History 3400: The Vietnam War

Dr. David Krugler Spring 2007

320 Warner Hall 101 Boebel

342-1783; kruglerd@uwplatt.edu Mon. 2-2:52

Office Hours: Mon. 1-2, 3-4; Tu. 1-4 Wed. 2-3:52

Wed. 12-2; Th. 9-10, 1-3


This course examines U.S. involvement in the politics, economies, societies, and civil strife of Southeast Asia during the years 1945-1975. This involvement led to a war that took the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and almost two million Vietnamese. To fight this war, the U.S. dropped more bombs than any other nation in history and spent almost $150 billion in direct costs. Despite this effort and sacrifice, the U.S. and its allies failed to achieve their basic goal: prevent the unification of Vietnam under communist rule. It is no surprise, then, that U.S. history textbooks use the following words or phrases to describe the Vietnam War: “quagmire”; “brutal and futile struggle”; “The Lost Crusade.”[1] As this language also suggests, the war still evokes powerful and heartfelt reactions from people who lived through its duration.


We have several goals in this course:


      To learn the domestic and geopolitical sources of Vietnam’s 20th century struggle for independence.

      To understand why anti-communism became the guiding principle of American foreign policy and led the U.S. to “make a stand” in Vietnam.

      To trace the long arc of U.S. economic, political, and military intervention in Vietnam.

      To learn what the war was like for U.S. military personnel, Vietnamese combatants and civilians, and citizens of Laos and Cambodia.

      To examine both opposition to and support for the U.S. war in Vietnam.


The course combines lectures with discussions. Each student is obligated to participate in regular discussions of the reading assignments, which come from the following sources:


George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, 4th ed.

Tim O’Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

William Duiker, Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam

James S. Olson and Randy Roberts, My Lai: A Brief History with Documents

Marilyn B. Young et al., The Vietnam War: A History in Documents


Students may obtain copies of the books at the Textbook Rental Center with the exception of Tim O’Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone. This title must be purchased, either at the University Bookstore in the Pioneer Student Center or through an online retailer. (Used copies are acceptable.) Some assignments may use handouts (distributed by the instructor) or web-based sources (available on the course web site).



Exams: You will take a midterm exam and a cumulative final exam (each worth 15% of your total grade). Study guides will be distributed before the test dates, which are listed below.


Response essay: Early in the semester, you will write a 2 page response essay (worth 10% of your total grade) about an excerpt of Vietnamese literature. This assignment will introduce you to Vietnam’s cultural heritage and help you understand how many Vietnamese defined their struggle for independence.


Writing: You will write a 10 page research paper (worth 30% of your total grade) on a topic of your choice. A sheet explaining the assignment will be distributed well in advance of the final due date, and you should consider this paper to be an on-going project. Therefore, four separate due dates apply to the paper: thesis and bibliography, progress report, rough draft and peer review, and final draft (see schedule below). Please know that each student must participate in the in-class editing session and late papers will not be accepted.


Discussion: In seven classes, we will hold an in-depth discussion of shared reading about significant historical problems related to the Vietnam War. Your individual participation in these discussions and related activities is mandatory and is worth 25% of your total grade. Discussion guides will be distributed in advance of each discussion, and you must complete the reading by class time. The date of each discussion is given below. Some reading assignments are lengthy, so be sure to set aside sufficient time to complete the reading by the due date. The assignment schedule indicates when you should begin reading for each discussion. IMPORTANT: In order to ensure that all students are completing the reading assignments, I may occasionally give pop quizzes before we begin discussion. These quizzes will be worth 5% of your total grade. Discussion activities may also include the following: group work; peer review of research papers; and brief, in-class writing assignments.


Attendance and accommodations: Timely and regular attendance is expected; roll will be taken. Students who are frequently absent when roll is taken will have their grade lowered at the semester’s end. If you cannot attend class, please let me know ahead of time. Class or assignment conflicts due to religious beliefs will be rescheduled according to UW Statute 22.03. Eligible students who require test or lecture accommodations should speak with me.


Grade Components:

Research paper @ 30% Midterm @ 15% Participation @ 25%

Final exam @ 15% Response essay @ 10% Quizzes @ 5%


Course Schedule:

Reading assignments are subject to announced changes, which will supersede the reading listed on this schedule.


Week 1: Begin reading Duiker, 1-52; Young, 6-23.

Mon. 1/22 Introduction to the course.

Wed. 1/24 Background on Vietnam and communism.


Week 2: Finish reading Duiker, 1-52; Young, 6-23.

Mon. 1/29 Vietnam as a French colony.

Wed. 1/31 Lect. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Disc. #1: Origins of Vietnamese nationalism.


Week 3: Begin reading Duiker, 95-137; Herring, 53-87.

Mon. 2/5 WWII and America’s postwar aims in Southeast Asia.

Wed. 2/7 Response essay due. The U.S., France, and Vietnam, 1945-54.

Week 4: Finish reading Duiker, 95-137; Herring, 53-87.

Mon. 2/12 Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime.

Wed. 2/14 Lect. Formation of the NLF. Disc. #2: U.S. aid to South Vietnam.


Week 5: Start reading Herring 131-169; Duiker, 138-184.

Mon. 2/19 Kennedy’s conundrum.

Wed. 2/21 Getting rid of Diem.


Week 6: Continue reading Herring 131-169; Duiker, 138-184

Mon. 2/26 Midterm exam.

Wed. 2/28 Lect. The “Long 1964”; library research methods.

Week 7: Finish reading Herring 131-169; Duiker, 138-184. Paper thesis and bibliography due; schedule appointment with instructor.

Mon. 3/5 The “Long 1964,” continued.

Wed. 3/7 Operation Rolling Thunder; Disc. #3: Choosing war.


Spring Break: 3/10 through 3/18


Week 8: Read website with oral interviews; handout.

Mon. 3/19 The ground war—varying strategies.

Wed. 3/21 Lect. Escalation of the war. Disc. #4: What was it like to be a grunt?


Week 9: Begin reading Young, 131-36; Olson and Roberts, 1-25 and excerpts to be assigned.

Mon. 3/26 Opposition to the war; international response to the war.

Wed. 3/28 North Vietnam’s relationship with China and the U.S.S.R.


Week 10: Finish reading Young, 131-36; Olson and Roberts, 1-25 and excerpts to be assigned.

Mon. 4/2 Progress report on paper due. The siege of Khe Sanh and Tet.

Wed. 4/4 Lect. Khe Sanh and Tet, continued. Disc. #5: Massacre at My Lai.


Week 11: Start reading O’Brien.

Mon. 4/9 No class—April break.

Wed. 4/11 1969—the peak of U.S. military commitment.


Week 12: Continue reading O’Brien.

Mon. 4/16 The “silent majority”; growing opposition to the war.

Wed. 4/18 Papers due and in-class peer review.


Week 13: Continue reading O’Brien.

Mon. 4/23 “Vietnamization” of the war; escalated bombing.

Wed. 4/25 Revised papers due. Lect. Vietnam on film.


Week 14: Finish reading O’Brien.

Mon. 4/30 Nixon and Kissinger’s peace plans.

Wed. 5/2 Lect. Why North Vietnam won. Disc. #6 A U.S. soldier’s memoir.


Week 15: Read Herring, 323-368; Duiker, 259-71; Young 147-161.

Mon. 5/7 Peace at last?

Wed. 5/9 Lect. Assessing the war 30 years later. Disc. #7 Vietnam’s legacy.


FINAL EXAM: Wed. 5/16, 3-4:52pm. Please note: graduating seniors must take the final.


[1] Alan Brinkley, Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People, vol. 2: From 1865, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997), 852; David Kennedy et al., The Brief American Pageant: A History of the Republic, 5th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 589; Paul Boyer et al., The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, 1890s to the Present, 3rd ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1996), 983.