- Cold War Friendships: Korea, Vietnam, and Asian American Literature by Josephine Nock-Hee Park
Josephine Park's latest book is an ambitious, engaging, and readable account of Asian allies in US cultural productions about the two events most closely linked with Cold War conflicts: the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The Cold War, as Park points out, was a struggle over ideology between US capitalism and Soviet communism. For these superpowers, the wars conducted on foreign soil in Asia demanded not only the militarized labor of the local population; they were also ventures in a more abstract, yet all-encompassing project of persuasion, affiliation, sympathy, and attachment. Drawing from both literature and film, Park shows how the figure of the friendly Asian—who, in this context, must transcend simple comradeship—is positioned as a validating force for the United States' place in the mid-twentieth century.
Invoking Jacques Derrida's notion of the friend, Park insists that the Korean or Vietnamese ally destabilizes any oppositional binary that might inform this category. The Korean or Vietnamese proxy "perpetually deconstructs the friend-enemy distinction to lay bare the politics of friendship" (10). Rather than an entity that is absolutely benign or absolutely hostile, the Asian proxy in these wars is a friendly (as opposed to a friend), a term Park borrows and repurposes from a military colloquialism coined to describe racialized allies. Insofar as the making of the racialized friendly relies on an accompanying imperialism that has already cast him or her as an antagonist, friendlies can never become friends. They must always be held at arm's length. The refugee or asylum seeker, once relocated to the US nation-state after the war, can never shed his or her foreignness and association with the enemy. Park traces this dynamic across three archetypes: the allied soldier, the international student, and the war orphan/transnational adoptee.
Part 1 of Cold War Friendships contains four chapters that address the Korean War. These perform a deft unpacking of films such as Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet, Doulas Sirk's Battle Hymn, and John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate and novels such as Richard E. Kim's The Martyred, Susan Choi's The Foreign Student, and Changrae Lee's The Surrendered. Here, Asian friendlies and domestic people of color are alternatingly conflated and separated. The war orphan wavers between an emblem of innocence calling out for redemption and a recalcitrant subject who resists rescue. A romance between a [End Page 202] Korean international student and a US white southern woman reveals the possibilities and limitations of comparing the corresponding civil wars by which each party is affected. Korean friendlies must always be a foreign emissary shoring up the US Cold War interests. If they attempt to overstep the boundaries preventing their incorporation into the US nation-state or if they refuse to generate the symbolic capital demanded of them within this compact, the confines of their positionality become clear.
Part 2 consists of four chapters on the Vietnam War. Literary texts such as Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Robin Moore's The Green Berets, Le Ly Hayslip's When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace, and Lan Cao's Monkey Bridge rub shoulders with filmic narratives like Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter and Oliver Stone's Vietnam War trilogy. "Wartime political alliances are so often underwritten by sexual ones," Park notes (172). The violence of connections in which female friendlies find themselves ensnared is especially palpable in these sections. Through gendered alliances with power, female friendlies protect US aggressors from any consciousness of their actions in an unjust war. The last chapter of part 2, on Andrew X. Pham's Catfish and Mandala, complicates an easy dichotomy between the racialized friendly and a purportedly white universal American subject. Pham's travelogue recounts his visit to Vietnam to show how power-laden interactions between the United States and local Vietnamese friendlies persist intraethnically. This sets up the reader nicely...