Another approach is to analyze American accounts with our students. David Hunt, who is researching American survey texts on the Vietnam War, illustrates how this analysis can be made. Hunt has looked at how the National Liberation Front and the southern guerilla soldiers are represented in the most commonly used textbooks on the war, considering questions such as the following: How much space is devoted to the NLF? How much narrative coherence is given to accounts of this movement? For example, do the guerrillas serve as framing devices and appear at the beginning and end of chapters? In other words, do they merit a sustained account or do they get a more episodic treatment? What do these textbooks encourage us to assume about the attitude of ordinary Vietnamese in the South toward these revolutionaries? Are we led to assume that Vietnamese regarded them as alien invaders or as indigenous leaders of a popular uprising? Or is the predominant image one of citizens caught in a crossfire, owing allegiance neither to the NLF or the GVN? Does the textbook contain statements that suggest that NLF successes are the result of American mistakes--statements like this one by Stanley Karnow: "[General Westmoreland] refused to recognize that the communists might represent a tempting alternative to a rural population eager for political, economic, and social change."1
Hunt focuses on the NLF but one could also question how the ARVN troops are portrayed both in textbooks and popular accounts such as Sheehan's Bright Shining Lie. In Nguye^~n Ma.nh Hu`ng's view the ARVN is treated shabbily in Sheehan's best seller. American soldiers and advisors are invariably "well- intentioned and courageous" and the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops are always "heroic, well-trained, and well-led" (19). ARVN soldiers in Sheehan, on the other hand, are all cowards and their leaders corrupt and incompetent. We hear nothing from Sheehan about the fragging and drug use among American troops nor of dissension within the communist forces, though these things existed. Nor does Sheehan mention ARVN achievements such as the successful defense of An Lo^.c in 1972.
Criticizing American accounts is probably not as effective as having students read historical accounts by Vietnamese. Quite a few are available. The U.S. Army Center of Military History has published a series of monographs by Cambodian, Laotian, and South Vietnamese military leaders. These are instructive to read. These men are now living in the U.S. and they are unfailingly polite to their American readers; their accounts are powerful often because they are so persistently understated. In his contribution to the volume on The U.S. Adviser, for example, Colonel Chu Xua^n Vie^n observes that if US advisers could have stayed with their ARVN units longer than six months, perhaps they would have been more successful at building "the kind of working relationship conducive to steady progress and improvement" (190).
Accounts by Vietnamese communist military leaders are, not surprisingly, more self- congratulatory. After all, they won. The two accounts of the final victory are fairly well-known, one by General Va(n Tie^'n Du~ng and one by General Tra^`n Va(n Tra`. An account by General Tra` of the Tet Offensive has also been translated. There is Vo~ Nguye^n Gia'p's How We Won the War. Assigning these works will present other views for discussion. For example, many American accounts suggest the war was lost in Washington and not on the battlefield. General Tra^`n Va(n Tra` has this to say about the popular American view that the Tet Offensive for the communists was a political victory but a military defeat: "In fact there is never an easy 'political' victory won by the grace of Heaven or through an enemy's mercy without first having to shed blood and scatter bones on the battlefield. . . .One never suffers a military defeat yet wins a political victory" ("Tet," pp. 58, 59).
An account of political and diplomatic events by Bu`i Die^~m, South Vietnam's ambassador to the U.S. from 1967 to 1972 and later an ambassador at large. Emphasizes the interaction between leaders in Saigon and Washington.
The original title was Saigon Streets. Current title is misleading: famous women (the Tru+ng sisters, Ho^' Xua^n Hu+o+ng, DDoa`n Thi. DDie^?m) are included. Short (about 3 pages) accounts of the heroes for whom Saigon streets are named: Tra^`n Hu+ng DDa.o, Nguye^~n Hue^., Nguye^~n DDi`nh Chie^?u, etc. Some but not all streets have been renamed since 1975: Phan Thanh Gia?n St. is now DDie^.n Bie^n Phu? Street, Tu+' Do [Freedom] St. is DDo^'ng Kho+'i [General Uprising] Street. Possible project: Have students investigate a street and its name and suggest why it has been or has not been renamed.
A collection of sixty-five historical documents and articles relating to the war, fifteen from Vietnamese sources. Covers the pre-World War II struggle for independence and the war with France as well as the period of intense American involvement. Two useful essays by Ngo^ Vi~nh Long ("Vietnam's Revolutionary Tradition" and "The Franco-Vietnamese War, 1945-1954: Origins of U.S. Involvement"). Writing and Correspondence by Ho^' Chi' Minh, Vo~ Nguye^n Gia'p, and other Vietnamese leaders and also the texts of treaties and position papers. The editors were all active in the teach-in movement of 1965. Gettleman edited Vietnam: History, Documents, and Opinions on a Major World Crisis (1965), a best-seller that became required reading for those in the anti-war movement.
Hunt shows shows how survey texts commonly used in courses on the war can be analyzed to reveal the perspective from which they are written. To illustrate his approach, he suggests questions we could ask about how the National Liberation Front and the southern guerilla soldiers are represented.
A series of books, written after the war, by high-ranking officers in the armies of South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. These writers were provided support for their writing by the General Research Corporation under a U. S. Army contract with the Center for Military History. They are printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office. One could have students read sections or chapters from:
Analysis of the final collapse of Saigon forces by the last chairman of the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff. Among other causes of the collapse, General Vie^n identifies the disadvantageous Paris Agreement of 1973, the breaking by the U.S. of its pledge to assist if the agreement were violated, the cut in U.S. military aid, President Thie^.u's ill-advised withdrawal from the central highlands, and the inability of South Vietnamese leaders to detect the U.S.'s shift toward "appeasement and accommodation."
An analysis of the U.S. military advisory mission in Vietnam by seven high-ranking ARVN officers. Advising effort is evaluated in various areas: at the highest command levels, tactical advising at ARVN battalion and corps (military region) levels, and advising in intelligence, logistics, pacification, and training. The U.S.'s advisory effort receives a polite but mixed review. U.S. advisers had a tendency to "overtake and patronize" their ARVN counterparts, these officers point out, and advisers to combat units stayed only six months.
Describes the largest offensive launched by communist forces before the spring offensive in 1975. In early May, General Tru+o+'ng was made commander of I Corps and directed the counteroffensive that re-took Qua?ng Tri.. Describes battles in the three major areas of the offensive: Qua?ng Tri. near the DMZ, An Lo^.c (north of Saigon), and Kontum (central highlands). Attributes the successful ARVN counteroffensive to improved leadership by ARVN commanders, the reliability of ARVN units, the effectiveness of U.S. airpower, and tactical blunders and poor use of tanks by the other side.
Memoir by a former Lieutenant General in the ARVN who was in the thick of the fighting and planning until the final collapse in 1975. One chapter is a case study of the Battle of An Lo^.c, an ARVN success. Book is based on his own experiences and on interviews with former officers. Blames the "Death" of South Vietnam on poor leadership, corruption, and the U.S. decision to end bombing and logistical support.
A 602-page analysis of the August Revolution of 1945 when Viet Minh communist forces took control and declared Vietnam's independence. Based on archival collections in France and communist party histories and revolutionary memoirs (ho^'i ky' ca'ch ma.ng) only recently made available to foreign researchers. The first five chapters cover events from 1940-1945 from the point of view of different actors in the drama: the French (Free and Vichy), the Japanese, the Vietnamese (Viet Minh and royal government forces), China, the U.S., and Great Britain. The last three chapters describe events in August and the first days of September, 1945. An impressive, in some ways overwhelming, work of historical scholarship.
Describes anticolonial efforts of Vietnamese, most of them scholar-gentry educated in the Confucian classics, who were active before the generation of Ho^' Chi' Minh. Excellent accounts of Phan Bo^.i Cha^u and Phan Chu Trinh, two men active during the first quarter of the century. Marr bases his account on Vietnamese language materials.
An exhaustively researched intellectual history, based primarily on Vietnamese language sources, of the period preceding the August Revolution and the first Indochina war. Unfortunately Marr does not discuss popular fiction or poetry. He admits the former "exerted considerable influence in Vietnam during the period" but modestly says he felt unqualified to work with literary materials (ix). This is, however, a rich work with useful chapters on "Ethics and Politics," "Language and Literacy," "The Question of Women," and other topics. Perhaps too dense in detail for use in some undergraduate classes.
A rather self-serving account by an important military and political figure in the Saigon government. Nguye^~n Cao Ky` was a commander of the air force and later prime minister and vice president. He suggests that the war's outcome would have been different if the Americans had listened to his advice. Sets forth the views no doubt shared by many in the Saigon regime.
An account from a Hanoi point of view of Vietnamese history from the loss of independence to the French to the "great spring victory" in April, 1975. Though definitely the Party view, it is more readable than historical accounts by many communist leaders. A good choice for teachers looking for a historical account that expresses the view of America's adversaries. The author, as director of the Foreign Languages Publishing House, was an official spokesman for Hanoi to the West.
Criticizes Sheehan for praising the Viet Cong and overlooking both the faults of U.S. soldiers and the achievements of the ARVN.
An account of political and military events from the Die^.m years to 1975 by a prominent general who later served as Vice Premier and Defense Minister in South Vietnam. Tra^`n Va(n DDo^n was one of the leaders of the coup that toppled Ngo^ DDi`nh Die^.m. Interesting perspective on the coup and its aftermath and on the revolving door governments of Du+o+ng Va(n Minh and Nguye^~n Kha'nh that followed the coup.
An account of the final communist victory by the general who commanded the "B-2 Theatre," the southern most part of Vietnam. The original Vietnamese version was confiscated soon after it appeared in 1982, probably, David Marr suggests (Vietnam, p. 138), because it revealed secret Politburo discussions and because it disputed assertions made by Va(n Tie^'n Du~ng in his memoir Our Great Spring Victory (See below).
Translation of an account in Vietnamese that was published in Vietnam in 1988. General Tra` argues that although the Tet Offensive did not achieve all the goals set by the Party Political Bureau (complete collapse of American and puppet forces, General Uprising), it was "still a great victory, creating the most important strategic turning point of the war, eventually leading us to total victory" (60).
The commanding general's account of the People's Liberation Army offensive that toppled the Saigon regime on April 30, 1975.
This is a translation of Cuo^.c Kha'ng Chie^'n Cho^'ng Mu~ Cu+'u Nu+o(+c, 1954-1975, an official account of the war produced by the People's Army of Vietnam. In format it resembles the chronologies that sometimes appear in the back of American textbooks on the war. It reads more like an outline than a narrative account. Obtainable for $38.50 (includes handling and postage) from National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Rd., Springfield, VA 22161.
Accounts of political and military strategy by the general who masterminded military victories in both the first and second Indochina wars. Like accounts by other communist political and military leaders (Tru+o+`ng Chinh, Le^ Dua^?n, for example), these three accounts make for pretty dry reading unless one has a special interest in military/political strategy and the application of Marxist-Leninist principles.
Describes the period from the August Revolution of 1945 to the outbreak of hostilities against France in December, 1946. Includes interesting, if somewhat fawning, portraits of Ho^' Chi' Minh and information on challenges presented to the new government by the presence of 180,000 soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek.
A good and very concise account of Vietnamese history from 111 B.C to 1954. Obviously too brief to do justice to the topic but a useful overview.
1. Vietnam: A History (New York: Viking Press, 1983) 464.
Yale University Council on Southeast Asia Studies
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