This dissertation addresses the subject of noncommunist political and cultural ideology in urban South Vietnam during 1954-1975. It contributes to the historiography of the Vietnam War, specifically on the long-neglected Republic of Vietnam (RVN) that has received greater attention in the last decade. The basic argument is that the postcolonial ideological vision of most urban South Vietnamese diverged greatly from that of the Vietnamese communist revolutionaries. This vision explains for the puzzling question on why the communist revolutionaries were far more effective in winning the minds and hearts of Vietnamese in countryside than in cities. At the same time, this vision was complicated by the uneasy relationship with the Americans.
The dissertation examines four aspects in particular. First is the construction of anticommunism: Although influenced by Cold War bipolarity, anticommunism in urban South Vietnam was shaped initially and primarily by earlier differences about modernity and post-colonialism. It was intensified through intra-Vietnamese experiences of the First Indochina War.
The second aspect is the promotion of individualism. Instead of the socialist person as advocated by communist revolutionaries, urban South Vietnamese promoted a bourgeois petit vision of the postcolonial person. Much of the sources for this promotion came from the West, especially France and the U.S. But it was left to urban South Vietnamese writers to interpret and promote what this person ought to be.
The third one concerns the development of nationalism. Urban South Vietnam continued to uphold the views of nationalism developed during late colonialism, such as the elevation of national heroes and the essentialization of Vietnamese civilization. Noncommunist South Vietnamese urbanites were influenced by ethnic nationalism, although they also developed the tendency to look towards other newly independent nations for nationalistic inspiration and ideas about their own postcolonial nation.
The last aspect has to do with the relationship with Americans: The views of urban South Vietnamese on the U.S. were generally positive during the early years of the RVN. But there was also wariness that burst into resentment and anti-Americanism after Washington Americanized the war in 1965. The dissertation looks into two very different urban groups in order to extract the variety of sources about anti-Americanism.