Posts Tagged ‘Why’

Asking the Right Questions About the War

April 13, 2008

Vietnam Memorial, Washington DCAs we think about the Vietnam War, what are some important questions to study? The war was a traumatic experience for the United States: 58,000 American dead, a major foreign policy setback, billions of dollars spent, domestic unrest, and re-ordering of powers between the branches of government should provide motivation to consider the war and study how did these results come to pass?

The syllabus that will be constructed here will consider these questions on the war:

  • Why did the US fight in Vietnam?
  • What were the key decisions, how were they made, and who made them?
  • What mistakes were made, who made them, and why?
  • Were alternative strategies for the war considered or attempted?
  • Was America’s conduct of the war consonant with just war concepts, and did the media scrutiny change the standards for conduct of a war?
  • What was the experience of the war to those asked to fight it, and how did it affect them?

This website is an online syllabus to support a seminar course on the war in Vietnam. Primary course texts are a requirement for all students. The additional Book Reviews listed each week will be divided between students who will introduce them as book reviews.

Primary Course Texts:

  • Elliott, Duong Van Mai. The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. New York: Wiley, 1979.
  • Maurer, Harry. Strange Ground: Americans in Vietnam, 1945-1975, an Oral History. 1st ed. New York: H. Holt, 1989.
  • Schlight, John. A War Too Long: The USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961-1975. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1996. (free US Gov’t download is linked at topic 8)

Weekly Book Reviews


  • Jamieson, Neil L. Understanding Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
  • Viện , Nguyễn Khắc . Tradition and Revolution in Vietnam. Berkeley, Calif: Indochina Resource Center, 1974.


  • Fall, Bernard B. Street Without Joy: The French Debacle In Indochina. Stackpole Books, 2005.


  • Duiker, William J. Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.
  • Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.


  • Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1972.
  • Berman, Larry. Planning a Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 1982.


  • Krepinevich, Andrew F. The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
  • Summers, Harry G. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982.


  • Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
  • Graham, Herman. The Brothers’ Vietnam War: Black Power, Manhood, and the Military Experience. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.
  • Moore, Harold G. We Were Soldiers Once -and Young: Ia Drang, the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 1992.
  • Whalon, Pete. The Saigon Zoo: Vietnam’s Other War: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll. Infinity Publishing, 2004.


  • Bilton, Michael. Four Hours in My Lai. New York: Viking, 1992.
  • Shay, Jonathan. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. New York: Scribner, 1994.


  • Clodfelter, Mark. The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam. New York: Free Press, 1989.
  • Schlight, John. The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965-1968. The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia. Washington, D.C: Office of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force, 1988.
  • Trâm , Đặng Thùy. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. 1st ed. New York: Harmony Books, 2007


  • DeBenedetti, Charles. An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era. 1st ed. Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1990.
  • Foley, Michael S. Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.


  • Berman, Larry. No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam. New York: Free Press, 2001.
  • Brigham Robert K. ARVN: Life and Death in the South Vietnamese Army. University Press of Kansas, 2006.


  • Michel, Marshall L. The Eleven Days of Christmas: America’s Last Vietnam Battle. 1st ed. San Francisco, Calif: Encounter Books, 2002.
  • Randolph, Stephen P. Powerful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Easter Offensive. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2007.


  • Neu, Charles E. After Vietnam: Legacies of a Lost War. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
  • Shafer, D. Michael. The Legacy. Beacon Press, 1992.

Recommended Readings: General Overviews of America’s War

  • Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. America in crisis. New York: Wiley, 1979. Now in its 4th printing, Herring’s work is a balanced overview focused on the political history of the war in Washington and to lesser degrees, Saigon, and Hanoi.
  • Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam, a History. New York: Viking Press, 1983. Karnow’s popular journalistic history mirrors the PBS television series and traces the war as an epic narrative through the experiences of soldiers, statesmen, and politicans.
  • Kolko, Gabriel. Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience. New York: New Press, 1994. Kolko’s radical left interpretation of the war focuses on class struggle within Vietnam and interprets the war as an American offensive effort to impose market capitalism on emerging post-colonial states.
  • Lewy, Guenter. America in Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Lewy’s revisionist account defends America’s decision to fight but criticizes military leadership for picking a misguided strategy of attrition over pacification.
  • Lind, Michael. Vietnam, the Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict. New York: Free Press, 1999. In a strident revisionist interpretation, Lind argues World War III had to be fought in Vietnam as a safe (nuclear-free) arena for global superpower dominance.
  • Duiker, William J. Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Duiker’s overview of the war focuses on the political push-pull within the communist bloc partners, focusing on Hanoi’s relationships with the NLF, Beijing, and Moscow
  • Advertisements