War and revolution in vietnam

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ã Dr Kevin Ruane

Department of History


September 2002


Classes are scheduled for Mondays 1400-1600

7 October 2002 Lecture: Introduction to the Course
14 October 2002 Lecture: The Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution
21 October 2002 Seminar: The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945

28 October 2002 (1) Video: “Uncle Ho and Uncle Sam”

(2) America and the Cold War, 1945-1950
4 November 2002 Lecture: The Franco-Vietminh War, 1946-54
11 November 2002 Seminar: 1954 - Year of Decision
18 November 2002 Seminar: The 1954 Vietnam Crisis Dissected
25 November 2002 Lecture: Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1961
2 December 2002 Seminar: The Formation of the NLF, December1960
9 December 2002 Lecture: The Kennedy Strategy, 1961-63
16 December 2002 Seminar: The Kennedy “withdrawal” debate


13 January 2003 Lecture: Johnson and US Escalation in Vietnam, 1963-65

20 January 2003 Seminar: On Hanoi’s Escalation, 1963-65

27 January 2003 Seminar: Air War and Ground War, 1965-68
3 February 2003 Lecture: The Tet Offensive
10 February 2003 Seminar: The American anti-war movement

17 February 2003 (1) Lecture: Assessing Johnson

(2) Video: ‘Johnson’s War?’
24 February 2003 (1) Timed Essay

(2) Lecture: Nixon and the World

3 March 2003 Seminar: The Nixon Strategy
10 March 2003 Lecture: A Savage War of Peace, 1971-75
17 March 2003 Seminar: Hanoi’s relations with Beijing and Moscow
24 March 2003 Seminar: Consequences, Explanations, Reflections



On the following pages you find lecture/seminar briefings and discussion formats.

u Lectures:

It is important that you do not come to lectures completely ‘cold’. You will get far more out of the sessions if you are already familiar with the topics, themes and issues to be covered. Therefore, use the time between lectures efficiently and effectively by reading along the lines suggested. And remember that lectures are only an aid to understanding, a guide to further independent study. They will not provide you with everything you need to know, only a route map through the particular historical terrain under discussion. Follow-up reading is essential if you are to fill the gaps in your knowledge and comprehension.

u Seminars:

The seminars will usually revolve around key ‘readings’, highlighted in the briefings. These are available, in master copy form, at Glebe House, where they can be photocopied for a flat rate fee of 75 pence. In addition to the key readings, you are encouraged to read something else in order to broaden your contextual understanding of the issues and identify conflicting or competing viewpoints.

u Recommended reading:

At the back of this course-book you will find the Select Bibliography for the course. The recommended reading for lecture and seminars contained in the briefings is in the form of abbreviated references to texts and articles in the bibliography where full publication details can be found. Precise pages or chapters have not always been highlighted in the lecture and seminar recommendations - it is up to you to use your texts judiciously, although most will indicate quite clearly the specific topic or area to be read-up for a given session. Pressure on book stocks, rather like death and taxes, will always be with us, but if you experience major problems please let me know.

Articles are a very important resource for this course - make sure you use them. Articles can be borrowed from the History Resources Centre at Glebe House.
To reiterate: a master copy of the key readings for the seminars will be kept at Glebe House and can be photocopied, on the Departmental copier, for a flat rate of 75 pence.
u Tutorials:

I am more than happy to see students on a one-to-one basis, but you must arrange a tutorial with me in advance rather than turn up at my room on the off chance. I always bring my diary to lectures and seminars, so catch me at the end of a session.



Coursework makes up 40 PER CENT of your final mark. A written three-hour examination makes up the remaining 60 PER CENT.



You are required to produce FOUR pieces of coursework with 10 PER CENT of the total coursework marks allotted to each individual piece.
Your coursework complement comprises:

a) two essays of approximately 1,500 words

b) one timed essay, undertaken in approximate examination conditions

c) one document question

The two conventional essays should be chosen from the list of titles on page 4. You must choose one title from section A and one from section B. You must also include an annotated bibliography with your conventional essays - a sentence or two outlining your thoughts on the texts you have consulted, commenting on general line of argument, value as a source, persuasiveness of case etc. The document question will be set mid-way through the first (Michaelmas) term.

SUBMISSION DEADLINES: all work to be handed in to the Departmental Secretary at Glebe House

Document Question: Wednesday 18 December 2002, 4pm

Essay #1: Monday 3 February 2003, 4pm

Essay #2: Monday 28 April 2003, 4pm

Timed Essay Paper to be given out and essay to be written in class on 24 February 2003


these submission dates are not negotiable …

You should be warned that failure to submit ALL FOUR pieces of work will be penalised.
SECTION A (Essay #1, due 3 Feb. 2003)
1) Why did the Truman administration acquiesce in the return of the French to Vietnam in 1945?
2) Why did it take the United States until 1950 to come out in support of the French war in Vietnam?
3) What evidence is there to support Dean Acheson’s claim that France 'blackmailed' America into providing ever increasing amounts of military assistance for Vietnam in the period 1950-54?
4) Assess the value of Chinese and Soviet assistance to the Vietnamese Communists in the 1945 to 1954 period.
5) How important was the British role in deterring American intervention in Vietnam in 1954?

  1. Was the creation of the NLF in 1960 a reaction to the excesses of Diem's rule, America's 'nation

building' policy, or North Vietnam's encouragement?

  1. Do you accept that the United States ‘both wanted and inspired the removal of Diem in 1963’

(Michael Charlton) ?
8) A TITLE OF YOUR CHOICE (period up to 1960, but cleared with me in advance)
SECTION B (Essay #2, due 28 Apr. 2003)
1) How successful was the Kennedy administration’s counter-insurgency strategy
2) Why did President Johnson favour gradual escalation in Vietnam rather than all-out war between 1963 and 1968?
3) Compare and contrast Hanoi's relations with Beijing and Moscow between 1963 and 1969.
4) Was Vietnam by 1967-68 'Johnson's war'?
5) What was the significance of Operation Lamson 719 in 1971?
6) Did Nixon achieve 'peace with honor' in 1973?
7) Was Vietnam a war that America could never win?
8) A TITLE OF YOUR CHOICE (period after 1960, but cleared with me in advance)

All sessions run Mondays 1400-1600

7 October 2002


Introduction to the Course

You will be introduced to the key themes and issues to be examined during the course and given a grounding Vietnam War and Cold War historiography. Why is Vietnam worthy of study? Why are you here?
14 October 2002


The Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution

In February 1930, a small group of Vietnamese communists met together in Hong Kong. Political exiles from their own country where they were wanted by the French colonial authorities, and in danger of arrest by a British colonial administration that viewed them as dangerous subversives, the gathering took place - legend has it - at a football match at Hong Kong stadium. By the time the final whistle blew, a single and united Vietnamese communist party had been formed. Presiding over this unity conference was a forty-year-old Annamite, Ho Chi Minh. A long-time, well-known and much respected nationalist, Ho was also a dedicated communist and agent of Comintern. He and his comrades committed themselves to the creation of a free and ultimately communist Vietnam, hence to two revolutions, a national and a social. In pursuit of these goals, they would eventually humble a European colonial power and bring to its knees the world's greatest super-power. This lecture will thus focus on the nature of Vietnamese communism, its relationship to Comintern and the Soviet Union during the 1930s, the national and social objectives that Ho and his followers set themselves (and which they remained loyal to throughout four decades of struggle), the 'fall' of France in 1940 and the gradual annexation of Indochina by Japan in 1940-41, and the birth of the Vietnamese Independence League (Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi) in May 1941, better known as the Vietminh. The lecture will culminate in an account of the August Revolution of 1945, the subject of next week’s seminar session.

Bibliography: Section A, Overviews

De Groot, Noble Cause; Duiker, Communist Road; Duiker, Sacred War (chap.1); Duiker, Ho Chi Minh; Harrison, Endless War; Kolko, Anatomy; Maclear, Ten Thousand Day War; McMahon, Major Problems (chap. 2); Ruane, War and Revolution; Ruane, Vietnam Wars; Short, Origins of the Vietnam War; Schulzinger, Time for War (chap.1); Wintle, Viet Nam Wars; Young, Vietnam Wars

Bibliography: Section B, Vietnam before 1945


Curry, Victory at Any Cost; Gardner, Approaching Vietnam; Karnow, Vietnam, chap.3 and most of chap.4; Marr, Vietnamese Tradition; Marr, Vietnam 1945; Tonnesson, Vietnamese Revolution


D27, D28, H21, H34, H50, L27, P14, T9
21 October 2002


The Vietnamese Revolution of August 1945

There are three readings for this session. Reading A deals with the Vietminh's plans and preparations for seizing power, and how, in August 1945, they managed to achieve their objective - culminating in Ho Chi Minh's declaration of Vietnam's independence on 2 September 1945. Reading B looks at American policy during this period, in particular President Franklin D. Roosevelt's oft-stated determination that France should not return to Vietnam and, by implication, his support for the cause of national self-determination for the Vietnamese people; and then his successor, President Truman, and his decision to restore French sovereignty in the summer of 1945. Reading C comprises a series of documentary sources.

READING A: From William J. Duiker's Sacred War, pp.37-52
READING B: Article H22, George C. Herring, 'The Truman Administration and the restoration of French sovereignty in French Indochina'
READING C: From Ruane, Vietnam Wars, Chapter 1, esp. documents 1.1-1.11 (pp.11-27)
Further reading as last week
28 October 2002


‘Uncle Ho and Uncle Sam’

During the last months of the Second World War, the Vietminh assisted the American OSS - the forerunner of the CIA - to locate 'downed' US pilots in Vietnam. In return, the Vietminh were given arms and supplies and, most importantly, encouragement that Washington would indeed support its claims for independence at the end of the war. However, the alliance between 'Uncle Sam and Uncle Ho' came to nothing, as this programme from the BBC's Timewatch series explains.


America and the Cold War, 1945-1950

This is an important background lecture insofar as American involvement in Vietnam from 1950 can be seen as a direct result of Washington's adherence to the national security doctrine known as Containment. The US government came to embrace Containment in 1946 as a means of countering what was perceived to be the aggressive expansionist policy of the Soviet Union. In other words, it became America's chosen method for waging the Cold War up to and including the 1970s. But Containment was not born fully-formed. It grew, and in some ways transformed itself, in the period 1946 to 1950. In your background reading, you should look first at the way in which US-Soviet relations soured after April 1945 (was it mere coincidence that the deterioration set in after Roosevelt's death?). Also note the confusion in Washington in 1945-46 about how to respond to what was seen as Soviet aggression: direct confrontation meant war, while a do-nothing approach was equally unsatisfactory. Enter George F Kennan, Chargé d'Affaires at the US Embassy in Moscow, with his famous Long Telegram of February 1946 in which the outline of Containment was first drawn. Neither war, nor peace, but ... Containment. An acceptance of the division of the world as it was, while ensuring that the Communists made no more gains at the expense of the West. If Western military defences and political resolve could be strengthened, Kennan argued, the Soviet Union would be hemmed in. At root, Containment meant maintaining the status quo and a related readiness to adopt the offensive should the Communist bloc attempt to disrupt the global balance in the diplomatic, political, economic or military sphere. Trip-wire diplomacy, it might be called, or symmetrical strategic response.

Look at the way Kennan's idea of Containment developed in 1946 and 1947. What kind of a threat did he consider the Communist world to pose? Was it purely military? Note his 'X' article (published in Foreign Affairs in July 1947), and consider to what extent the Truman administration adopted Kennanite Containment in the same period, and how far it refined it after its own taste - Kennan, after all, was only an adviser to the US government which could take, leave, or adapt his 'advice'. Look at the Truman Doctrine of March 1947 and the Marshall Plan of 1947-48 in this light. Move on to consider American motives for signing the North Atlantic Treaty in April 1949. Most importantly, think about the Truman administration's reaction to the twin disasters of late 1949: the 'loss' of China to Mao Tse-tung's Communists, and the Soviet explosion of a nuclear weapon thereby ending America's atomic monopoly. In response, Truman ordered a major national security review. This landed on his desk in April 1950 under the prefix NSC-68. How did NSC-68 redefine Kennanite Containment? It certainly gave rise to the concept of the National Security State, but what did that mean? And finally, what implications was the birth of NSC-68 (the universalisation and militarisation of containment?) likely to have for American policy towards the French effort to regain and retain its former position in Vietnam, now entering its fifth year?

READING: the literature on Containment is massive, but a good starting point (in Section A of the bibliography) would be Ambrose Globalism chaps. 4 to 6 inclusive, then move on the more detailed analysis to be found in Gaddis Strategies of Containment chaps. 2 and 3.

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