Ngo Vinh Long, a University of Maine history professor whose outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War made him both a beacon for peace and a target for violence, died in Bangor on Oct. 12 at age 78, after a brief illness, according to the UMaine history department.
Long came to UMaine in 1985, just over 20 years after he arrived in the U.S. as the first-ever Vietnamese student at Harvard University. Over the course of a nearly 60-year career, Long became an internationally respected scholar and writer who vigorously opposed the Vietnam War — often to loud and even threatening criticism from fellow Vietnamese.
Stephen Miller, chair of the history department at UMaine, said that while Long was a leading figure in the study of Vietnamese history, his friends and colleagues knew him as a kind and good-humored man who maintained many and varied interests throughout his life.
“I knew a kind-hearted Long as a friend who always wanted to talk about his children, his guitar playing and his photography, and someone who could never resist a pun,” Miller said. “The [department] and the entire University of Maine community will miss Long very much.”
Within a year of arriving stateside in 1964, Long was organizing anti-war demonstrations and occupations, which he continued to do throughout the war. By the end of the war in 1975, Long faced criticism from newly arrived Vietnamese refugees, who accused him of being an apologist for the Communist government of Vietnam. On several occasions, he received death threats and actual attacks on his life, including in 1981, when gasoline bombs were thrown at him during a talk he was giving at Harvard.
Long was born in 1944 in southern Vietnam, the son of anti-war activists who often had to go into hiding while Long was a child, according to an obituary published in The New York Times. He said he learned English by reading Charles Dickens, and at age 16, got a job traveling around Vietnam helping to make maps for the American military. By 1962, disgusted by the injustices he saw, he obtained an exit visa from Vietnam and was accepted into Harvard.
He became a permanent resident of the U.S. in 1976 and a citizen in 1991. After finishing his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1978, he was hired at UMaine in 1985, where in addition to teaching popular classes on Asian history, politics and economics, he was a prolific writer, with more than 100 publications to his name. He also regularly contributed commentary to news outlets including Le Monde and the BBC.
At the time of his death, he was still a faculty member at UMaine, as Adelaide & Alan Bird Professor of History. Long is survived by his wife, Mai Huong Nguyen, and four children, including two sons with Nguyen and a son and daughter from a first marriage.