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Vietnam's American War
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Communist forces in the Vietnam War lost most battles and suffered disproportionally higher casualties than the United States and its allies throughout the conflict. The ground war in South Vietnam and the air war in the North were certainly important in shaping the fates of the victors and losers, but they alone fail to explain why Hanoi bested Washington in the end. To make sense of the Vietnam War, we must look beyond the war itself. In his new work, Pierre Asselin explains the formative experiences and worldview of the men who devised communist strategies and tactics during the conflict, and analyzes their rationale and impact. Drawing on two decades of research in Vietnam's own archives, including classified policy statements and reports, Asselin expertly and straightforwardly relates the Vietnamese communist experience - and the reasons the war turned out the way it did.


'An informative, impressive, and invaluable study of North Vietnam's conduct of its war with the United States. A major contribution!'

George C. Herring - University of Kentucky

'Finally a concise, penetrating, and insightful account of the Vietnam War as seen from the other side. Relying on a wealth of new Vietnamese sources, Pierre Asselin does what few have ever achieved: he has provided a highly readable general history of communist Vietnam's "American War.'

Christopher Goscha - Université du Québec à Montréal

'From the fog of a bitter and divisive thirty-year war, Pierre Asselin stands at the forefront of scholars helping to illuminate the reasons North Vietnam prevailed in its American War. Vietnamese history, personalities, politics, military strategies, and transcending ideologies are brilliantly distilled in this insightful analysis of war, its aftermath, and the eventual peace.'

Larry Berman - University of California, Davis

'Through extensive use of Vietnamese language sources, Pierre Asselin’s valuable and perceptive explanation of the war - its origins, conduct, outcome, and legacy - provides a long-needed analysis centering on Hanoi from start to finish and on how this small nation prevailed in a test of wills with the powerful United States.'

David L. Anderson - California State University, Monterey Bay

'Professor Asselin expertly and straightforwardly relates the Vietnamese communist experience - and the reasons the war turned out the way it did. Offering a unique and impressively informed and informative perspective, Vietnam's American War: A History is an extraordinary study of exceptional scholarship and unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Vietnam War collections and supplemental studies lists.'

Source: Midwest Book Review

'It is an extraordinary piece of scholarship, with revelations in every chapter.'

Source: History Today

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  • 1 - From Dai Viet to the August Revolution
    pp 16-46

As indicated in the Introduction, a vast number of books have been written about the Vietnam War. Their quality fluctuates greatly. Featured below are some of the better titles, arranged by topic.

Surprisingly, few works have focused on the subject of this study: that is, the Vietnamese communist experience in the war. Ang Cheng Guan has produced first-rate works recounting that experience, and communist decision-making in particular, including The Vietnam War from the Other Side: The Vietnamese Communists’ Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2002); Ending the Vietnam War: The Vietnamese Communists’ Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2004); and Vietnamese Communists’ Relations with China and the Second Indochina Conflict, 1956–1962 (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 1997). Equally prolific in relating the communist perspective, and a pioneer in that realm, has been Duiker, William, whose The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam [2nd ed.] (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996) is the richest history of Vietnamese communism. Duiker’s biography of Minh, Ho Chi, Ho Chi Minh: A Life (New York: Theia, 2000), offers fascinating insights on its most famous adherent, as does Quinn-Judge, Sophie’s Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years, 1919–1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). Khanh, Huynh Kim’s Vietnamese Communism, 1925–1945 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982) remains the best study of the origins of the communist movement in Vietnam.

Asselin, Pierre’s Hanoi’s Road to the Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013) and Nguyen, Lien-Hang’s Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012) complement each other nicely, and together constitute the most comprehensive assessment of Vietnam’s American War based on Vietnamese archival sources. Vu, Tuong’s Vietnam’s Communist Revolution: The Power and Limits of Ideology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017) is an excellent recent study of the Vietnamese communist worldview. Post, Ken’s five-volume Revolution, Socialism and Nationalism in Viet Nam (Brookfield: Dartmouth Publishing Co., 1989–94) is a little more dated, but represents the most comprehensive study of the Vietnamese communist struggle for independence and national reunification written from a Marxist perspective. A more personal experience is related in Tin, Bui, From Enemy to Friend: A North Vietnamese Perspective on the War (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002).

The history of North Vietnam’s armed forces, the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), is addressed in Pike, Douglas, PAVN: People’s Army of Vietnam (New York: Da Capo Press, 1991) and Lockhart, Greg, Nation in Arms: The Origins of the People’s Army of Vietnam (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989). An indispensable, official military history of the American War is Military Institute of Vietnam (translated by Merle Pribbenow), Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2002). Another insightful Vietnamese history of the conflict is Lich, Le Kinh (ed.), The 30-Year War, 1945–1975 – Volume II: 1954–1975 (Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2002). A richly detailed and engaging history of the Ho Chi Minh Trail is provided in Prados, John, Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1999).

On Vietnamese communist diplomacy, the “diplomatic struggle,” see Loi, Luu Van, Fifty Years of Vietnamese Diplomacy, 1945–1995 – Volume 1: 1945–1975 (Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2000); Nien, Nguyen Dy, Ho Chi Minh Thought on Diplomacy (Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2004); and Thien, Ton That, The Foreign Politics of the Communist Party of Vietnam: A Study in Communist Tactics (New York: Crane Russak, 1989). Loi, Luu Van and Anh, Nguyen The, The Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris (Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 1995) offers riveting and invaluable insights on Hanoi and the secret Paris talks.

The Viet Cong – that is, Southern Vietnamese communist – experience is considered in Hunt, David, Vietnam’s Southern Revolution: From Peasant Insurrection to Total War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008). Revolutionary strategies and tactics in the South are expertly related in Elliott, David, The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta, 1930–1975 [concise ed.] (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2007); Race, Jeffrey, War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972); Tanham, George, Communist Revolutionary Warfare: From the Vietminh to the Viet Cong (Westport: Praeger, 2006); Andres, William, The Village War: Vietnamese Communist Revolutionary Activity in Dinh Truong Province, 1960–64 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1973); Thayer, Carlyle, War by Other Means: National Liberation and Revolution in Viet-Nam, 1954–60 (Cambridge: Unwin Hyman Publishers, 1989); and Pike, Douglas, Viet Cong: The Organization and Techniques of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1966). Robert Brigham considers Viet Cong foreign relations in Guerrilla Diplomacy: The NLF’s Foreign Relations and the Viet Nam War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998). Tang, Truong Nhu, A Viet Cong Memoir (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) and Dinh, Nguyen Thi, No Other Road to Take: Memoirs of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Dinh (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Data Paper no. 102, 1976) are both absorbing first-hand accounts.

Other useful studies of the Vietnamese communist experience include Fforbe, Adam and Paine, Susan, The Limits of National Liberation: Problems of Economic Management in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (London: Croom Helm, 1987); Gurtov, Melvin, Hanoi on War and Peace (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 1967); Van Chi, Hoang, From Colonialism to Communism: A Case History of North Vietnam (New York: Pall Mall Press, 1964); Honey, P. J., Communism in North Vietnam: Its Role in the Sino-Soviet Dispute (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973); Khang, Ho, The Tet Mau Than 1968 Event in South Vietnam (Hanoi: The Gioi Publishers, 2001); Van Luong, Hy, Revolution in the Village: Tradition and Transformation in North Vietnam, 1925–1988 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992); Kerkvliet, Benedict, The Power of Everyday Politics: How Vietnamese Peasants Transformed National Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005); Moïse, Edwin, Land Reform in China and North Vietnam: Consolidating the Revolution at the Village Level (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); Ninh, Kim, A World Transformed: The Politics of Culture in Revolutionary Vietnam, 1945–1965 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002); Pelley, Patricia, Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002); Smyser, W. R., The Independent Vietnamese: Vietnamese Communism between Russia and China, 1956–1969 (Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, Southeast Asia Series no. 55, 1980); and Van Dyke, Jon, North Vietnam’s Strategy for Survival (Palo Alto: Pacific Books, 1972), which addresses how the DRVN and its people coped with US bombings.

An outstanding, must-read general history of Vietnam is Goscha, Christopher’s Vietnam: A New History (New York: Basic Books, 2016). Early Vietnamese history is the focus of Taylor, Keith, The Birth of Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983). Taylor recently produced the more comprehensive A History of the Vietnamese (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), which is quite detailed but not reader-friendly. SarDesai, D. R.’s Vietnam: Past and Present [4th ed.] (Boulder: Westview Press, 2009) is respectable. Kiernan, Ben’s Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) is more meticulous and recent. Other interesting but more dated works are Buttinger, Joseph, Vietnam: A Political History (Westport: Praeger, 1968); Jamieson, Neil, Understanding Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); and Vien, Nguyen Khac, Vietnam: A Long History (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1987), which presents the official, Vietnamese communist interpretation of Vietnam’s own past. Woodside, Alexander, Vietnam and the Chinese Model: A Comparative Study of Nguyen and Ch’ing Civil Government in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), offers intriguing glimpses into Vietnam’s last dynasty.

The best, most readily accessible history of the Vietnam War, that expertly addresses both sides, is Turley, William’s The Second Indochina War: A Concise Political and Military History [2nd ed.] (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). The most widely used text on the war is Herring, George’s America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950–1975 [5th ed.] (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013). Other excellent and reader-friendly studies are Karnow, Stanley, Vietnam: A History [2nd ed.] (New York: Penguin, 1997); Lawrence, Mark Atwood, The Vietnam War: A Concise International History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Prados, John, Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945–1975 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009).

Dated but classic works include Buzzanco, Robert, Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Davidson, Phillip, Vietnam at War: The History 1946–1975 (Novato: Presidio Press, 1988); Fitzgerald, Frances, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1972); Harrison, James, The Endless War: Vietnam’s Struggle for Independence (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983); Kahin, George and Lewis, John, The United States in Vietnam (New York: Dial, 1967); Kolko, Gabriel, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), which presents a strong Marxist viewpoint; Lewy, Guenter, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); Lomperis, Timothy, The War Everyone Lost – and Won: America’s Intervention in Viet Nam’s Twin Struggles (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984); Maclear, Michael, The Ten Thousand Day War – Vietnam: 1945–1975 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981); Sheehan, Neil, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1988); Smith, Ralph’s three-volume history entitled An International History of the Vietnam War (London: Macmillan Press, 1983–1991); Summers, Harry, On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context (Novato: Presidio Press, 1982); Thayer, Thomas, War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam (Boulder: Westview Press, 1985); Werner, Jayne and Hunt, David (eds.), The American War in Vietnam (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 1993); and Werner, Jayne and Huynh, Luu Doan (eds.), The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1993).

More recent and better-referenced general histories of the Vietnam War include Anderson, David, The Vietnam War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Bradley, Mark Philip, Vietnam at War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Bradley, Marc Philip and Young, Marilyn (eds.), Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Dommen, Arthur, The Indochinese Experience of the French and the Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), an astoundingly detailed account of the war across the Indochinese Peninsula; Duiker, William, Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), which does great justice to the communist side; Gilbert, Marc Jason (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); Hess, Gary, Vietnam and the United States: Origins and Legacy of War (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990); Lind, Michael, Vietnam – The Necessary War: A Reinterpretation of America’s Most Disastrous Military Conflict (New York: The Free Press, 1999); Quinn-Judge, Sophie, The Third Force in the Vietnam Wars: The Elusive Search for Peace, 1954–75 (Chicago: I. B. Tauris, 2017); Schulzinger, Robert, A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941–1975 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Wiest, Andrew, The Vietnam War, 1956–1975 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002); and Young, Marilyn, The Vietnam Wars, 1945–1990 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), which remains a seminal work after all this time. McNamara, Robert, Blight, James and Brigham, Robert, Argument without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (New York: Public Affairs, 1999) is an interesting read.

The literature on the French colonial period is much richer in French than it is in English. One of the best histories is Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Hémery’s work, translated from the French, Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization, 1858–1954 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). Other important studies are Jennings, Eric, Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain’s National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940–1944 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001); Murray, Martin, The Development of Capitalism in Colonial Indochina (1870–1940) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); Long, Ngo Vinh, Before the Revolution: The Vietnamese Peasants under the French (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); and Osborne, Milton, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response (1859–1905) (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 1997). One of the West’s most enduring legacies in Vietnam, Catholicism, is the object of Keith, Charles’s Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). A famous book relating the impact of colonialism on the Vietnamese peasantry is Scott, James, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976). The United States and colonial Indochina is the focus of Bradley, Mark Philip’s superb Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919–1950 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

The Vietnamese response to the French, and the emergence of Vietnamese nationalism and anti-colonialism, has been addressed in a number of excellent studies. The most notable are Duiker, William, The Rise of Nationalism in Vietnam, 1900–1941 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976); Tai, Hue-Tam Ho, Radicalism and the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); Marr, David’s terrific two-volume study comprising Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885–1925 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971) and Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); and McHale, Shawn, Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam, 1920–1945 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008). Lam, Truong Buu’s Patterns of Vietnamese Response to Foreign Intervention: 1858–1900 (New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1967) and his edited Colonialism Experienced: Vietnamese Writings on Colonialism, 1900–1931 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000) provide an assortment of Vietnamese primary sources in English translation. Zinoman, Peter’s award-winning The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862–1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001) provides spellbinding insights on the role French prisons played in the radicalization of Vietnamese nationalists, and communists in particular.

World War II in Indochina, and the so-called August Revolution of 1945, are comprehensively explored in Marr, David, Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) and Tønnesson, Stein, The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh, and de Gaulle in a World at War (Newbury Park: Sage, 1991). See also Gunn, Geoffrey, Rice Wars in Colonial Vietnam: The Great Famine and the Viet Minh Road to Power (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). On America’s wartime collaboration with the Vietminh see the first-person narrative by Patti, Archimedes, Why Vietnam?: Prelude to America’s Albatross (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) and Bartholomew-Feis, Dixee, The OSS and Ho Chi Minh: Unexpected Allies in the War against Japan (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006).

Again, the literature in English is not as exhaustive as that in French when it comes to the Indochina or Franco-Vietminh War of 1946–54, but there are some very good studies available. The lead-up to the war is skillfully addressed by Marr, David in Vietnam: State, War, and Revolution (1945–1946) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013) and Tønnesson, Stein in Vietnam 1946: How the War Began (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).

Good studies of the war’s various dimensions include Lawrence, Mark Atwood and Logevall, Fredrik (eds.), The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007); Edwards, Kathryn, Contesting Indochina: French Remembrance between Decolonization and Cold War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016); Fall, Bernard, Street Without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946–54 (Harrisburg: Stackpole, 1961); and Hammer, Ellen, The Struggle for Indochina, 1940–1955 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966). The Battle of Dien Bien Phu is covered in Fall, Bernard, Hell in a Very Small Place (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966); Roy, Jules, The Battle of Dien Bien Phu (New York: Harper & Row, 1965); and Windrow, Martin, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2004). The Geneva Conference that ended the Indochina War and split Vietnam into two halves is addressed in Cable, James, The Geneva Conference of 1954 on Indochina (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986); Randle, Robert, Geneva 1954: The Settlement of the Indochinese War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969); and Waite, James, The End of the First Indochina War: A Global History (New York: Routledge, 2012).

On the US role in the Indochina War see Arnold, James, The First Domino: Eisenhower, the Military, and America’s Intervention in Vietnam (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1991); Billings-Yun, Melanie, Decision Against War: Eisenhower and Dien Bien Phu, 1954 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Gardner, Lloyd, Approaching Vietnam: From World War II through Dienbienphu (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988); Hess, Gary, The United States’ Emergence as a Southeast Asian Power, 1940–1950(New York: Columbia University Press, 1987); Kaplan, Lawrence, Artaud, Denise, and Rubin, Mark (eds.), Dien Bien Phu and the Crisis of Franco-American Relations, 1954–1955 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997); Morgan, Ted, Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that Led America into the Vietnam War (New York: Random House, 2010); Prados, John, The Sky Would Fall – Operation Vulture: The U.S. Bombing Mission in Indochina, 1954 (New York: Dial Books, 1983); Rotter, Andrew, The Path to Vietnam: Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987); Spector, Ronald, Advice and Support: The Early Years of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1941–1960 (New York: The Free Press, 1985); and Statler, Kathryn, Replacing France: The Origins of American Intervention in Vietnam (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007). Logevall, Fredrik’s Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (New York: Random House, 2012), is a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning account that engagingly considers the Indochina War and the origins of the American commitment in Vietnam. Lawrence, Mark Atwood’s Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) is also excellent in explaining the roots of US involvement.

Fall, Bernard’s The Two Viet-Nams (Westport: Praeger, 1963) and Viet-Nam Witness, 1953–66 (Westport: Praeger, 1966) as well as Lacouture, Jean’s Vietnam: Between Two Truces (New York: Vintage Books, 1966) are dated but quite decent. Logevall, Fredrik’s The Origins of the Vietnam War (New York: Longman, 2001) is a nice introductory text addressing the 1954–65 era. Moyar, Mark, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006) is a solid yet controversial history of the interwar period.

Recently, renewed interest in the presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon has spawned a slew of studies. Those that stand out are Catton, Philip, Diem’s Final Failure: Prelude to America’s War in Vietnam (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002); Chapman, Jessica, Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013); Jacobs, Seth, America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, Religion, Race, and U.S. Intervention in Southeast Asia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004) and Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, 1950–1963 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006); Miller, Edward, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), arguably the best book on Diem; Shar, Geoffrey, The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015); and Stewart, Geoffrey, Vietnam’s Lost Revolution: Ngo Dinh Diem’s Failure to Build and Independent Nation, 1955–1963 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), which is almost as good as Miller’s book. Demery, Monique’s Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu (New York: Public Affairs Books, 2013) is a mesmerizing account of Diem’s sister-in-law and South Vietnam’s First Lady. More dated but nonetheless valuable studies are Hammer, Ellen, A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1987) and Scigliano, Robert, South Vietnam: Nation Under Stress (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963).

On the US role in that period see Anderson, David, Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953–1961 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); Carter, James, Inventing Vietnam: The United States and State Building, 1954–1968 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Elkind, Jessica, Aid Under Fire: Nation Building and the Vietnam War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2016); Jamieson, Neil, Inventing Vietnam: The United States and State Building, 1954–1968 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Jones, Howard, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Kahin, George, Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam (New York: Knopf, 1986); Kaiser, David, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); Moïse, Edwin, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Newman, John, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power (New York: Warner Books, 1992); Porter, Gareth, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); and Rust, William, Kennedy in Vietnam (New York: Scribner, 1985). Two books by Halberstam, David, The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era (New York: Knopf, 1988) and The Best and the Brightest (New York: Random House, 1972), are dated but important.

The American War in Vietnam has been the object of several respectable studies. On the Johnson administration and the war, see Berman, Larry, Planning A Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983) and Lyndon Johnson’s War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991); Gardner, Lloyd, Pay Any Price: Lyndon Johnson and the Wars for Vietnam (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995); Herring, George, LBJ and Vietnam: A Different Kind of War (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994); Hunt, Michael, Lyndon Johnson’s War: America’s Cold War Crusade in Vietnam, 1945–1968 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1996); Logevall, Fredrik, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); and McMaster, H. R., Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joints Chief of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam (New York: Harper Collins, 1997). On the Nixon period, consult Bundy, William, A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (New York: Hill & Wang, 1998); Kimball, Jeffrey, Nixon’s Vietnam War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998); and Schmitz, David, Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

The military dimensions of the US war are the focus of two excellent studies by Daddis, Gregory, No Sure Victory: Measuring U.S. Army Effectiveness and Progress in the Vietnam War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Westmoreland’s War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). See also Cable, Larry, Conflict of Myths: The Development of Counter-Insurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War (New York: New York University Press, 1988); Gibson, James, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986); Palmer, Bruce, The 25-Year War: America’s Military Role in the Vietnam War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984); U.S. Grant Sharp, Strategy for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect (Novato: Presidio Press, 1982); Sorley, Lewis, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Mariner Books, 2007); and Stanton, Shelby, The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1965–1973 (Novato: Presidio Press, 1985). On the US bombing of North Vietnam see the topnotch study by Clodfelter, Mark, The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York: The Free Press, 1989).

On the Tet Offensive and its aftermath, see Allison, William, The Tet Offensive: A Brief History with Documents (New York: Routledge, 2008); Arnold, James, Tet Offensive 1968: Turning Point in Vietnam (Westport: Praeger, 2004); Gilbert, Marc Jason and Head, William (eds.), The Tet Offensive (Westport: Praeger, 1996); Oberdorfer, Don, Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Schmitz, David, The Tet Offensive: Politics, War, and Public Opinion (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); Spector, Ronald, After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam (New York: The Free Press, 1993); Willbanks, James, The Tet Offensive: A Concise History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006); and Wirtz, James, The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). On the war’s other great campaign, the Spring Offensive, refer to Andradé, Dale, Trial by Fire: The 1972 Easter Offensive, America’s Last Vietnam Battle (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1995) and Randolph, Stephen’s masterful study, Powerful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Easter Offensive (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).

The antiwar movement in the United States and elsewhere is the subject of Chatfield, Charles, The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992); DeBenedetti, Charles and Chatfield, Charles, An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1990); Dickerson, James, North to Canada: Men and Women against the Vietnam War (Westport: Praeger, 1999); Foley, Michael, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Gilbert, Marc Jason (ed.), The Vietnam War on Campus: Other Voices, More Distant Drums (Westport: Praeger, 2001); Gitlin, Todd, The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Hall, Simon, Peace and Freedom: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements in the 1960s (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and Rethinking the American Anti-War Movement (New York: Routledge, 2010); Hershberger, Mary, Traveling to Vietnam: American Peace Activists and the War (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998); Hunt, Andrew, The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (New York: New York University Press, 1999); Lewis, Penny, Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013); Small, Melvin, Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994); Small, Melvin and Hoover, William (eds.), Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Antiwar Movement (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992); and Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun, Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), which provides an enthralling take on the American antiwar movement.

For details about the peace process and the talks in Paris, refer to Asselin, Pierre, A Bitter Peace: Washington, Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agreement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002) and Berman, Larry, No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam (New York: The Free Press, 2001). Goodman, Allan’s The Lost Peace: America’s Search for a Negotiated Settlement of the Vietnam War (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978) is also useful but dated, as are Kraslow, David and Loory, Stuart, The Secret Search for Peace in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1968) and Thies, Wallace, When Governments Collide: Coercion and Diplomacy in the Vietnam Conflict, 1964–1968 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980). Herring, George (ed.), Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War: The Negotiating Volumes of the Pentagon Papers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983) includes worthwhile documentary evidence, plus sound insights from Herring himself. The memoir by Kissinger, Henry, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979) and his more recent Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003) are valuable, albeit somewhat polemical and self-serving. Gardner, Lloyd and Gittinger, Ted (eds.), The Search for Peace in Vietnam, 1964–1968 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004) has much merit, as does James Hershberg’s painstakingly-researched and entrancing Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).

The South Vietnamese experience in the war remains poorly documented. Diem, Bui, In the Jaws of History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987) is written by a former South Vietnamese ambassador to the United States. Hung, Nguyen Tien and Schecter, Jerrold, The Palace File (New York: Harper & Row, 1986) similarly presents an official interpretation of events. Taylor, Keith (ed.), Voices from the Second Republic of South Vietnam (1967–1975) (Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2015) is quite decent. On the armed forces of the Saigon regime, see Brigham, Robert, ARVN: Life and Death in the South Vietnamese Army (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006) and Wiest, Andy, Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN (New York: New York University Press, 2009).

A few outstanding works exist on the role of Hanoi’s allies during the war, and should be read by all serious students. They include Jian, Chen, Mao’s China and the Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Olsen, Mari, Soviet-Vietnam Relations and the Role of China, 1949–64: Changing Alliances (New York: Routledge, 2006); Zhai, Qiang, China and the Vietnam Wars (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); and the two studies based on Russian archives by Gaiduk, Ilya, Confronting Vietnam: Soviet Policy Toward the Indochina Conflict, 1954–1963 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003) and The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996). The best works on the Sino-Soviet dispute, and its implications for the war in Vietnam, are Khoo, Nicholas, Collateral Damage: Sino-Soviet Rivalry and the Termination of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Lüthi, Lorenz, The Sino-Soviet Split, 1956–1966 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); and Radchenko, Sergei, Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962–1967 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).

Few works have been published in English specifically addressing the last two years of the war, after the United States withdrew the last of its combat forces. Two riveting accounts are Snepp, Frank, Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002) and Veith, George, Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973–75 (New York: Encounter Books, 2012). Other valuable works are Dawson, Alan, 55 Days: The Fall of South Vietnam (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1977); Haley, Edward, Congress and the Fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia (Rutherford: Associated University Presses, 1982); Herrington, Stuart, Peace with Honor? An American Reports on Vietnam, 1973–75 (Novato: Presidio Press, 1983); Isaacs, Arnold, Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983); Porter, Gareth, A Peace Denied: The U.S., Vietnam, and the Paris Agreements (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975); and Willbanks, James, Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004).

Comprehensive studies of Vietnam in the postwar era include Duiker, William, Vietnam: Revolution in Transition (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995); Elliott, David, Changing Worlds: Vietnam’s Transition from Cold War to Globalization (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Palmujoki, Eero, Vietnam and the World: Marxist-Leninist Doctrine and the Changes in International Relations, 1975–93 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).

On the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese Border War specifically see Morris, Stephen, Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia: Political Culture and the Causes of War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); Westad, Odd Arne and Quinn-Judge, Sophie (eds.), The Third Indochina War: Conflict between China, Vietnam and Cambodia, 1972–79 (New York: Routledge, 2006); and Zhang, Xiaoming, Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979–1991 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015). The ongoing Sino-Vietnamese dispute in the South China Sea is placed in its proper historical context in Hayton, Bill’s terrific The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).


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