POL3 227: The Vietnam War 
Spring 2011
Professor William A. Joseph
PNE 232, (781) 283-2201


The purpose of this course is to understand and analyze the origins, development, consequences, and legacies of war and revolution in Vietnam from the early twentieth century to the present.

After an introductory session, we will look at the meaning and causes of revolution, the relationship between revolution and war, and the tactics and strategies of both revolutionaries and those who want to stop them from winning power and achieving their revolutionary goals. The remainder of the course will focus specifically on war and revolutions in Vietnam and will consider topics such as: the impact of French colonialism on traditional Vietnamese society; the role of World War II in shaping nationalism and communism in Vietnam; leadership (particularly that of Ho Chi Minh), organization, and tactics of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement; the motives, stages, and strategies of American intervention in Vietnam; expansion of the conflict to Cambodia and Laos; important events such as the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre; the anti-war movement in the United States; political and economic development in Vietnam since the end of the war and the reunification of the country under communist rule in the mid-1970s.; and the lessons and legacies of the Vietnam War for both Vietnam and the United States.

Requirements: The written assignments for the course, tentative due dates, and their proportion of the final course grade are as follows:

  • A take-home exam covering material through "The French War" due March 1 (25%);
  • A brief (5-7 pages) research note covering the "American War" due April 12 (35%);
  • A final research paper (about 15 pages) due on the last day of exam period (40%);
  • Attendance, attentiveness, and participation will be taken into account when determining the final grade.
Grace Period: For the two in-term written assignments, you may have a total of five (5) days of "extensions" from the due date to use as best fits your schedule. This grace period allows you to hand in a paper late without a grade penalty, but after your 5 days have been used up, the assignment will be marked down 1/3 grade per day (or fraction of a day) late (e. g. from B+ to B).

Sakai Course Site: We will use Sakai (rather than FirstClass) for our course conference. If you are not familiar with Sakai, there is a video tutorial available at https://sakai.wellesley.edu/portal/. Course Responsibilities & Expectations: Please see the list of "Responsibilities and Expectations" for the course that is attached to the hard copy of this syllabus. It also posted on the Sakai course site.

Required Books: The following books are available for purchase in the bookstore. They are also on reserve in the Library
  • Tran Tu Binh, Red Earth: A Vietnamese Memoir of Life on a Colonial Rubber Plantation.
  • Graham Greene, The Quiet American.
  • Gary R. Hess, Vietnam: Explaining America's Lost War.
  • Michael M. Hunt, ed., A Vietnam War Reader.
  • Tim O'Brien, If I Die In a Combat Zone.
  • James S. Olson and Randy Roberts, Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam (5th Ed).
  • James W. Trullinger, Village at War: An Account of Revolution in a Vietnamese Village.
Video Assignments: The required videos should be taken just as seriously as the required reading.

Internet Assignments: Internet assignments (both readings and videos) can be accessed via the online syllabus or Sakai course site. 

Internet Sources on the Vietnam War: Please see my website, Vietnam War Internet Links. The sources listed on this site should be particularly useful in finding material for the written assignments for the course.

Glossaries: There are a lot of acronyms and special terminology associated with the Vietnam War. The Olson and Roberts book has a brief glossary (as well as some useful maps and a chronology). Links to several online Vietnam War glossaries, a who's who, and descriptions of weapons have been posted on in the Resources section of the Sakai site.

Photographs. Photographs are a particularly vivid and affecting way to try to understand the realities of the Vietnam War. I urge you take a look at some of the photo sites on my Vietnam War Internet Links page and/or the following books in Clapp Library:
  • Vietnam: images from combat photographers / Owen Andrews, and C. Douglas Elliot (DS557.72 .A53 1991)
  • Images of war / Julene Fischer and Robert Stone (qDS557.7 .I48 1986)
  • Requiem: by the photographers who died in Vietnam and Indochina / Horst Faas and Tim Page (fDS557.72 .F33 1997)
  • Another Vietnam: pictures of the war from the other side (qDS557.72 .P34 2002)

Course Schedule

I will try, when appropriate, to post the readings that should be done for a particular class. But, in general, the readings are listed in the order in which it is recommended that they be done. RER means "Readings on E-Reserve." VER means "Videos on E-Reserve." Both can be found on the Sakai course site. Online readings and video can be accessed by clicking on the title or "Link" which follows the title. TBA means that the location of the reading or video is "to be announced."



Jan. 25 Introduction to the Course: Why Study the Vietnam War?

Michael M. Hunt, ed., A Vietnam War Reader, Introduction.

Gary R. Hess, Vietnam: Explaining America's Lost War, Prologue.

"Is Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam?", Newsweek, Jan. 31, 2009, LINK.

Jan. 27, Feb. 1 Revolution & War: A Framework for Analysis

Isaac Kramnick, "Reflections on Revolution," History and Theory, Vol. 11, No. 1 (1972), pp. 26-63, excerpts. (RER)

James DeFronzo, Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements, pp. 7-25. (RER)

The following entries in The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World, 2nd ed., Joel Krieger, William A. Joseph, et. al., eds.:

Jeet Heer, "Counterpunch," The Boston Globe, January 4, 2004. (RER)

Claus von Clausewitz, On War (1832), Book I, Chapter 1. For some background on von Clausewitz, read the first three sections at: http://www.clausewitz.com/FAQs.htm#Who

Fred Halliday, "War and Revolution," in Mark N. Katz, ed., Revolution: International Dimensions, pp. 63-74 (RER)

Video: Scenes from "The Battle of Algiers" (about 30 minutes), LINK.

Michael Kaufman, "What Does the Pentagon See in 'Battle of Algiers'"?,The New York Times, September 7, 2003.

Feb. 4 Vietnam: Language, Geography, Culture

"Language," from Vietnam: A Lonely Planet Survival Kit, pp. 58-66. (RER).

William Duiker, "Land and People," from Vietnam: Revolution in Transition.

  • Look at a political and a relief map of Vietnam to get a sense of the geography: LINK.

Neil L. Jamieson, "How the Vietnamese See the World," ch. 1, in Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press). (RER)

Feb. 8, 11 Colonialism and Resistance

James Olson and Randy Roberts, Where the Domino Fell, Prologue and ch. 1.

James Trullinger, Village at War, chs. 1-3.

Tran Tu Binh, A Vietnamese Memoir of Life on a Colonial Rubber Plantation, all. Read about the author: LINK.

Video: "Indochine" (158 mins.). (VER)

Feb. 15, 18 The French War, 1945-54

Olson and Roberts, ch. 2.

Trullinger, chs. 4-5.

Hunt, selections, 1.11-1.13.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American, all. (See "Annotations" for the book on the course site.)

Feb. 22, 25  The American War (I), 1960-63: Entering the Tunnel, or Another New Frontier?

Olson and Roberts, chs. 3-4.

Hunt, selections, 2.1-2.13.

Hess, ch. 1 (pp. 1-13).

Trullinger, chs. 6-7.

Video: "Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy had Lived" (80 min.). (VER)

Mar. 1, 4, 8 The American War (II), 1964-68: Light at the End of the Tunnel? or All the Way with LBJ!

Olson and Roberts, ch. 5-8 Hunt, selections, 3.1-3.15.

Hess,chs. 4, 5, 7.

Trullinger, ch. 8-9

Video: "Why Vietnam?" (31 min).

Mar. 11, 15, 29 The American War (III), 1968-1975: Exiting the Tunnel, or The Secret Plan for "Peace"

Olson and Roberts, chs. 9-10. Hunt, selections, 4.1-4.18; 7.1-7.7.

Hess, ch. 8.

Trullinger, chs. 10 - Epilogue.

Video: "Hearts and Minds." (VER)


Apr. 1, 5, 8, 12 Vietnam: The Face of Battle

Americans at War

The "Enemy"

The Ugliest Face of War
Apr. 15, 22 Beyond Vietnam: The Wars in Laos and Cambodia

Arnold R. Isaacs, "Laos: The Kingdom of Lane-xang," in A. Isaacs, Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia. (RER)

"Historical Overview of the Khmer Rouge," Cambodia Tribunal Monitor. LINK

Samantha Power, "Cambodia: 'Helpless Giant,'" in S. Power, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. (RER)

Video: "Enemies of the People" (TBA)

Apr. 26, 29 Beyond Vietnam: The Anti-War Movement and the Media in the U. S.

James Max Fendrich, " The Forgotten Movement: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement," in Sociological Inquiry, 73:3 (August 2003). (RER)

Hess, ch.  6.

Hunt, selections 6.1- 6.12.

Video, "Homefront: USA," PBS, "Vietnam: A Television History." (TBA)

May 3 Vietnam & US-Vietnam Relations After the War

Olson and Roberts, ch. 11.

 "Halfway From Rags to Riches: A Special Report on Vietnam," The Economist, April 28, 2008. (RER)

Video: "Vietnam: The Next Generation" (PBS), LINK.

May 6 Lessons, Legacies, and Memories

In-class video: Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (excerpts).

Olson and Roberts, ch. 12.

Hess, chs 1 (pp. 13-25), 2.

Hunt, selections 7.8 -7.11; Concluding Remarks.