Nanyang Technological University, Singapore,
Laos became deeply and violently polarized between the late 1940s and 1970s, but this polarization could not be reduced to local elites’ alliances with the United States and Democratic Republic of Vietnam. When protagonists utilized the terms and categories of the international Cold War, they did so for their own reasons. Others vernacularized the struggle in local terms and language. Anticommunist politicians and intellectuals saw communism as anathema to Lao culture, often racializing the struggle in anti-Vietnamese terms. In this worldview, communism was a Vietnamese export, the communist Pathet Lao were unpatriotic and part-Vietnamese (“Lao-Viet”) dupes of the Vietnamese, and the real objective of the latter—as throughout history—was to invade and colonize Laos. These sentiments, casting the Pathet Lao and their Vietnamese patrons as an existential threat to the Lao nation and race, built on an existing strand of nationalism from the colonial period. In the 1950s and 1960s, these ideas became enmeshed with the Cold War as anticommunists conflated and compounded two perceived threats, Vietnam and communism, as one. This paper examines anti-Vietnamese sentiments from press sources, and considers implications for how we locate the Cold War in the continuum of anticolonial nationalism and decolonization.
Discussant — Patrick Jory