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Most Americans and many non-Americans know it as the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese refer to it as the American War. And some historians prefer to label it the Second Indochina War, both to distinguish it from the French struggle to re-establish empire after World War II and to acknowledge the central place of Laos and Cambodia in the conflict. But the war waged in those countries during the 1960s and early 1970s also had a ripple effect across the broader Asia Pacific region.
South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand all contributed troops to the “Free World Forces” in support of the American and South Vietnamese effort to maintain an anti-Communist regime in Saigon, prompting new intra-regional military, social, and cultural dynamics between troops and hosts on the ground in Indochina. Other such dynamics also emerged in the variety of Asia Pacific locations where US military personnel spent their R&R time, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, Sydney, and Hawaii. Shifting from the interpersonal to the international, the war and its aftermath led to a reconfiguration of American power in the region, both in tone and substance, and to altered patterns of engagement in the region by China, Vietnam, and other states. Not least, the war was also implicated in the changing character of domestic political regimes, economic frameworks, and group identities within Asia Pacific nations and cultures.
Given renewed debate in the twenty-first century about the arc and impact of great power competition in the region, it is especially timely to reconsider these and other aspects of the Pacific World experiences and legacies of the Vietnam War. This conference draws together an international group of historians to assess the geopolitical, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and social significance of a conflict that continues to shape the Asia Pacific region today.