Synopses & Reviews
In the twentieth century, the Mekong Delta has emerged as one of Vietnam's most important economic regions. Its swamps, marshes, creeks, and canals have played a major role in Vietnam's turbulent past, from the struggles of colonialism to the Cold War and the present day. Quagmire
considers these struggles, their antecedents, and their legacies through the lens of environmental history.
Beginning with the French conquest in the 1860s, colonial reclamation schemes and pacification efforts centered on the development of a dense network of new canals to open land for agriculture. These projects helped precipitate economic and environmental crises in the 1930s, and subsequent struggles after 1945 led to the balkanization of the delta into a patchwork of regions controlled by the Viet Minh, paramilitary religious sects, and the struggling Franco-Vietnamese government. After 1954, new settlements were built with American funds and equipment in a crash program intended to solve continuing economic and environmental problems. Finally, the American military collapse in Vietnam is revealed as not simply a failure of policy makers but also a failure to understand the historical, political, and environmental complexity of the spaces American troops attempted to occupy and control.
By exploring the delta as a quagmire in both natural and political terms, Biggs shows how engineered transformations of the Mekong Delta landscape--channelized rivers, a complex canal system, hydropower development, deforestation--have interacted with equally complex transformations in the geopolitics of the region. Quagmire delves beyond common stereotypes to present an intricate, rich history that shows how closely political and ecological issues are intertwined in the human interactions with the water environment in the Mekong Delta.
David Biggs is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Riverside."No one before Biggs has focused so intensely on the landscapes and waterscapes in which the Vietnam War was fought and their relationship to the complex colonial history of transformation that had been occurring for the century prior to the conflict." -William Cronon
"This brilliantly researched book explains the part that the environment has played in several colonial schemes in the Mekong Delta and in America's most tragic war there, and how the environmental history of the Mekong Delta has been part of the process of nation-building in Vietnam." -Mart Stewart, Western Washington University
"The delta, has played a decisive role in the successes and the failures of colonial and post-colonial regimes, of the American war efforts, and of modernization and development. Biggs's focus on the muddied delta and its 'quagmire' characteristics that shaped every economic, agriculture, and political project is among the first of its kind." -Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Biggs's command of the sources, both Vietnamese and Western, is impressive, and his book will interest historians of the Vietnam War as background information. Otherwise, it is an important contribution to Vietnam history and geography. Summing up: Highly recommended." --F.N. Egerton, Choice, August 2011
"This book is a major achievement that fundamentally recasts our understanding of twentieth-century Vietnamese history. Its deftly written chapters, simultaneously expansive in their concerns yet full of nuance and telling narrative detail, will become the new starting point for further research . . ." -Mark Philip Bradley, American Historical Review, February 2012
"Biggs unfolds an environmental history equally rewarding for regional specialists and lifelong residents as well as those for whom the Mekong Delta evokes only memories of war. . . The book makes a significant contribution to development studies and political geography around the role of nature in nation-building projects." -Brian Marks, The Geographical Review, Vol. 102:3
By exploring the delta as a quagmire in both natural and political terms, Biggs shows how engineered transformations of the Mekong Delta landscapechannelized rivers, a complex canal system, hydropower development, deforestationhave interacted with equally complex transformations in the geopolitics of the region. Quagmire delves beyond common stereotypes to present an intricate, rich history that shows how closely political and ecological issues are intertwined in the human interactions with the water environment in the Mekong Delta.