"These goodies haunt your mind" : consumer culture and resistance to American nation-building in South Vietnam, 1963-1975
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From 1963 to 1975, the United States invested billions of dollars to establish an anticommunist, independent, and modern nation in South Vietnam. In order to achieve its nation-building goals, the U.S. government facilitated the importation of material goods into South Vietnam to support both American soldiers and civilians and Vietnamese citizens. While the U.S. military allowed soldiers to indulge their desires for food, alcohol, luxury goods, and services, U.S. officials expected South Vietnamese to follow the path of industrial self-sufficiency to economic prosperity. American leaders wanted them to produce goods for themselves, not develop the consumption habits of First World citizens. However, consumer and luxury goods unintended for Vietnamese consumption nevertheless entered the local black market through two main avenues--the PX program and the Commercial Import Program (CIP). The circulation of illegal goods within South Vietnam's underground economy produced serious consequences for America's overarching nation-building objectives. This essay examines the combination of economic, political, and cultural forces shaping South Vietnamese urban society after 1963, arguably the most important years of South Vietnam's existence. It focuses on two major research questions: how did the translocation of American consumerism alter South Vietnam's culture and society, and how did changes in South Vietnamese culture and society, in turn, affect the goals of American nation-building? It argues that U.S. consumerism created a service economy that brought social disruptions to urban South Vietnam. Moreover, the consumerism that dominated U.S. military bases in South Vietnam influenced the development of a consumer society there, ultimately hampering America's goal of creating a stable and independent nation. South Vietnamese embraced some aspects of consumerism counter to the stipulation of Americans themselves; in doing so, they unintentionally resisted America's purported political and economic priorities through appropriating the wartime diffusion of consumer culture for their own material wishes. Uncovering the war's impact on the Vietnamese, this essay analyzes South Vietnamese economy and culture to provide a new explanation for why and how U.S. nation-building continued to deteriorate in South Vietnam.