I have often gotten into discussions about history with Vietnamese, and when I try to make a point which a Vietnamese disagrees with, the Vietnamese person will say, “Well that’s one perspective. There are many perspectives in history. For instance, the Chinese might say one thing, but the Vietnamese say something else.”

I’ve often wondered where this kind of logic comes from, because people in other places do not use this form of (relativistic) logic to dispute historical matters as much as Vietnamese do. Instead, other people use evidence to argue over whether one view is more believable than another.

Recently I realized that this form of thinking probably comes from the “peaceful evolution” (diễn biến hòa bình) discourse. For at least the past couple of decades, Vietnamese have been warned about the dangers of peaceful evolution.

What is peaceful evolution? It is the idea that the Western capitalist world is attempting to undermine Vietnam by seducing people with ideas about how good capitalist and democratic societies are, and corrupting their minds with ideas about the problems in Vietnamese society.

One form of argumentation which is used in the discourse about peaceful evolution is to say that whatever ideas come from the West are merely perspectives.

Whether or not people agree with this, I think that they have internalized this form of argumentation, and that they use it today to debate about things like history.

However, not all history is perspective. In fact, most of it is not. Saying that the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia were a disaster, for instance, is not a perspective. There is much evidence which can be used to demonstrate that this view is correct.

In any case, this form of historical logic – arguing that a certain position about the past is a perspective – is not a universal form of logic. It is, however, prevalent in Vietnam. There has to be a reason for that. My guess would be that it comes from the diễn biến hòa bình discourse.

I also see it as a kind of “coping mechanism.” When you don’t like what someone says, all you have to do is say, “well that’s one perspective,” and by saying that, you can continue to feel good. You don’t have to change your ideas. It’s very convenient.