Almost a half-century after it ended, the Vietnam War continues to inspire passion and controversy. It is, in a sense, the war that never ends. This course aims to introduce participants to the history of the war and to delve into some of the most contentious questions that it inspires among historians and other commentators. The goal is not only to recover an enormously complicated history but also to bring greater clarity to ongoing debates.
The course will proceed chronologically, but it will not offer a simple narrative of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Rather, it will delve into five broad areas of contention. Why was there social and political conflict in Vietnam? Why did that conflict come to matter so much to U.S. leaders in the 1950s and 1960s? Why did the United States fail to achieve its goals in Vietnam? How did the United States ultimately extricate itself from the fight? And what are the principal lessons and implications of the war for American politics, policy, and society?
Although the course will focus on the U.S. experience, it will also draw on and highlight new scholarship rooted in examination of Vietnamese, Soviet, Chinese, and East European sources — material that has transformed the study of the war in the last 20 years or so. I will share revealing documents and address the key areas of uncertainty that remain fertile for new research in the years ahead.