The history of the Vietnam War is one that has been complicated by politics, and it is a history that is still being written and rewritten. The war involved a fratricidal conflict between the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the non-communist Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and extended to neighboring Laos and Cambodia; however, it was also a proxy war in a Cold War contest between the communist bloc and the western bloc.
North Vietnam had massed support of the Soviet Union and China and their satellite states while South Vietnam had the backing of the United States and its allies. The echoes of the war extended well beyond Vietnam and the countries that participated in the conflict.
Vietnam was a transformational event and became an international symbol for the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The war had a ripple effect that spread outwards from Vietnam to other countries and continents, an effect that was temporal as well as geographic, reaching not only the wartime generations but also the postwar generations.
The history of the war has been a partial one, underscored by the American dominance of the English-language historiography of the war and the focus on American policies and the American experience of the war, coupled with a mostly negative assessment of South Vietnam.
The so-called first ‘television war’, the Vietnam war was defined and shaped by cameras and the bold photographers behind them. The pictures collected in this article are part of the photographic book Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side and show the war from the Vietnamese perspective.
The book presents the view of the North Vietnamese combat photographers who documented their people’s 30-year struggle, first against the French and then against the Americans. These pictures portray a society committed to victory at all costs, they show us courage, drama, resolve, and often, a violent beauty.
While Western photographers had the most modern equipment and facilities, the Vietnamese worked with cumbersome outdated cameras, some dating back to the 1930s. Each roll of film was precious, so scarce that one cameraman shot only 70 pictures in the course of the entire war.
Using home-brewed chemicals, they developed their pictures in the open air or in underground tunnels, under the constant threat of B-52 strikes. Many of these photographs have been rarely published in Vietnam, let alone in the rest of the world. The book contains one hundred eighty of these unseen photos and it’s definitely worth having in your collection.
(Photo credit: National Geographic Books / Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side).