week 1 discussion
|Westerners Reading Overseas History (graded)|
Most people, most of the time, know their own national history better than they know that of other nations, even their neighboring nations. Even though we know our own history better than that of others, we often learned it during our secondary education through factual information about dates, places, and leading personalities.
The study of history is much more than memorizing sets of facts and inferences based on facts. The boundary of what constitutes history is a vague one, and it is driven by the broad or narrow viewpoint that is chosen by authors. Every author has a viewpoint, and the authors are motivated to research and write by considerations that are often not made known but which are operating nonetheless. The boundary also intersects a great many academic disciplines to establish the context in which the facts occur and the factors operate.
As viewpoints drive authors, so our own viewpoints drive our work as readers and discoverers. As people of “the West,” our perspective is limited by our own experience of living in our own time and place –limits known individually as persons, and collectively as citizens of nations. We discover just how foreign we are as Westerners when we venture across boundaries of time, distance, culture, and language to learn about what happened overseas. What a telling word “overseas” is!
So, let’s go on a treasure hunt.
What do we need to know that we do not (yet!) know in order to make progress as we begin our study of Vietnam and the 20th-century experience? What do we need to know and discover in order to analyze the history in an expansive sense of that part of Southeast Asia that became known as French Indochina a half century ago?
Having thought that through, go hunting to find those things and bring them back to class to tell your classmates about them.
This section lists options that can be used to view responses.
|Rising Tide of Nationalist Expectations (graded)|
The history and identity of the Vietnamese people reaches very far back. Their hopes and expectations for their own future do not just begin where our class textbook begins (at the end of World War II), nor do their often troubled relations with their neighbors in Southeast Asia.
For all the horrors of global warfare, World War II brought such disruption to world order that long-repressed hopes of colonized people found opportunity for new expression and leaders rose to the opportunities for change.
Our course is about the whole of 20th-century experience, with the Vietnam War being the centerpiece. For our discussion, let’s start here with TCO #4: How can we best understand how the agrarian Vietnamese people could come together during and after global warfare to restore their national identity and raise up leaders to meet their challenges?
Week 2 discussion
|Failure of Diplomacy in 1954 (graded)|
The readings and lecture have identified several formative activities that defined the American understanding of world history from 1946 to 1989 (and American activity during that period): Baruch’s labeling of world conflict as the Cold War in 1947, the Truman Doctrine of 1947, and Eisenhower’s figure of speech about falling dominoes.
As World War II began, the Vietminh formed as a guerilla army to resist French influence in the Vietnamese portion of Indochina. French respect for the Vietminh was so low that they called it “the barefoot army” – and yet the Vietminh organized over time to defeat much more sophisticated French forces by 1954 at Dien Bien Phu.
Let’s discuss how the operating assumptions of conflicting parties and other related nations prohibited constructive discussion at the Geneva Accords meetings of 1954 and brought about the continued failure of the diplomatic process to bring settlement in Vietnam.
From diplomatic effort in general and the 1954 Geneva negotiations in particular, what lessons can we learn about necessary conditions and understandings that are essential for conflict negotiations to succeed?
|Issues of Collective Security (graded)|
An antecedent to the world situation at the time of the Vietnam War was the first collective security agreement: the League of Nations (1919–1946). President Woodrow Wilson had broken new ground in international relations when he proposed the League of Nations concept in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations that followed World War I – known at the time as The Great War. Other collective security agreements relating to the situation in Southeast Asia include the UN, Warsaw Pact, NATO, and SEATO. There were also other agreements elsewhere in the world. The United States was involved in the creation of all these agreements except the Warsaw Pact.
What were the purposes to be achieved in collective security agreements? What were the dangers to be avoided, and what were the fears?
And what was going on at their creation that made them differ so sharply in form, authority, decision-making ability, and military response capability? Our special concern is the case of SEATO. Treaties and alliances go back as far as written history will take us, but in the 20th century we start something altogether new with collective security agreements.
Week 3 discussion
|Cold War Always Lurking (graded)|
The Cold War ran from the end of World War II in 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That is a lot of history, and a great many events occurred in the world during those 44 years. One of them, but only one of them, is the proxy war that we call the Vietnam War.
There was always a danger that a rather low-level proxy war could escalate and even rise to the level of nuclear confrontation and war. The dangers were perceived as great – that the Cold War could get hot and out of control.
To start, what other events of the Cold War years fit this idea of “proxy war?” What kind of steps did world leaders take to keep Cold War proxy wars from heating up? What were such leaders thinking?
|Shifting from Advisors to Combatants (graded)|
Not long before the Vietnam War is considered to have started – around the time period we focus on this class week, 1963 and 1964 – Dag Hammarskjøld of Sweden was serving as Secretary General of the United Nations. He is quoted to have said, “Peacekeeping is not a soldier’s job, but only a soldier can do it.” This quote is often the driving logic behind what came to be known as mlitary operations other than war.
With the years prior to this week’s discussions, American forces in southern Vietnam were relatively few and were called “advisors.” They brought American expertise with them for the purpose of training. From 1950 onward, the MAAG and later Special Forces trained Vietnamese forces to serve as a modern combatant force, but in this course week period, American forces moved beyond a partnership arrangement and took on direct combat roles.
Such a shift called for decisions at the highest levels. What can we learn about the minds and concerns of American senior leaders that allow for difficult decisions and commitments at such moments – what we might call “turning points?”
Week 4 discnn
|Trying to Succeed in Limited War (graded)|
Limited war as an ideology depended on a number of assumptions that limited what results could be achieved at the practical level.
The standing rules of engagement (ROE) were the practical expression of limited war ideology at the battlefield command and execution level. Think expansively and generatively about the impact of limited war ideology and then discuss these questions with other students:
• Within the concept of limited war, what would constitute the “winning” of the Vietnam War?
• What sort of successful outcomes would measure the win?
• How would we ever know if we had won it?
And then, what was the glue that held the lmited war concept together with all its difficulties of thought and application?
|Formless” and “Frontless” Warfare (graded)|
The Vietnam War was often described as a “formless war” and a “frontless war.” It resembled no other war in history as seen by military theorists and historians.
Thinking expansively, what sorts of assumptions needed to be made and what sorts of values had to be honored in order to make such a formless and frontless war even possible – let alone sustainable? Discuss that issue within our classroom to understand the impact of that situation fully before we discuss what sort of tactics could be effective there.
Be thinking ahead a few days as this discussion evolves; be clear in your mind what sort of activities are described by words such as “strategy,” “tactics,” “logistics,” and “attrition.”