February 1973: Nguyễn Thanh Châu Captures a Scene of Hope int he Mekong Delta

After the Paris Peace Accords were signed on 27 January 1973, Nguyễn Thanh Châu painted a peaceful landscape of a river bank near Mỹ Tho in the Mekong Delta (fig. 1). The watercolours and paper used to render the painting were supplied by the Soviet Union and distributed by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) government to resistance artists working in the south, according to Châu.

Despite the Accords being largely ineffective in that they failed to bring the conflict in Vietnam to an immediate close, Châu’s scenic rendition of the fiercely contested Mekong Delta countryside alludes to a general feeling of hope that those fighting for the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Peopl’s Liberation Armed Forces of Vietnam (PLAF) must have sensed the war was finally drawing to a close in their favour.

Châu spent most years of the war in Tây Ninh Province and the Mekong Delta’s Plain of Reeds (Đồng Tháp Mười) alongside artists Thái Hà, Huỳnh Phương Đông and Lê Lâm. He witnessed battles in places such as the Tiền River, the Black Virgin Mountain Range (Núi Bà Đen) and near the tunnels of Củ Chi before his advance with the army on its final assault on Saigon in April 1975.

Figure 1: Nguyễn Thanh Châu, 1973, Mỹ Tho Province, Mekong Delta, “Sau hiệp nghị Paris 73, Mỹ Tho (After Paris Peace Accords, Mỹ Tho).” Watercolour on machine-made paper.

While the original results of the Paris Peace Accords effectively removed US ground troops from Vietnam, the war was far from over. As North Vietnamese troops continued to overrun large areas of the country in an effort to assert more control throughout South Vietnam, intense fighting broke out again in March 1973 between North and South Vietnamese forces. As we can tell from the paintings by Nguyễn Ðức Thọ in Hai Phong, northern cities continued to be on high alert to bombing raids well into 1975 before the liberation of Saigon in April.

Newly appointed US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was sharply criticized by some senators after he stated that he would recommend resumption of US bombing in North Vietnam if PAVN forrces launched a major offensive against South Vietnam in June 1973.

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