Breaking from the Colonial Mold: Water Engineering and the Failure of Nation-Building in the Plain of Reeds, Vietnam

TitleBreaking from the Colonial Mold: Water Engineering and the Failure of Nation-Building in the Plain of Reeds, Vietnam
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsBiggs, D.
Secondary TitleTechnology and Culture
Abstract

While many studies have examined American nation-building or modernization campaigns from diplomatic or strategic perspectives during the Second Indochina War, few have yet to consider how pre-existing social, technological, and environmental relationships often determined a given project’s chances of success or failure. This essay examines American nation-building projects—especially reclamation and settlement programs—in the Plain of Reeds, a vast wetland area about fifty kilometers southwest of Ho Chi Minh City that since the French conquest of Vietnam in the 1860s had been a site for rebel movements and an important target for reclamation. When American advisors arrived in 1954, they encountered not only a deeply embedded insurgency with major bases in the area but also war-damaged infrastructure and engineering agencies and private contractors still deeply influenced by colonial arrangements. This colonial mold on social and environmental relationships constrained successive American programs and played a key role in the success or failure of specific efforts on the ground.

URLhttp://muse.jhu.edu/journals/technology_and_culture/v049/49.3.biggs.html