This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive. The event has generated perhaps more publications in the English language – government reports, media accounts, academic studies, amateur histories, memoirs, etc. – than any other from the Vietnam War. A sucker for anniversaries of publications and releases of films and music, I wish to commemorate it by inviting non-Vietnamese to listen to a very well-known song among Vietnamese.
The South Vietnamese military – the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) – has always figured in the voluminous historical scholarship about the Vietnam War. For a long time and for a host of reasons, however, there was little depth on the topic.
My last post is about a long history article on American Catholicism. This post is about another long one: my own. It is published in the Journal of Vietnamese Studies, and the entire issue should come out by the end of the month.
By a coincidence, I read Alex-Thai Vo‘s article in the Journal of Vietnamese Studies a couple of days before my Great Books classes met to discuss the first half of The Prince. The article is titled Nguyễn Thị Năm and the Land Reform in North Vietnam, 1953, and I browsed over it when it came out last spring, only to “save” it for later because it is quite long. Funny, but last week I was merely looking at several JVS articles for examples of formatting and mechanics, not anything specifically in the content. But I got hooked quickly and read the article in entirety. It was one of those happy distractions and, possibly, fruitful later too.
My last post notes a fire that I experienced in Minnesota back in the 1980s. After I posted the link on Facebook, a fellow former refugee responded that he remembers people ran out of the building that night and carrying “nothing but boomboxes.”
Funny, you say, but it is illustrative of two things. First, Vietnamese music was very, very important to the refugees. Second, after automobiles boomboxes were the most valuable possessions for many refugees back then, especially men in the twenties and thirties, some of whom populated the apartment building that was burned down.
There are different ways to build a top-ten list. The way I employed for this list is twofold: pick the top song, then poke around to see if I could build a sensible list leading to this song. When I first thought of this list, I knew right away which song I’ll put at the top. My decision was pretty firm. It grew firmer when I made an important discovery that, as far as I know, has never been made by anyone before.
Belief in God tends to be strong for people living amid warfare. It is hardly a surprise then that prayer finds its way into music written during war. It was surely the case with popular music in South Vietnam.
Since this is the week of Christmas, it is worth mentioning that one the most popular South Vietnamese albums is filled with prayer. It is the third album of the fine series Sơn Ca (Birdsong), and the title is simply Giáng Sinh: Tình Yêu và Hòa Bình: Christmas: Love and Peace. It features some of the biggest names in the Saigon music scene at the time: Thái Thanh, Khánh Ly, Thanh Lan, Giao Linh, Lệ Thu, Anh Khoa, etc. (A recording from Elvis Phương would have completed this A-list.)