History 436/636

The Vietnam Wars

Mon-Wed-Fri, 1:25, Hardin 233

Fall term, 2010

Prof. Edwin E. Moise
Office: Hardin 102
Office phone: 656-5369
Home phone: 654-7087

Messages can be left in my mailbox in Hardin 126, or in the box on my office door.

Office Hours

    Monday     10:10-11:00, 2:30-3:20
    Tuesday    11:00-12:00
    Wednesday  10:10-11:00, 2:30-3:20
    Thursday   11:00-12:00
    Friday     10:10-11:00 

Course Objectives

To give students an understanding of the two major wars, which are in an important sense two stages of one long war, that have been fought for the control of Vietnam: the First Indochina War (1946-54) and the Second Indochina War (1960-75). Strategy, tactics, political factors, and technology will be included.

What goes into your grade

Your grade in the course will be based mainly on the written work I have assigned. You cannot do extra papers for extra credit. You can improve your grade a bit by participating in class discussion. The best way to pick up extra points is to argue (constructively) against me in class; If you can point out to me that I have made a mistake you get two point extra in the gradebook. If you present a good clear argument that I am wrong about something, with evidence, then your grade may be boosted even if you do not succeed in convincing me.

I do not emphasize trivial factual details in this course. On tests and quizzes I will NOT ask you to tell me the date of the Battle of "Hamburger Hill", or to name the American units that fought in it. There are some facts you need to know, but they are more important things than dates. On the other hand, I will expect you to get an idea of the sequence of events, what came first and what came later.

The most important single part of your grade will be the course paper. You can write it on whatever topic you please, within the limit of the subject matter of this course. The actual text of your paper, not counting title page, bibliography, maps, and illustrations, should be about ten pages long, typed double spaced (if you are signed up for History 636, fifteen to twenty pages). Longer papers are acceptable.

When you are trying to decide what sources to use for your term paper, or if you are just curious about something that has come up in the course, I suggest you consult Bibliography of the Vietnam War on the Web. But bear in mind that when you see a book listed in this bibliography, this does not necessarily mean you will actually be able to find a copy of that book, in or near Clemson.

A lot of things that have been written about the Vietnam War are not true. As you do your research, you should be thinking actively about whether you believe the things your sources are saying. I will not flunk you for guessing wrong, but you should make an effort to judge who is telling the truth and who is not; don't just take things on faith. Don't dodge the problem by sticking to questions on which you believe everything you read, either. Explaining why you think a particular source was wrong about a particular fact will tend to have a good influence on your grade.

For more detailed guidelines on the term paper, see Writing a Term Paper in Military History.

The paper is due Wednesday, December 1. It is late if I have not gotten it before I go home that day, which will be no earlier than 5:00 p.m. There will be a five point penalty if I get it on December 2 or 3. The penalty will be fifteen points if it is not turned in by the time I go home (late afternoon, probably not before 5:00 p.m.) on Friday, December 3.

You can have a pretty free choice of topics for this paper, within the limits of the subject matter of this course. You must come in and talk to me about your paper, and discuss the sources you will be using. It is not enough to say to me as we are walking out of the classroom one morning "Professor Moise, is it OK if I write about the U.S. bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos?" You will need to talk things over with me for fifteen minutes or maybe half an hour, not just a few seconds. After we have talked, you must give me a written statement of your topic, with a list of the main sources you plan to use. There will be a five point penalty if you have not given this to me by October 18, and an additional five points if it is not in by October 25. If it still is not in by November 3, I will either give you yet another five-point penalty, or else simply hand you a sheet of paper telling you what topic you must write on, and what sources you must use.

If you bring in a preliminary draft of your paper long enough before Thanksgiving so I can read it and get it back to you before Thanksgiving, with suggestions about how you can improve it, you will will then have adequate time to take advantage of my advice. If you don't get my comments until after Thanksgiving break, it will be really hard for you to do much about my suggestions.

The paper is worth 150 points. The other written work will be:
    --Two short papers on assigned topics (three for History 636), worth 40 points each.
    --One essay quiz (20 points).
    --The midterm test (70 points) and the final exam (120 points), which will be mostly essay questions.
This adds up to 440 points for undergraduates, 480 for graduate students. The basic grade scale is that 90% (396 points for undergraduates) is the bottom of the A range, 80% (352 points for undergraduates) is the bottom of the B range, and so on. Sometimes I alter the scale in the students' favor, never against them. Thus 396 points (90% of 440) is a guaranteed A for an undergraduate; 394 or 390 points might be an A, depending on how the rest of the class does.

Academic Integrity Policy

Academic integrity requires that we not try to pass other people's work off as our own. The ways students have gotten into problems of academic dishonesty in courses I have taught that were similar to this one, in past years, have been:

    Large portions of a term paper copied from a few books or web sites, or even just one, without any indication that the material was copied. Typically this involves both large amounts of material quoted word-for-word, without quotation marks, and also a serious shortage of source notes pointing to the book from which the material came. Often there are misleading source notes claiming the material came from sources other than the ones from which it was actually copied word-for-word. These false source notes are especially strong evidence that the copying was dishonesty and not just carelessness.

    Whole term paper obtained from some source (a commercial term paper service, or the Internet, or the collection of term papers that one of the fraternities used to have, and may still have).

    One student copies another student's 40-point research exercise, maybe changing a few words and substituting synonyms, but leaving the two papers still so similar that it is obvious the resemblance could not be coincidence. I would be likely to bring charges both against the student who copied and the student who allowed his or her paper to be copied.

There are some ways in which it is perfectly all right for students to help each other. If two students want to study together getting ready for a test, great. Only after I have handed out the questions does help on a test become improper. But if two people work together on a research exercise, and turn in papers that are very similar because each has been getting a lot of help from the other in writing it, both will be in deep trouble. If one of your fellow students asks to look at your paper, to get a better idea of how the assignment was to be done, please say no. They should come to me to ask for further explanations of the assignment, rather than looking at a completed paper to give them their clues. If two papers are so similar it is obvious the author of one must have seen the other, I will file charges.

In furtherance of its Academic Integrity policy, Clemson University has a license agreement with, a service that helps prevent plagiarism in student assignments. I will request that you submit your research papers, at the end of the semester, to Turnitin through Blackboard. You will have the right to refuse to do this, if you wish. Turnitin will provide me with an originality rating and notation of possible text or contextual matches with other source documents. Turnitin does not make any determination of plagiarism. Rather, it identifies parts of an assignment that may have significant matches with other source documents found on the Internet, in the Turnitin database, or from other sources. If matches are identified and indicate the possibility of inclusion of material that is not properly cited, I will discuss this information with you before reaching any judgment or decision.

Policy on late work

Under normal circumstances, my policy is: If you do not do written work on time, you will be able to make it up. However, you will be marked off for lateness. You will be marked off even if your excuse is very, very good. You can avoid a penalty only if I have told you before the work was due that you would be able to do it late without penalty. Research exercises will not usually be accepted at all (you just get an F) if they are more than seven days late.

Attendance policy

You are allowed up to six cuts INCLUDING EXCUSED ABSENCES. You lose two points for every unexcused absense after that. I would advise you not to take even five. I am going to be saying quite a few things in lectures that are not in the reading. Even if you are very careful about doing all the assigned reading, you will have trouble answering the questions on my tests if you have not been at the lectures.

If I am Late

If I have not gotten to class by five minutes after it was supposed to begin, I would be grateful if a student would go bang on my office door and see whether I am there. If I still have not arrived by ten minutes after the time the class was supposed to begin, you can give up on me and leave.

Assigned reading

I will try to hold the assigned reading in this course down to a moderate level, since you are supposed to be putting a lot of work into your course papers. There are three books you should buy:
    The Killing Zone, by Downs
    America's Longest War, 4th edition, by Herring
    A Bright Shining Lie, by Sheehan

There will also be reading assignments that I will make available online.

Course Outline

The following course outline is tentative. It may be modified slightly by class request or as a result of shifts in what I find practical to place online, or as a result of unforseen events. Each day, items marked >>> are required reading; items marked --- are optional reading. Most optional items are simply books that you can look for in the library.

August 18: Introduction to the course.

August 20: Background to Vietnam. Vietnamese civilization began in the Red River Delta of what is today northern Vietnam, slightly more than 2,000 years ago. It spread southward gradually. The French conquered Vietnam, in chunks, in the late 19th century. Vietnamese could not effectively defy French power.
>>> Read Moise, The Vietnam Wars all the way through, to give you an idea of the overall pattern of events we will be seeing in this course, and to allow you to get started thinking of what topic you might want to choose for your term paper.

August 23: Ho Chi Minh founded the Vietnamese Communist movement, and the Second World War gave the Communists their chance to try to make Vietnam an independent country. In 1945 the Communists established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
>>> Sheehan, pp. 144-166.
>>> Herring, pp. 3-11.
Questions for discussion:   Ho Chi Minh was the founder of the Indochinese Communist Party. What was the significance of this? In other words, what sort of organization was the Indochinese Communist Party? What was US policy toward Vietnam, in the period up to 1946?

August 25: Continue discussion of those events, particularly looking at a Communist viewpoint on them.
>>> Truong Chinh, The August Revolution. Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1958. 76 pp. The story of the Viet Minh siezure of power in 1945. Truong Chinh was General Secretary of the Indochinese Communist Party at that time; he published the Vietnamese original of this work in Su That in 1946. By the time this translation was published in Hanoi as a book, Truong Chinh had been demoted as punishment for his errors in the Land Reform campaign of 1953-1956. The text has been placed on-line in the Virtual Vietnam Archive of the Vietnam Project at Texas Tech University, in two parts: pp. 1-40 and pp. 41-76.
Questions for discussion:   What was Truong Chinh's picture of the international situation? Of French policy, in particular? How did he say the Communists had gotten power? Notice the contrast in some places (for example pp. 31-32) between statements that "The whole people rose up" in support of the revolution, and discussion of people who were against the revolution. Is this attitude toward defining "the people" a common one?

August 27: All-out war between Vietnam and France broke out in 1946.
Questions for discussion:   What parts of Truong Chinh's work do you find convincing, what parts to you find suspicious and why, and what parts of it do you flatly not believe, and why?

August 30: It was a classic guerrilla War. Meanwhile, the Cold War was deepening.
>>> Sheehan, pp. 166-172
>>> Herring, pp. 11-14.
>>> The Pentagon Papers, Senator Gravel Edition, Chapter 1. "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 42-52. U.S. views of the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh.

September 1, 3, 6: From 1950 onward, the war in Indochina was much more entangled in the Cold War. By 1954 the Viet Minh were winning.
>>> Herring, pp. 14-33.
>>> The Pentagon Papers, Senator Gravel Edition, Chapter 2. "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954." pp. 53-75.
Questions for discussion:   What was Bao Dai like? What was his government, the State of Vietnam, like? What was US policy toward the State of Vietnam? Did the US have a choice, in deciding its policy?

September 8: In 1954, The United States didn't quite jump openly into the war when France got in bad trouble in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
>>> Herring pp. 33-45
>>> Bernard Fall, "Indochina--The Last Year of the War", Military Review, XXXVI:7 (October 1956), pp. 3-11.
Questions for discussion:   What was the importance of Dien Bien Phu? When an American official said "One cannot go over Niagara Falls in a barrel only slightly" (quoted in Herring, p. 39), did this comparison make sense? Why did the United States not intervene directly at Dien Bien Phu?

September 10, 13: Vietnam was split in half in 1954, and for a couple of years there was comparative peace. Ngo Dinh Diem became president of the Republic of Vietnam, in South Vietnam.
>>> Herring pp. 45-80
>>> Sheehan pp. 127-144, 172-200
--- You also might like to look at my book Land Reform in China and North Vietnam
Questions for discussion:   What were the main provisions of the Geneva Accords of 1954? What was the United States' attitude to the Accords? Comment on Senator Knowland's statement, quoted in Herring, p. 50, that the Geneva Acccords were "the greatest victory the communists have won in twenty years." What was Ngo Dinh Diem's government like in 1954? What was it like in 1956?

Quiz September 13

September 15: The war began again in 1959-60, both in South Vietnam and in Laos The guerrillas did pretty well. War also started in Laos.
>>> Herring, pp. 80-87
Questions for discussion:   Why did the insurgency start in South Vietnam? How did it start?

September 17, 20: The guerrillas gained strength, despite increasing U.S. aid to Diem.
>>> Herring, pp. 89-111
>>> Sheehan 3-125
Questions for discussion:   What was John Vann's relationship with Colonel Cao, the commander of the ARVN 7th Division? what was Colonel Cao like, as a commander? What were the Viet Cong like, in the northern Mekong Delta (the area of operations of the ARVN 7th Division)?

September 22, 24: By 1963, Diem was in bad trouble.
>>> Herring, pp. 111-114
>>> Sheehan 200-277
Questions for discussion:   What was the US/ARVN plan for the Battle of Ap Bac? Was it a reasonable plan? What went wrong with it?

The Battle of Ap Bac: Plan and Assumed Enemy Situation

The Battle of Ap Bac: Situation About 1400 (2:00 p.m.)

September 27: The Aftermath of Ap Bac
>>> Sheehan 277-334
Questions for discussion:   What does Sheehan mean when he says the U.S. Army was suffering from the "disease of victory"? Do you believe him?

TEST September 29

October 1: The U.S. encouraged a coup that overthrew Diem
>>> Sheehan 334-371
>>> Herring, pp. 114-129
Questions for discussion:   Why did some U.S. officials decide to back the idea of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem? Did those reasons make sense? Why did so many ARVN officers support the coup?

October 4, 6: The war continued to escalate, and the U.S. sent in ground troops.
>>> Herring, pp. 131-169
>>> Sheehan 371-86, 501-535
Questions for discussion:   How did Lyndon Johnson deal with the problem of Vietnam during his first year as President? What factors influenced his approach?

October 8: Air War.
>>> Herring, pp. 171-179
Questions for discussion:   How useful was the technological superiority of the United States?

October 11: Vann and Sheehan react to the new American style of war.
>>> Sheehan, 535-580
Questions for discussion:   What was the significance of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley? Was the use of heavy American firepower in South Vietnamese villages a bad idea?

October 13, 15: The war was complex and messy
>>> Herring, pp. 179-223
>>> Downs, Section 1
Questions for discussion:   Were the training, equipment, and tactics of the American forces appropriate for the war in South Vietnam? How did the arrival of large numbers of Americans affect South Vietnam?

Due date for term paper topic sheets: October 18

October 18: One infantry unit around the end of 1967.
>>> Downs, section 2.
Questions for discussion:   How effective was Downs' unit?

October 20, 22: One infantry unit around the end of 1967.
>>> Downs, sections 3 and 4.
Questions for discussion:   How effective was Downs' unit? How good an officer was Downs?

October 25, 27: The war grew larger and bloodier, without producing any decisive results.
>>> Sheehan, 580-659
Questions for discussion:   What do you think of Vann's habit of driving on very insecure roads? How much sense did attrition make, as a policy for the U.S. war in Vietnam? How much sense did pacification make, as a policy for the American war in Vietnam? How was the fighting in northern I Corps different from the fighting in most other areas?

October 29: Increasing discontent.
>>> Sheehan, 660-693
Question for discussion:   Why did Secretary of Defense McNamara lose faith in the war? What options did he have?


November 3, 5: The Tet Offensive of 1968: a major Communist offensive, that attained partial surprise. Militarily it cost the Communists a lot of men, but it produced important political benefits for them by shaking American confidence that the war could be won.
>>> Herring, pp. 225-268
>>> Sheehan, 693-729
Questions for discussion:   What do you think of the Tet Offensive, with hindsight? What would you have thought of it if you had been considering the question in 1968?

November 8: Laos and Cambodia

November 10: Richard Nixon came into office as President in 1969.
>>> Herring, pp. 271-283.
>>> Sheehan, 729-738.
Questions for discussion:   What were President Nixon's goals for the Vietnam War? How realistic were they?

November 12, 15, 17: In 1969, the U.S. began to pull out of Vietnam. This went on until U.S. participation in ground combat ceased in 1972. But Laos continued to be a battleground, and Cambodia became one. U.S. bombing declined in 1971, but increased again in 1972, especially after the Communists' Easter Offenive began.
>>> Herring, pp. 283-310
>>> Sheehan, 738-790
Questions for discussion:   What else could the United States have been doing, other than what it was doing? Was military victory a realistic possibility, and if so, how could it have been achieved? Was a negotiated settlement of the war a realistic possibility? Was strengthening the ARVN to the point it would be able to stand on its own a realistic possibility?

November 19: The Paris Agreement
>>> Herring, pp. 310-320
Questions for discussion:   What was the significance of the "Christmas Bombing" of 1972? What was Nixon trying to accomplish by this air campaign? Did he accomplish it? How did other people see the bombing? What do you think of the Paris Peace Agreement, signed a few weeks later?

November 22: The War after the Paris Agreement, 1973-1974
>>> Herring, pp. 323-331
--- Isaacs, Without Honor
Questions for discussion:   Do you blame the Watergate scandal for the decline in U.S. aid to the Republic of Vietnam after the Paris Agreement, or would the declining political support for the war, in the United States, have produced such a decline even without Watergate? What was the impact on the ARVN of the decline in aid?

Thanksgiving: No Class November 24, 26

November 29: The End, 1975
>>> Herring, pp. 323-340
--- Snepp, Decent Interval

December 2: Hand in Term Papers

December 1, 3: Aftermath and Legacies of the War; Review
>>> Herring, pp. 340-368
>>> Moise, "Limited War"

Final exam: Friday, December 10, 3:00 p.m.


Other Links

Photos Taken in Vietnam, 1986 and 1989

Photos Taken by Robert D. Jester, 5th Special Forces Group, Vietnam, 1965-66

Web site of the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas

Military History Map Library: Vietnam War (U.S. Military Academy, West Point)

President Johnson's Speech, March 31, 1968

Clemson University Academic Support Center, which provides help and tutoring for students encountering academic problems. It does not, however, have tutors specifically for History courses.

Edwin Moïse's homepage

Revised November 29, 2010.