Family, friends, former students and fellow faculty members gathered in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union on Thursday, April 21 to celebrate the honorable life, work and legacy of renowned historian and antiwar activist Ngo Vinh Long. This event was held as part of the Socialist and Marxist Studies Series, co-sponsored by the Maine Peace Action Committee and Division of Student Affairs, which has hosted hundreds of programs since its start in 1985. Many individuals from the University of Maine community were grateful to have this event as a space to share their fond memories of Long as a professor, mentor and cherished friend.
Professor Long passed away in October 2022, leaving behind “a major hole in the history curriculum, as well as in the hearts of former colleagues and friends,” former UMaine colleague Professor Elizabeth McKillen said.
Before joining the university in 1985, Long had already made quite the name for himself as a highly influential antiwar and anti-imperialist activist. In describing his early life, Long’s long-time colleague and friend, Professor Douglas Allen, explained, “As a teenager, he was hired by the U.S. government and military, and especially USAID as a translator and mapmaker. His experiences transformed him into an activist and an opponent of Saigon’s and Washington’s policies and actions. He had to flee Vietnam before becoming the first Vietnamese student at Harvard at age 21.”
Expanding on his ultimate goals, Professor Allen added, “Long envisioned and worked for a future Vietnam, a future United States of America and a future world that would be committed to meeting the needs of all, especially the impoverished peasants, wage workers, and others who were most oppressed and had the least freedom.”
“Much to the discomfort of others, especially others with political, economic, academic, and other power, Ngo Vinh Long was a troublemaker who was always making good trouble…Long had no illusions about the consequences of his activism for his career, security, and wellbeing. Long often shared his understanding that in taking such views and positions, he would pay the price,” Allen added.
Also present to share her memories of Long as an advisor, mentor and friend was An Nguyen, a UMaine student currently finishing her Ph.D. in history. Nguyen reflected on the important lessons Long taught her during their time working together on shared passions.
“I learned that writing history is not about speaking for, or even giving voice to people of the past. [It] is about listening to what they had to say and creating a space for them to tell their own story,” Nguyen said.
Vihn-Nhan Ngo, one of Long’s surviving sons, vouched for Nguyen’s description of his father’s admirable character in saying, “He threw a wrench into the system. He continued to do so for years and became an inspiration to his students and peers.”
Others who presented at the event spoke of Long’s many talents, including cooking, and, perhaps most impressively, his ability to fit a pun or two into any conversation.
The famous Noam Chomsky, a close friend of Long’s during the anti-war period, was unable to be present for the event, however he took the time to send along a message filled with high praise of Long’s accomplishments during his life.
Chomsky wrote, “He had to brave bitter attacks, even within the university…But, he was undeterred. Dedicated to the cause of saving the people of Vietnam from virtual obliteration. It’s erased from memory here, but by 1967, when mass opposition to U.S. criminal atrocities in Vietnam was finally reaching substantial scale, Bernard Fall, the most respected scholar and military analyst of Vietnam wondered whether Vietnam could even survive as a cultural and historical entity under the most savage assault ever launched against a region of that size. Vietnam did survive. Ngo Vinh Long deserves no slight credit for that.”
Ngo Vinh Long is remembered by many as being an invaluable presence wherever he went throughout his life, UMaine included. His influence and respected legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of former students, colleagues, friends, and beyond.
Long’s published works include his 1973 book “Before the Revolution: The Vietnamese Peasants Under the French.” To learn more or view past events of the UMaine Socialist and Marxist Series, visit https://umaine.edu/socialistandmarxiststudiesseries/.