For the next National History Center and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Weekly History Seminar, Marilyn B. Young, Professor of History at New York University, analyzes “The Eternal Question of Counterinsurgency” on Monday, May 3, 2010 at the Wilson Center.
What are historians to make of the phrase made famous during the Vietnam war, “hearts and minds”? With the advantage of distance in time and the cooling of passions, it seems clear that the phrase reflected a tactic of counterinsurgency characteristic of the European colonial empires as well as the American attempt to find a solution to the war. The rediscovery of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan is not only a military tactic but also something that approaches an ideology—and something well worth discussing in the context of the war in Vietnam.
New Books in History has a new podcast of an interview with Mark Philip Bradley and Marilyn Young, the editors of the Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars, the first volume in the Reinterpreting History series produced by the National History Center and Oxford University Press. The volumes in the series aim to convey to readers how and why historians revise and reinterpret their understanding of the past, and they do so by focusing on a particular historical topic, event, or idea that has long gained the attention of historians.
As Marshall Poe, editor of New Books in History, states, “[The] authors provide no simple answers because there are none. You will not find easy explanations, good guys and bad guys, or ideological drum-beating in these pages. What you will find is a sensitive effort to understand an event of mind-boggling, irreducible complexity. There’s a lesson here: we may think we know what we are doing on far-away shores, but we are fooling ourselves.”
Marilyn B. Young, Professor of History at New York University, gave a lecture during the National History Center’s 2009 Decolonization Seminar. The lecture was jointly sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and webcasted.
Professor Young discussed how the history of the Cold War in the United States is the history of how, while never abandoning World War II as the platonic ideal of war, post-war administrations were able to use military force in a limited, instrumental way. For this to be possible they had to create a public tolerance for war as normal rather than aberrational, so normal that after a while only those who were actively engaged in fighting it—and their families—noticed a war was being fought at all. War, as Joe Haldeman’s dystopian novel, The Forever War, predicted, would be “forever.” Professor Young’s lecture explored the many ways in which the “forever war” was manifested, first in Asia, and subsequently in the Middle East.
Marilyn Young received her PhD from Harvard University in 1963. She taught at the University of Michigan before coming to New York University in 1980 where she is a full professor in the Department of History. Professor Young teaches courses on the history of U.S. foreign policy, the politics and culture of post-war United States. Her publications include Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895–1901; Transforming Russia and China: Revolutionary Struggle in the 20th Century (with William Rosenberg); and The Vietnam Wars, 1945–1990.
Professor Young co-edited with Mark Bradley the National History Center’s volume Making Sense of the Vietnam War, the first in the Reintrepreting History series published by the Oxford University Press. The volume is available for purchase.