Further information on Spring 2018 courses


Mike Harper: Thinking about Vietnam, 2018



There’s no textbook. All the readings will be distributed (by email only) ten days before they will be discussed.


Expanded description

The class will consider many of the great questions raised by America’s participation in the Vietnamese “Wars of National Liberation.” Were we sucked in by circumstance, or propelled by ideology? Was our war a “just war?” How could America win every battle but lose the war? Fifty years later, was 1968 really when our American society started to fracture?


Schedule of classes (subject to modification)

Class 1: Origins of War, part 1. A brief history of the colonial period (1850 – 1945); the Vietnamese nationalist movement; America’s evolving views of colonialism, democracy and the communist threat; Vietnam declares its independence; the war with the French begins.

Class 2: Origins of War, part 2. War with the French starts in earnest; the Vietminh; the beginnings of American involvement (1945 – 1960); the battle at Dien Bien Phu; the Geneva Accords.

Class 3: Diem: America’s “puppet;” fortified hamlets; Giap’s theory of war; Kennedy’s build-up; the American advisors; the Army of the Republic of Vietnam; the battle of ApBac; John Paul Vann; General Harkens and the hijacking of “intelligence.”

Class 4: The Buddhist crisis; the murder of Diem; the National Liberation Front; the Tonkin Gulf Resolution; LBJ’s dilemma in 1964. When did America’s war become inevitable?

Class 5: “Let’s go, boys:” Rolling Thunder; base protection; patrolling; “search and destroy”; escalation. Americans discover that we’re at war; role of the press. One-hour PBS film: Two Days in October.

Class 6: The “point of the spear:” the American fighters. Westmoreland’s strategy; professionals replaced by draftees; the draft. The antiwar movement escalates; M.L. King speech at Riverside.

Class 7: The climax: Khe Sahn, Tet, changes of command and the war grinds on, 1968 – 1972; Nixon’s “secret plan to end the war;” “Vietnamization;” troop reductions; negotiations to end the war; the ARVN disaster at Tchepone; B-52s.

Class 8: Lessons learned? The class, rich in experience, diverse in perspectives, and now well- informed, will choose what to discuss.

Many, probably most, students are as interested in participants’ stories as in the chronology of the war itself. Who were the Vietminh fighters? The French soldiers? The anti-war protesters? The Americans (in particular, the “grunts”)? These stories don’t fit neatly into the chronology, but we’ll make time to explore them in every class session.