The themes of nationalism and revolution occupy an important place in the study of post-1945 Asia. Nowhere is this more evident than in Vietnam: after all, the Resistance War against the French (1946–54), followed by the war against the Americans and their allies (1965–75), has shaped modern Vietnamese history. For the 1950s in particular, scholars of Vietnam have developed a view in which nationalistic communists in the north consolidate their grip on power, undergoing crises but emerging stronger. This view has obvious merit. Nonetheless, it can leave the observer with the sense that a monolithic Vietnamese communism, tempered by years of struggle, inevitably triumphs. Three features are left out of such accounts. First, they downplay the diversity of Vietnamese world-views in the 1940s and 1950s. Second, they often lack a sense of the contingent and the accidental. And third, readers today are often left unaware of how deeply the relationship between past and present is contested. The past itself was, and is, in dispute: the contestation in the 1950s, where polemics eventually triumphed over open debate, left behind a fragmentary and partial historical record. The present has been no less problematic: contemporary concerns have reshaped memories and structured our sense of the past.

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