A Review of The Vietnam War and Theologies of Memory

Why are wars so common given that they are so destructive? When they are so rarely won? When they are so often fought for reasons that turn out to be lies? When they invariably bring out the worst in human brutality? How do individuals and societies recover from such destruction and mendacity?

Theological contributions to the enormous literature on such questions have been few and far between. Great theology books have been written about peace, but aside from studies of Old Testament warfare, hardly any have been written on war. The Vietnam War and Theologies of Memory is thus a welcome contribution to theological ethics.

The lack of theological analysis of the Vietnam War is particularly important for Jonathan Tran, a Vietnamese Amer­ican teaching at Baylor University. "How could something as theoretically remote and morally pristine as theology relate to something as politically important as America's killing in Vietnam?" he asks, and the book is an answer to that question. One of numerous recent attempts to challenge the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr, Tran's book may eventually take its place alongside works like William Cavanaugh's Torture and Eucha­rist and J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account. In the wake of giants such as Stanley Hauer­was, Rowan Williams and John Milbank, Tran is bold enough to recognize the radical politics of patristic and medieval theology and to claim that such theology is of direct relevance to contemporary political theory.