Analyzing Vietnamese Culture
James K. Bruton

         The Cultural Trilogy is a model for describing a culture and contrasting the differences between the reference culture (American culture) and another (that of Vietnam). The trilogy rests on three assumptions:

           Psychology (individual analysis): Culture is the result of interaction between the psychology and biology of the individual and the sociology of the communal group (Triad I).

           Sociology (time-factored activities): Culture consists of activities that people conduct within three time patterns: present, near-future, and past-to-future (Triad II).

           Anthropology (primordial sentiments and social organization of culture): Language, customs/ traditions, religion, ethnicity and race provide the bonds for the social organization of cultures in general (Triad III).

         I. Introduction This paper offers an approach for elucidating Vietnamese culture by comparing it with our own and exploring its impact on the war. It employs the Cultural Trilogy, a model developed by psychologist Edward C. Stewart, as a framework for comparing a reference culture with a target culture. Here the Trilogy will highlight some of the key constituents of Vietnamese culture. Since Vietnam's forced political reunification in 1976, many in the West regard Vietnam as a relatively homogeneous ethnicity with a unifying common culture. A closer look reveals a more complex society, one revealing discernible divisive impulses side-by-side with a strong integrative instinct.

         A former US Special Forces commander captured a slice of Vietnam's complexity from his observation of nearly 40 years ago:

         I thought that the typical racial melange of the highland A camp was interesting - Americans, Montagnards, and Vietnamese (LLDB, some interpreters). There was hardly anything that they had in common - race, religion, culture, goals, ad infinitum. When you threw in camps with Cambodians (Khmer Serai, KKK) or Chinese (e.g., SOG), it was even more diverse. Somehow it worked - probably because the Vietnamese were so thin on the ground and the Americans controlled the critical elements - pay, communications, supplies and aircraft.

         Ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) comprise about 86% of the population. Ethnic minority groups include Tay, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese), Khmer, Muong, Nung, Hmong, Dao, Jarai, and Ede. Many of these minorities reside in the northern mountainous regions, others in the Central Highlands. Whereas the term "multicultural" overstates, Vietnam does embody distinct ethnic, regional, religious, and cultural differences - not unlike the majority of nations today.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE WOMEN OF VIETNAM.