Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta

Paperback | April 6, 2012

byDavid Andrew BiggsForeword byWilliam Cronon

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Winner of the 2012 George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History

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.

Watch the book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/user/UWashingtonPress#p/u/2/gp1-UItZqsk

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Winner of the 2012 George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental HistoryIn 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 a...

From the Jacket

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...

David Biggs is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.David Biggs is associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9.03 × 6.02 × 0.74 inPublished:April 6, 2012Publisher:University Of Washington PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0295991992

ISBN - 13:9780295991993

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Table of Contents

Foreword: Nation-Making in the Mekong Mire by William Cronon Acknowledgements Introduction 1 Water's Edge 2 Water Grid 3 Hydroagricultural Crisis4 Balkanization 5 Modernization6 American War Epilogue Notes Bibliography Index

Editorial Reviews

Winner of the 2012 George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental HistoryIn 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.Watch the book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/user/UWashingtonPress#p/u/2/gp1-UItZqskThe 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