17 pages 34 minutes read

Ocean Vuong

Kissing in Vietnamese

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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The Vietnam War

Vuong’s poem “Kissing in Vietnamese” makes specific, direct references to America’s military intervention in Vietnam that took place during the 1960s and 70s. The Vietnam war was both a civil war, in which Americans took sides with the anti-communist South against the pro-communist North, and a proxy war between Russia and the US in their ongoing “cold war.” Thus, two global superpowers’ geo-political interests in Southeast Asia became the catalyst for catastrophic destruction visited on a population half a world away in an effort to dictate their political and economic system. 3.8 million Vietnamese were killed in the protracted carnage—roughly 12-13% of their population at the time—along with 58,000 American soldiers and as many as 2.5 million deaths in neighboring Cambodia where the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime took control as a direct result of American bombing there.

The conflict has come to represent the emergence of modern warfare in areas technological, strategic, and in terms of its sheer brutality. Since the goal of the United States was not to conquer North Vietnam but rather to ensure the survival of the South Vietnamese government, they could not measure progress in the amount of territory seized and held. It was decided that victory in battle would be determined by the number of enemy combatants killed.