The Fourth Cold War Oral History Workshop "Reconceptualizing the Cold War"

The Fourth Cold War Oral History Workshop "Reconceptualizing the Cold War"

"Reconceptualizing the Cold War: On-the-Ground-Experience in Asia" Project Workshop

19 July 2021 - 31 July 2021

Online Workshop via Google Docs and Zoom

The fourth Reconceptualizing the Cold War workshop was held online from 19 to 31, July 2021. Due to the COVID-19 situation, this workshop was held virtually by utilizing Google Docs and Zoom. We read one paper a day, and exchanged 35-100 comments per paper.

Event Details

Day 1 (July 19): "Five Families: Case Studies of Families on 'Un-Filipino Activities'"

Ricky C. Ornopia (University of the Philippines Diliman): This paper studies on the House Committee on Un-Filipino Activities and the five families that were identified as involving “un-Filipino” activities. These five families are associated with the Hukbalahap (People’s Army Against the Japanese), a former Filipino guerrilla group during WWII, which was identified with communism and “un-Filipino” activities in the post-WWII period. Starting with Ornopia's paper is appropriate for some reasons. First of all, it looks at some continuities from the World War II period (e.g. the Huks emerged as a resistance movement against the Japanese, and later their presence came to be seen from another angle with the emergence of the Cold War perspective). Second, it was supposed to be the first major “communist” rebellion defeated by the U.S.-Filipino counterinsurgency operations. It also shows how national categories (e.g. "un-Filipino") and ideological categories (communism, democracy, freedom) intertwined in the post-WWII era.

Day 2 (July 20): "Re-positioning Singapore Chinese Student Movement in the Cold War: Performing “China,” Socialism, and Malayan Nation, 1950s-1960s"

Beiyu Zhang (Jinan University, China): Today we will read Beiyu Zhang's paper, "Repositioning Chinese Singaporean Student Movements in the Cold War." After reviewing existing perceptions about Singaporean student movements, this paper delves into internal documents, oral histories, and novels, showing how Chinese Singaporean student movements responded to changing national and international discourses and priorities. The paper also shows different perceptions about the movements among the participants.

Day 3 (July 21): "Re-examination of 'Thai soldiers' in the Korean War: Public Service or Self-interest?"

Sujane Kanparit (Journalist, Sarakadee Magazine): This paper reviews the two major narratives about Thai soldiers in the Korean War: (1) as an act of heroism to protect the Free World, and (2) as Thailand's entry point to the Cold War world. Then, he goes on to share oral history interviews with the Thai soldiers who were actually sent to and fought in Korea. His research reveals lived experience of these Thai soldiers, and traces consequences of Thailand's involvement in the Korean War.

Day 4 (July 22): "Neither Heroes nor Mercenaries: Thai Troops Involvement in South Vietnam and the Voices from South Vietnamese, 1967–1972"

Morragotwong Phumplab (National University of Singapore / Thammasat University): Following Sujane Kanparit's paper on Thai soldiers' experiences in Korea, today, we read a paper on Thai soldiers's experiences in the Vietnam War. First, the paper reviews the official and alternative narratives of Thailand's involvement in the Vietnam War. Then, it delves deeper into oral histories of Thai soldiers who were sent and fought in South Vietnam. The latter part of the paper focuses more on these solders' personal histories, revealing their war and everyday experiences, as well as their lives in the postwar era.

Day 5 (July 23): "Narratives of Victimization and the Temporal Delimitation of the Khmer Rouge Genocide"

Savina Sirik (University of Gothenburg, Sweden): Today, we read a paper on oral histories of former Khmer Rouge members and victims. First, this paper reviews the official narrative of victimization, and then it analyzes how the oral histories frame the "victimization" in relation to the official narrative and temporality of the period in Cambodia. Her interviewees' accounts reveal an alternative timeframe and narrative about recent history of Cambodia. Our conversations developed along the experience of doing oral history in Southeast Asia, the problem of periodization, contested memories and memory studies, and rewriting of alternative history based on ordinary peoples' accounts.

Day 6 (July 24): "Ordinary Lives in an Extraordinary War: First-hand Accounts from Viet Nam"

Nguyen Diu-Huong (University of California, Irvine): Today, we read a paper that focuses on civilians' everyday lives in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Conceptually, it is centered around ordinary people's strategies for survival.

Day 7 (July 26): "Reconceptualizing the Cold War: On-the-ground Experience in Asia"

Masuda Hajimu (National University of Singapore): The current situation in studies of the Cold War is encouraging and discouraging at the same time. On the one hand, we have seen the flourishing of the stimulating trend of diversification in the research of the Cold War. However, this has also been a trend of fractionalization of research that has fixed a tendency toward a division of labor among scholars, which, in turn, has solidified conventional Cold War narratives. This paper briefly reviews recent scholarship on the Cold War, and identifies fundamental problems faced in recent years. Then, it introduces my new project "Reconceptualizing the Cold War: On-the- Ground Experiences in Asia." Lastly, it makes five suggestions for future studies of the Cold War and the discipline of history in general: 1) use of "social warfare" as a category of analysis; 2) attention to ordinary people's emotions and everyday struggles; 3) adoption of an inductive approach to the Cold War world; 4) positioning of Cold War Asia as a method; and 5) re-framing the roles of history in the age of relativism.

Day 8 (July 27): "The Testimonial Narratives of the Tausug Survivors during the 1974 Battle of Jolo: Cold War Discourse and Counter-History"

Elgin G.R. Salomon (University of the Philippines Visayas): Today we read a paper that looks into the history of the Battle of Jolo, a major military clash between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (a militant separatist group of Muslim Filipinos). At that time, the battle was depicted along the line of the Cold War rhetorics. The paper reveals Tausug survivors' accounts based on his oral history interviews, and analyzes the origins and nature of the Moro National Liberation Front, the suppression by the government, and the reaction and participation of the people in Jolo. Our discussions developed along themes such as red-tagging by the Marcos regime, MNLF's usage of Maoist military strategy, and why and how the people of Jolo participated/rejected MNLF and the government's propaganda.

Day 9 (July 28): "The Act of Commemoration by the Retired Malayan Communists"

Jason Ng Sze Chieh (New Era University College in Malaysia): Today we read a paper that analyzes various modes of commemoration of defeated communists through examining monuments, museums, websites, and memoirs in Malaysia, where prioritization of ethnic Malay is constitutionally defined. A thread of our discussions involved with the contested aspects of the histories and memories of the MCP, but there were also a number of comments to direct the attention to the similarities in the ways the Malaysian government and the MCP imagined their "nation."

Day 10 (July 29): "Afterlife of Cold War memories: Familial transmission of Martial Law era memories in the post-Cold War Philippines"

Mary Grace R. Conception (University of the Philippines Diliman): This paper turns eyes toward the contemporary Philippines, exploring the shaping and transmission of memories concerning the Martial Law era in the 1970s and 1980s. The focus, however, is not on conventional venues of memory production, such as mass media, museums, education, or cultural productions; rather, this paper looks into a much more intimate venue of memory production: family. Based on oral history interviews, the paper examines how memories of the Martial Law era under the Marcos regime were transmitted from former activist parents to their children, how such memories were received by those children who lack their own memories of the era, and how such memories function in their lives and in Philippine society. The paper provides a rare analysis of how activists' memories are privately carried through to the younger family members. In the end, it discusses why such memories of the Cold War still matter, today.

Day 11 (July 31): Zoom Wrap-up Meeting

All Workshop Participants & Overseas Researchers: An online roundtable discussion was held on the last day of the 4th workshop, with current and past workshop participants, as well as our new overseas researchers. It was really exciting to "see" all participants and to discuss each participant's subject, one by one.