By now we all know that Vietnam is a country, not a war. But how have decades, and even centuries, of war impacted the land of this southeast Asian nation? Professor David A. Biggs
of the University of California, Riverside, specializes in Vietnamese environmental history. In Footprints of War: Militarized Landscapes of Vietnam
(University of Washington Press, 2018) he examines the impacts of warfare in the region around Hue in central Vietnam. Using cutting edge methodology drawn from GIS (graphic information system), aerial photography, and more traditional archival documents, Biggs finds legacies of war in the soil, water, and rain forests.
Starting with 14th-century battles between the Cham states and the invading Viet and continuing through the Ming Dynasty’s occupation in the early 1400s, the Tayson Rebellion (1771-1802) and the French colonial occupation from the 1880s to 1954, Biggs argues for an important pre-history of wars prior to the American War of the 1960s to January, 1973. The book ends with the American military machines “creative destruction” and a discussion of the toxic war remnants that pollute former battlefields and military bases. Linking environmental history to social, military, and political history, Footprints of War
excavates the layers of history that make up the landscape of central Vietnam. Our conversation about the book reveals his deep understanding of Vietnamese culture and his original conceptualization of the meaning of war in the country.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam
(Oxford, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, he can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.