10, 2023.