History of the Vietnam War


GSCHE 4H03 Dr. Stephen M. Streeter
Globalization Theme School 623 Chester New Hall
Fall 2001 Office Hours: Monday 2:30 - 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday 2:30 - 5:20 p.m. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24147
Chester New Hall 217 streete@mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca

Course Description Readings and Videos Grading
Class Participation Discussion Papers Research Essay
Class Schedule Dr. Streeter's Homepage Internet Resources

Course Description

The Vietnam War (1954-1973) provides a microcosm of the many global forces that shaped the twentieth century: colonialism, imperialism, hegemony, modernization, Third World development, popular culture, revolution, capitalism, communism, human rights, social movements, and more. This course explores these themes through readings, films, discussions, and independent research. By the end of the term, students can expect to have a better understanding of the Vietnamese setting, why the war began; when and why the Americans became involved; how the war was fought; and why the Vietnamese revolutionaries won. We will also explore the lessons that policymakers, journalists, and historians have drawn from the war that divided severely the American population and marked Vietnam's emergence as a sovereign nation.

back to menu

Reading and Videos

Available for purchase at the McMaster Bookstore:


The following episodes of Vietnam: A Television War will be shown in class. Selected transcripts are available on the PBS website (click on the episode number in the class schedule):

1. Roots of a War
2. The First Vietnam War, 1946-1954
3. America's Mandarin, 1954-1963
4. LBJ Goes to War, 1964-1965
5. America Takes Charge, 1965-1967
6. America's Enemy, 1954-1967
7. Tet, 1968
8. Vietnamizing the War, 1968-1973
12. The End of the Tunnel, 1973-1975
13. Legacies

back to menu


class participation 20%
discussion papers 40%
research essay 40%


Assignments and class participation will be graded numerically using the 100 point system described in the McMaster Undergraduate Calendar. The Senate's Statement on Academic Ethics forbids plagiarism. Read Appendix A carefully.

back to menu

Class Participation (20%)

The mark that you earn for class participation measures your engagement with the instructor and other students during the class period and through e-mail. Because we meet only once per week it is vital that you attend every class prepared to discuss the assignments. The discussion papers are meant to help you think critically about what you have read before sharing your ideas with others. These papers will serve primarily as a starting point for discussion so you should be prepared to expand on them and offer further examples in the reading. See A User's Manual for Student-Led Discussion for advice about how to lead a dicussion. Students who have valid excuses for missing class (illness, family emergencies) must submit a written explanation to the instruction with the appropriate documentation.


Discussion Papers (40%)

Each student is required to write 4 short papers, (about 750 words each) that discuss the assigned readings in a given week. The essay should answer one of the discussion questions by drawing upon all the relevant assigned readings (textbook, essays, and primary sources). To ensure that all questions are covered, a sign-up list will be circulated in the first class. Because these papers are based on books and articles known to us all, documentation should be placed directly in the body of the essay whenever possible. For example, when you want to refer to an author's opinion without directly quoting, it is sufficient to write, "As author x comments, [here would follow a summary of x's ideas]. . . " If you do quote follow the citation rules in A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. The essay will be graded for form as well as content, so pay attention to writing style and grammar. Papers are due in class on the day the topic is to be discussed. Late papers will not be accepted for any reason.

back to menu

Research Essay (40%)

The research essay can be on any topic about the Vietnam War so long as it relates to a globalization theme. The My Lai massacre, for example, could easily be discussed in the context of war crimes or human rights violations (see David L. Anderson, ed. Facing My Lai: Moving Beyond the Massacre (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998)). You must submit to the instructor by October 10 a short description (1-2 pages) of your proposed topic along with a list of primary and secondary sources. Students who fail to hand in a topic proposal on time will have their essay grade lowered by one full mark. The final essay should be about 15 pages in length, including endnotes and bibliography. Avoid block quotations and follow closely the guidelines in Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. The highest marks will go to well written essays that make full use of the Internet and Mills Library. Although translated Vietnamese primary sources remain scarce, you should still make an effort to include Vietnamese perspectives whenever possible, even from secondary sources if necessary. Follow the guidelines for form and style as stated in my U.S. foreign relations seminar.

back to menu

Class Schedule

Date Topic Discussion Questions PBS Video Assigned Reading
        Duiker McMahon
Sept. 12 Introduction        
Sept. 19

Vietnamese Nationalism

1. When and how did Vietnamese nationalism develop?

2. Why did the communists emerge as the dominant force within the Vietnamese movement for independence? (Aimee)

#1 preface & ch. 1 preface & ch. 2
Sept. 26 Roots of the American Commitment

1. Why did the United States intervene in Vietnam? (Sean)

2. Did the United States miss an opportunity to settle the Indochina dispute peacefully? If so, when did this opportunity occur and why was it missed? If not, what vital American interests had to be defended with force? (Stephanie, Kaitlin)

    chs. 1, 3
Oct. 3 First Indochina War and Eisenhower

1. How did the Vietminh defeat the French in the First Indochina War and why did the revolutionaries accept the Geneva Accords of 1954 when complete victory might have been within their grasp? (Mike)

2. Did the Eisenhower administration act prudently to restrict the American commitment in Vietnam, or did Eisenhower entangle the United States in Vietnam? (Adam, Ashley)

#2 ch. 2 ch. 4
Oct. 10

JFK, Diem, and the Rise of the National Liberation Front

Research Topic Proposal Due

1. Was the Vietnam War primarily a civil war between two local factions, or an anti-imperialist rebellion against foreign invaders? If neither, then how should the war be described? (Sean, Kathy)

2. Considering the historical record of the Kennedy administration's foreign policy, was JFK preparing to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam before his death? (Kathy)

#3 ch. 3 ch. 5
Oct. 17 LBJ, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, and American Escalation

1. Was the Tonkin Gulf incident a deliberate North Vietnamese provocation or an incidental skirmish that the Johnson administration exaggerated to gain U.S. congressional support for expanding the American war in Vietnam? (Kaitlin, Dane)

2. Why did the the Lyndon B. Johnson administration decide to escalate the war in Vietnam? Bureaucratic politics gone astray? Cultural misunderstandings? Exaggerated Cold War anticommunism? LBJ's desire to save the Great Society? (Adam)

#4 pp. 164-79 ch. 6
Oct. 24 American and Vietnamese Military Strategies

1. What military strategy did the United States follow in Vietnam and could a different one have led to victory? Could the South Vietnamese regime have been made more viable? (Kaitlin, Ashley)

2. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the military strategies followed by the Vietnamese revolutionaries? (Mike, Stephanie)

#5 ch. 4 chs, 7, 8, 10
Oct. 31 The War on the Ground

1. Taking into account culture, class, race, and gender, compare and contrast the combat experience of U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers. (Aimee, Dane)

2. How well do the sources support James Gibson's conceptualization of "the warrior's knowledge?" (Sean)

#6 coursepack
Nov. 7 Tet Offensive, Media, and Antiwar Movement

1. Evaluate the Tet offensive from the perspective of the Vietnamese revolutionaries? What were their goals in launching the offensive and was the cost excessive? (Kaitlin, Ashley)

2. Was the Tet offensive a turning point for the United States in Vietnam because it turned the media against the war and bolstered the antiwar movement? (Stephanie)

#7 5 chs. 9, 12, 13
Nov. 14 Vietnamization and the Wider War in Laos and Cambodia

1. How and why did the Nixon administration expand the war into Laos and Cambodia? (Adam, Dane)

2. What was "Vietnamization" and why did it fail? (Sean, Kathy)

#8 pp. 219-34 ch. 11
Nov. 21 The Defeat of South Vietnam

1. What were the Paris Peace Accords and why did they fail to bring peace to Vietnam? (Adam, Mike)

2. Why did the Communists win the Vietnam War? (Mike, Dane, Ashley)

#12 pp. 235-50, ch. 7 ch. 14
Nov. 28 Lessons and Legacies

1. What were the lessons of the Vietnam War for the Vietnamese and the Third World? (Kathy)

2. What was the impact of the Vietnam on U.S. foreign policy and American culture? (Aimee)

#13 epilogue ch. 15
Dec. 5 Research Essay Due        

Course Description Readings and Videos Grading
Class Participation Discussion Papers Research Essay
Class Schedule Dr. Streeter's Homepage Internet Resources