Publication Date

October 2, 2023

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


Cultural, Economic, Political

Ngo Vinh Long

Photo courtesy Ngo Vinh Nhan

Nego Vinh Long, internationally renowned antiwar historian, was born on April 10, 1944, in the southern province of Vinh Long in Vietnam and died in Bangor, Maine, on October 12, 2022. He joined the Department of History at the University of Maine in Orono in 1985, where he served as a professor of history until his death.

Long arrived in the United States in the early 1960s as a high school exchange student in Missouri. He then attended Harvard University, where he earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees. While at Harvard, Long was often regarded as the most prominent antiwar Vietnamese in the United States, and his writings were a major source of information and analysis. He was often a featured speaker at teach-ins, rallies, and protests alongside Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and other intellectual leaders of the antiwar movement.

While a graduate student, Long authored the groundbreaking book Before the Revolution: The Vietnamese Peasants under the French (MIT Press, 1973; 2nd ed., Columbia Univ. Press, 1991), providing an understanding of economic, political, cultural, and ideological dimensions of French colonialism. He next published Vietnamese Women in Society and Revolution: The French Colonial Period (Vietnam Resource Center, 1974), on how Vietnamese women related to French colonialism and revolutionary struggles. He later co-edited, with me, Coming to Terms: Indochina, the United States, and the War (Westview Press, 1991), in which Long wrote the lead chapter on Vietnam.

Long’s contributions extend beyond his publications. He organized and spoke at many of the earliest, largest, and most significant antiwar rallies at Harvard, in Washington, DC, and throughout the United States. He was a founder of the Vietnam Resource Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; founder and main writer for the weekly newsletter Thoi Bao Ga; a founder of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars and its journal, the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars; and a founder of the Vietnam Studies Group. He was also the first activist to provide evidence of birth deformities linked to the US military’s use of Agent Orange.

A key academic debate has been about activism versus professionalism. An activist intellectual and intellectual activist, Long rejected this rigid dichotomy. He felt that his activism broadened and deepened his approach to and understanding of history, and his understanding as an engaged intellectual historian informed, broadened, and deepened his antiwar, peace, and justice work.

Appreciated for his endless puns and welcoming friendly spirit and as a very knowledgeable and courageous activist scholar, Long had no illusions about the consequences for his personal life, security, and career. He shared that he had become the target of hatred and attacks, including a gasoline bomb thrown at him after a Harvard talk in 1981. “From 1975 to 1995, my life was hell,” he said multiple times.

At UMaine, Long taught a wide range of history courses covering all of Asia. He was greatly admired and fondly regarded by colleagues and students. He remained the engaged intellectual, serving as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Vietnam in 2000–2001, organizing numerous summer conferences for Vietnamese and other scholars, and generously giving his time and knowledge in supporting historians and other scholars. After the Vietnam War ended, he continued to write articles and to provide interviews and resource material for the New York Times, the BBC, Le Monde, and other influential media.

As a historian, Long embraced an open-ended multidimensional approach, sought principled compromises, and adjusted to contextual changes, while attempting to maintain his revolutionary vision of mutual understanding, reconciliation, peace, and justice. He worked for a vision of a democratic socialist Vietnam that would be diverse, inclusive, panhumanist, and radically egalitarian. Such a Vietnam would be nonviolent and organically harmonious, overcome divisive conflicts, and promote freedom and social justice. Long envisioned his historical work as essential for a future in which Vietnam, the United States, and the world committed to meeting the needs of all, especially the most oppressed with the least freedom.

Throughout his life, Ngo Vinh Long exemplified the indispensable contributions of a progressive historian. While his greatest accomplishment was helping to end the Vietnam War, his goal was to pave the way for new and hopeful beginnings and for a much better future.

Douglas Allen
University of Maine, Orono (emeritus)

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