In recent years, American diplomatic and military historians have begun to reexamine Cold War-era nation-building efforts in Vietnam and elsewhere. This essay explores the contested and contingent meanings of some US-sponsored nation-building programs established in the Republic of Vietnam during the 1960s. By focusing on nation-building activities in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang during the peak years of the Vietnam War, this essay suggests how historians may begin to assess these indirect effects of the war within a more nuanced, local Vietnamese historical framework. Such a history necessarily focuses on particular places and on the specific social and environmental conditions that shaped the course and outcome of nation-building projects undertaken there. Despite the universalist aspirations inherent in nation building, its effects varied widely from one place to another. In assessing the course and fate of these nation-building initiatives, this essay draws from the varied archival documents produced and collected by American provincial advisors during their stays in An Giang. A close reading of these reports reveals why the history of American nation-building programs in the Republic of Vietnam cannot be explained solely by reference to ideologies of modernization and counterinsurgency.
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