Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2016

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Long V Ngo

Second Committee Member

Mazie Hough

Third Committee Member

Elizabeth McKillen

Abstract

This thesis examines the historical roles of the Vietnamese Women's Movement for the Right to Live (VWMRL, or the Movement) as a leading women's urban antiwar movement that belonged to the politically neutral Third Force in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. In studying the Movement's political efforts from 1970 to April 1975, the thesis seeks to accomplish three tasks. First, it reveals the detrimental effects of American military strategies and foreign policies on South Vietnamese women, who consequently opposed and fought to end the war through political action. Specifically, while various American pacification programs, including forced urbanization and the hasty use of chemical defoliants, helped engender widespread starvation, diseases, and social dislocation, search-and-destroy operations and the overwhelming prevalence of sexual violence, perpetrated by American troops against Vietnamese women, produced profound physical and psychological sufferings among the latter. Second, the thesis explores the ways in which nationalism and feminism, as two powerful historical forces, aided one another in the VWMRL's struggle for both Vietnamese national independence and the liberation of Vietnamese women from the imminent impact of the war. Under the leadership of Mrs. Ngo Ba Thanh, a Western-trained lawyer and intellectual, the Movement organized various political programs and social events to denounce both American aggression and the authoritarian, corrupted regime of Nguyen Van Thieu in Saigon. To this end, the thesis' analysis of the political prisoners’ situation in South Vietnam illuminates both the United States' unending commitment to supporting Thieu and winning the war, and the VWMRL's relentless efforts to liberate Vietnam and its female citizens. Finally, the thesis' study of the VWMRL dismantles assumptions of cultural essentialism that portray Third World women in general, and Vietnamese women in particular, as tradition-bound, inherently submissive, and politically naive. In contrast to these assumptions, many women in formerly colonized countries, such as Vietnam, historically emerged as politically aware and sophisticated antiwar advocates.

In sum, this thesis contributes to Vietnamese women's historiography, as well as the historiography of the Vietnam War, by reconstructing South Vietnamese women, who were neither Communist fighters nor faceless victims, as important elements and active participants in the history of the conflict. Significantly, the thesis serves as a reminder of the colossal and poignant impact of colonialism and imperialism on shaping Third World nationalist and feminist struggles. Exposing and understanding the history of such struggles, in turn, offers present and future advocates invaluable political and ideological tools to stage and win their own fights for women's liberation, especially in countries where democratic liberties remain poignantly scarce.

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