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HSTAS 265 A: The Viet Nam Wars

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 10:30am - 11:20am
* *
Joint Sections: 
JSIS A 265 A
Professor Christoph Giebel
Christoph Giebel

Syllabus Description:

IMPORTANT:  This W'21 course enrolls and welcomes anybody, but also has the added bonus of fulfilling a prerequisite for a planned 2021 UW Study Abroad program in Viet Nam, scheduled for Aug. 24 - Sep. 18, 2021, and led by Prof. Giebel in conjunction with the NGO PeaceTrees Viet Nam. Since 2007, Prof. Giebel and PeaceTrees have collaborated in eight UW summer programs in Viet Nam, focused on measures taken to alleviate enduring legacies of war in Central Viet Nam, in particular the prevalence of unexploded ordnance (UXO). These UW Study Abroad programs have received highest ratings by participants and the 2021 program will likely be its penultimate iteration. Students interested in the 2021 UW Viet Nam program are strongly encouraged to enroll in this Winter quarter 2021 course.

Viet Nam Between Revolution & War, 1940-2000

(HSTAS 265 / JSIS A 265)

Dr. Christoph Giebel, contact: ;

office:  M, 5:30-6:20 p.m. PST, W 1:30-2:20 p.m. PST (or by appointment)

Anna Nguyen, contact: ;


Tuesday: 4:30-5:30 pm PST (Zoom Link:
Thursday: 12:30-1:30 pm PST (Zoom Link:


Zoom lectures:   MTWTh 10:30–11:20 a.m. PST

Zoom review/discussion:  F, 10:30-11:20 a.m. PST


             This is an in-depth, lecture-driven and reading-intensive analysis of recent Vietnamese history and the struggles for independence and national unification vis-a-vis French colonialism, Japanese occupation, American intervention, and deep internal divisions.  It covers the historical roots and the contemporary contexts of revolution and war, various objectives and motivations of its Vietnamese participants, and the enormous human costs suffered by the wars' victims.  It emphasizes profound changes brought about in Vietnamese culture and society and probes the wars' lasting political, economic, moral, and intellectual legacies in contemporary, post-socialist Viet Nam.

            Reflecting the wide array of issues, ideologies, and participants involved in the conflicts, the course will employ a multi-faceted approach, including a basic textbook, primary sources (in English), several memoirs, literature, scholarly articles, and interspersed brief visual documentaries.  Particular attention will be paid to exposing various popular misconceptions and biased spatial representations about the wars, as well as various and often conflicting rhetorical frames of the warring sides.  Classes will be geared towards active learning and conducted in a combination of lectures and discussions.  Please allot enough daily reading time for the duration of the course.

           This course has been taught at UW well over 20 years and has consistently received highest student evaluations and enthusiastic recommendations.


Textbooks: (online)

                  Asselin, Pierre:  Vietnam’s American War, Cambridge UP, 2018. Online. Recommended.

                  Dang Thuy Tram:  Last Night I Dreamed of Peace,  New York: Harmony Books/Random House, 2007. Online/digital. Required.

                  Hayslip, Le Ly:  When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey From War To Peace,  New York et al.: Plume, 1990. Online. Required.

                  Lam Quang Thi:  The Twenty-Five Year Century. A South Vietnamese General Remembers the Indochina War to the Fall of Saigon,  Denton: Univ. of North Texas, 2001. Online. Required.

                  Truong Nhu Tang:  A Viet Cong Memoir. An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath, New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Digital copy. Required.

Some additional readings (uploaded files and/or and by electronic (PDF) dissemination).


Exams and course grade make-up:

            Class participation 10%;  map assignment 5%;  first exam 25%;  second exam 25%;  course paper 35%.  Exam dates and deadlines TBA.  Unexcused late work will be graded one point down if received by the class meeting following the due date;  no credit thereafter.


COURSE SCHEDULE (can be adjusted)

Orientation and introduction.


Precolonial Viet Nam — an overview

A country lost:  French imperialism and earlier patterns of Vietnamese anticolonial resistance, 1860-1914.

The radicalization of Vietnamese anticolonialism:  “nationalists,” “communists,” and social and cultural transformations, 1914-1940.

The radicalization of Vietnamese anticolonialism:  “nationalists,” “communists,” and social and cultural transformations, 1914-1940.

World War II, new power arrangements, and the Việt Minh. Question:  Compared with 1920s and 1930s anticolonialism, what is the historical achievement of the Viet Minh front?  How can it best be explained?

1945:  towards Vietnamese independence, and beyond. Question:  Was August 1945 a “revolution”?  Or was it simply a set of favorable circumstances working for the Viet Minh?  What legitimacy did the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam have?

1946:  “negotiating” towards war. Question:  Was the outbreak of war in late 1946 inevitable?

The French War in Indochina — the first phase, 1947-1950. Question:  How and why did the DRVN survive these years?

The French War in Indochina — the second phase, 1950-1953. Question:  Who was “making history” - the Việt Minh or the Cold War?

A victory — denied:  from Điện Biên Phủ to Geneva, 1954. Question:  Given the situation on the ground, who “won” and who “lost” at the Geneva conference?

Two Viet Nams between Beijing, Moscow, and Washington (I). The north:  Hồ Chí Minh and the consolidation of the revolution. Question:  With the DRVN’s Declaration of Independence of 1945 in mind, what was achieved, what was lost during 1954-1959?

Two Viet Nams between Beijing, Moscow, and Washington (II). The south:  Ngô Đình Diệm, counter-revolution, and resistance. Question:  Did Ngô Đình Diệm’s rule strengthen or weaken the development of a distinct southern Vietnamese identity?

The NLF, insurgency and counter-insurgency, and the demise of the Ngô regime's First Republic. Question:  What social and political forces were seemingly sending the south spinning out of control?

The Tonkin Gulf Incident and the American War, 1964-1968. Question:  What accounted for the frequent breakdown of RVN government authority in the south?

War in the countryside, revolving doors in Sài Gòn. Question:  How many kinds of wars were fought simultaneously? What were their social (and political) consequences?

Tết 1968. Question:  Who “won” the Tết Offensive, and in what ways?

Caught in the crossfire:  people’s strategies for survival. Question:  With limited choices, what were “the people” doing, and what did the warring parties say “the people” were doing?

“Vietnamization,” the PRG, and escalation in Cambodia, 1969-1971. Question:  What term(s) would Vietnamese use to describe what Americans called “Vietnamization”?

The “end” of US involvement:  strategic shifts, the Christmas Bombing, and the Paris Agreement, 1972/73. Question:  Given the overall conflict situation, who “won” and who “lost” with the Paris Agreement?  Compare to Geneva 1954.

Before the finale:  a violent “peace,” 1973-1974, and a reappraisal of all parties involved. Question:  Compare the situation in 1973 for all parties involved to the one in 1960, before the resumption of armed resistance.

The fall/liberation of Sài Gòn, 1975, and its aftermath. Question:  On April 30, 1975, what happened to Sài Gòn — its fall or its liberation, or what?

The legacies of thirty years of war. Question:  What are the most important legacies of the war?

“Brother Enemy,” 1977-1979:  at war with China and Pol Pot’s Kampuchea. Question:  Did the wars of 1978/79 reconfirm long-lasting aspects of Vietnamese relations with neighboring countries?  Did the French and American wars suspend these historical pattern? Or did they continue throughout?

A lost peace:  inner and outer exile. Question:  What contributed more to the widespread malaise and disillusionment during the first decade after reunification (1976-1986) — external and war-related problems or internal and post-war related problems?

Towards Asian markets:  the prospects and limits of reform between nostalgia and post-modernity, 1986-2000.  Conclusion and outlook.  Question:  What are the most important challenges to the Vietnamese Revolution in the post-Cold War world?

Catalog Description: 
Recent Vietnamese history and struggles for independence and national unification vis-a-vis French colonialism, Japanese occupation, American intervention, and internal divisions. Covers historical roots and contemporary contexts of revolution and war, objectives and motivations of participants, and the enormous human costs. Emphasizes socio-cultural changes and wars' legacies. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 265.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
July 22, 2021 - 10:58pm