CONCLUSION: RECOLONIZING THE PAST
Any explanation made by an individual or a group about events of the past or the future is constructed as a story that, as noted earlier, “adjusts”
The meaning of a narrative comes in part from its form. Dichotomies of fact/value, intellect/imagination, and reason/emotion merge in a narrative: “Stories are the enactment of the whole mind in concert with itself.” But a narrative also includes, in addition to essential facts, the value system according to which the facts may be evaluated; a narrative tells a story within an ideological and moral construct. Both intellectual and imaginative processes are engaged because the facts are presented in a framework that seems plausible, possible, and imaginable to the participants in the storytelling activity. Providing us with “a way of ordering and presenting a view of the world through a description of a situation involving characters, actions, and settings that changes over time,” narratives become crucially important to how we understand our present—and how we remember our past.
Our analysis of the narratives provided in both tourist sites and certain types of tour brochures suggests that Vietnam's tourist industry sees its commercial success as resting on its ability to transform Vietnam in the minds of the travelers who will visit the country. Over a billion dollars has already been invested in the representation of Vietnam. This process, which it is hoped will be rewarded handsomely by the tourists themselves, provides those tourists with an experience of the country very distant from the experience of the people of Vietnam. It is instead a construction of Vietnam—its history, its culture, its people—designed for Westerners, through their own eyes.
The ideological work done by the tourist sites, the local “hosts” who staff them, the literature that sells them, and the travelers who seek them out is an act of complicity. In a sense, there is a clash of the motives brought by each of these participants, which is resolved through the formulation of a historical narrative that appeases those who hold power. In the case of Vietnam, the objectives of many local people to honor their countrymen in victory and in death and to enlighten foreigners about the Vietnamese experience clash with their even greater need to extract from those foreigners the cash that the travelers will turn over only if the experience makes them feel better. So, rather than an
This reordering is evident in the contradictions that exist between the tourist narratives and those offered in Vietnam's official history. A common theme of the tourist industry is its invitation to travelers to view Vietnam through colonial eyes. The refurbishing and renaming of colonialera hotels, the revival of the excesses of imperialism, and the formulation of Vietnam's identity around the French referent all work to reposition Vietnam in relationship to its own past. Wealthy travelers are invited to assume the position of colonial conqueror, enjoying the fruits offered by the lesser, the conquered. In doing so, the power of Vietnamese resistance to colonialism and its oppression is erased from publicmemory and substituted with docile submission.
The tourist industry is, in fact, organized around Vietnamese supplication. Offering up their history, their culture, their art to the gaze of the Westerner, the people of Vietnam can be witnessed by tourists as living in the service of foreign visitors. There is no attention, either in the tourist literature or among the sites developed for tourist visits, to the success of Vietnam's industrialization efforts. The very concept of the modern, of a nation building an independent future, is overlooked by the tourist industry—aside from the foreign-built hotels that serve the tourist trade. On the contrary, the tremendous strength and forbearance which permitted the Vietnamese to overcome efforts at foreign domination and to set their own course are largely hidden from view.
While Vietnam's long history is recognized, it is not its history as defender of independence. Rather, it is Vietnam's ancient religious traditions—inaccurately separated from the country's political history— that are celebrated at the temples and pagodas to which tour buses swarm. Treks to the environs of the ethnic minority hill tribes render the traditions of a lost era another type of tourist attraction. With a population that is more young than old, it is venerability and the constancy of enduring religious convictions that are emphasized. There is a double irony in this, for religious freedom and tolerance for ethnic diversity would not be considered hallmarks of the Vietnamese experience, with tens of thousands of Buddhist monks only recently released from reeducation camps to return to those admired pagodas,  and a history of charges against the Vietnamese government of human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
If there is a group whose imagery in the travel literature is particularly
By foregrounding the delights of colonial decadence and backgrounding both the war years and any evidence of modernity; by foregrounding antiquity and backgrounding the vitality of youth; and by foregrounding women and backgrounding men, there is a constancy of effort to minimize the war's significance and to present it as finished business, now available for amusement. Tourists may witness the war in Vietnam with the same detached curiosity as the picnickers who attend reenactments of Civil War battles in the United States. By recreating as amusement the experiences of the war—the bars, the M-16s, the “R&R” retreats— by showing American military equipment resting in peace, forgotten among the weeds, by offering tranquil French colonial retreats as refuge from the rigors of tourism, the wars with the French and the Americans are shown as resolved, no longer a matter of concern or anxiety. Yet this again belies the experience of some Vietnamese, for whom the divisions between North and South persist.
Far from promoting understanding of the Vietnamese people, their valorous history, their culture and way of life, the tourist industry invites foreigners to experience Vietnam from the position of dominance and control that Westerners appeared to lose forever at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and in Saigon in 1975. The implications of the tourist industry's representation may extend as well, however, to Vietnam's own political memory and the formulation of its political agenda in the post-Soviet period.
Finally, tourism must be understood as a means of integrating a country into new global systems of power and politics, which must in turn influence the balance of power in a nation's domestic, as well as international, political affairs. Few planned economies have emphasized tourism as a means of generating revenue. As Vietnam continues its novel efforts to develop as a socialist polity with a market-oriented economy, fragile political relations are likely to be strained, and the relative power of private entrepreneurs and the state will surely undergo renegotiation. In international relations, Vietnam's representation offers to the world a warmer and friendlier Vietnam, which may have benefits in a range of political-economic venues. The inherent danger, however, is that the price paid for this nostalgic retelling of quaint colonialism may be a return to it.