History 381: America and Vietnam

Professor Michael Flamm
Elliott Hall: (740) 368-3634


Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990
Robert McMahon, Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War
ames Olson and Randy Roberts, My Lai: A Brief History
Frederick Downs, The Killing Zone
Wallace Terry, Bloods*
Lynda Van Devanter, Home Before Morning
Le Ly Hayslip, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places*

All books are available at the College Bookstore. The * indicates it is on reserve in the library.


reading essay (750 words)
research paper (1500 words)
reading quizzes
oral presentations
mid-term and final exam

Regular attendance and informed participation are also expected.


reading essay #1 (mandatory)
reading essay #2 (optional)
mid-term exam
research paper (mandatory)
research rewrite (optional)
final exam

Substantial penalties will result from late work or unexcused absences. Any act of academic dishonesty will receive appropriate punishment.


10 percent    class preparation / participation (including quizzes)
15 percent    reading essay
30 percent    research paper
15 percent    mid-term exam
30 percent    final exam       

Significant progress will receive appropriate recognition.

Topics (due that day):

Course Introduction

The Roots of Revolution
Due: Young, chapter 1; McMahon, chapter 2.
Discussion: 1) What regional, cultural, and political divisions were evident in Vietnam prior to the arrival of the French and the Americans? 2) Was Ho Chi Minh a communist, a nationalist, or some combination of the two? 3) What is the best explanation for the emergence and success of the Vietminh by 1945?

Roosevelt, Truman, and the Return of the French
Due: Young, chapter 2; McMahon, chapter 3.
Discussion: 1) Why did the U.S. return Vietnam to France after World War II?  2) Why was France unable to defeat North Vietnam?

Eisenhower and the Rise of Diem
Due: Young, chapters 3-4; McMahon, chapter 4.
Discussion: Did Eisenhower act with "tragic irresponsibility"? Why or why not?

Kennedy and the Fall of Diem
Due: Young, chapters 5-6; McMahon, chapter 5.
Discussion: Would Kennedy have withdrawn from Vietnam if he had lived?

Johnson and the Decision to Escalate
Due: Young, chapter 7; McMahon, chapter 6.
Discussion: 1) What was the main reason Johnson chose to escalate the war in 1965?   2) Were there plausible alternatives that he could and should have pursued?

The Working-Class War
Due: Reading Essay #1 (mandatory).
Discussion: How and why was it a working-class war?

Tactics on Trial: The Battle of Ia Drang
Due: Young, chapters 8-9; Death in the Ia Drang Valley (packet); McMahon, 251-257
Discussion: 1) Why did the U.S. choose the tactics that it did? 2) What were the consequences (intended and otherwise) of the tactics selected?

The War at Home (I)
Due: Young, chapter 10; McMahon, 466-477 and 494-511.
Discussion: What was the most significant dilemma or division faced by the antiwar movement?

The Tet Offensive
Due: Young, chapter 11; McMahon, chapter 13.
Discussion: 1) How was Tet the turning-point in the war? 2) Was Tet a defeat or a victory for the U.S.?

Vietnam and 1968 in America
Due: Begin Downs, The Killing Zone.
Discussion: 1) Why was 1968 a year of crisis in America? 2) What were the ramifications of the conservative triumph in 1968?

The Soldiers’ War
Due: Downs, 15-237; Reading Essay #2 (optional).
Discussion: 1) What was the most significant burden faced by American soldiers in Vietnam? 2) What passage in Downs most affected you? Why?

Mid-Term Exam

Nixon and the "Vietnamization" of the War
Due: Young, chapter 12; McMahon, chapter 11.
Discussion: Was "Vietnamization" a sound strategy? Why or why not?

Guest Speaker (TBA)
Due: Begin Hayslip, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places.
Discussion: [based on speaker]

The Vietnamese at War
Due: Hayslip, 1-23, 26-54, 65-97, 103-124, 133-140, 144-157, 159-164, 168-190, 194-204, 209-215, 221-226, 236-239, 255-262, 274-284, 294-303, 307-310, 319-333, 343-355; McMahon, 297-303 and 393-421; Suffer the Little Children (packet).
Discussion: 1) How did the war affect the Vietnamese? 2) What incident from Hayslip’s life most affected you? Why?

African Americans at War
Due: Terry, Introduction, 1-30, 89-129, 143-154, 186-199, 219-265.
Discussion: 1) How and why was the experience of black soldiers often different from the experience of white soldiers? 2) What incident from Bloods most affected you? Why?

My Lai (I)
Due: Oral Presentation (see handout).
Discussion: NA

My Lai (II)
Due: Research Paper (mandatory); A Quiet War Over the Past (packet).
Discussion: 1) Who was "culpable" for what happened? 2) Was Calley a victim or a scapegoat? 3) Was he an aberration or symptom of the war?

The War at Home (II)
Due: McMahon, 477-493 and 511-520; The Moratorium and the New Mobe (packet).
Discussion: 1) Why was the antiwar movement more unpopular than ever by 1971 even though most Americans now opposed the war? 2) What was the most significant impact of the antiwar movement?

Nixon, Kissinger, and the Paris Peace Conference
Due: Young, chapter 13; McMahon, 563-569; The South Vietnamese Retreat (packet).
Discussion: Did Nixon and Kissinger achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam?

The "End" of the War
Due: Young, chapter 14; McMahon, 569-607; We Clawed for Our Lives! (packet).
Discussion: Why was North Vietnam ultimately triumphant?

The POW/MIA Experience and Controversy
Due: Terry, 130-142 and 266-291; Of Soldiers Lost, The Mystery of the Tomb, and Arlington Yields to Science (packet).
Discussion: 1) Why has the POW/MIA issue remained so controversial? 2) Was there a conspiracy to conceal the existence of POWs left behind in Indochina? 3) What incident from Bloods most affected you? Why?

History and Myth: The Vietnam War in American Film
Due: Prepare rewrite.
Discussion: 1) To what extent do popular films accurately portray the Vietnam War? Why or why not? 2) Is it possible for films to present history accurately?

The Vietnam Debate (I)
Due: Research Rewrite (optional).
Discussion: Why was the U.S. in Vietnam?

The Vietnam Debate (II)
Due: Begin Van Devanter, Home Before Morning
Discussion: Why was the U.S. unable to achieve victory in Vietnam?

American Women and the Vietnam War
Due: Van Devanter, 9-208.
Discussion: 1) How was the experience of American women different from that of American men? 2) What incident from Van Devanter’s life most affected you? Why?

Coming Home
Due: Van Devanter, 209-326; O’Brien, "Speaking of Courage" (packet).
Discussion: 1) How and why were veterans mistreated after they returned home?  2) What incidents from Van Devanter and O’Brien most affected you? Why? 3) To what extent were the experiences of male and female veterans similar and/or different? 4) How do you account for the similarities and the differences?

Vietnam and S.E. Asia after 1975
Due: Young, chapter 15; assorted articles (packet, 20-35); Hayslip, 23-25, 54-64, 97-103, 124-127; 130-133; 140-144; 157-159; 165-168, 190-193, 204-209, 216-221, 227-235, 240-254, 262-273, 284-294, 303-307, 310-319, 334-343, 355-368.
Discussion: 1) To what extent must the U.S. bear responsibility for what happened in S.E. Asia after 1975? 2) In what sense was North Vietnam victorious? 3) In what ways has Vietnam changed (and not changed) since 1975?

The "Lessons" of Vietnam: History, Politics, and Tactics
Due: Young, epilogue; McMahon, chapter 15.
Discussion: What is the most important "lesson" of Vietnam? Why?

For changes and updates, please consult the ERes course page. The discussion questions serve as a general guide to reading assignments, class participation, and exam essays.