HIS 415 All DQs
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, lets 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, lets 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): Baruchs labeling of world conflict as the Cold War in 1947, the Truman Doctrine of 1947, and Eisenhowers 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.
Lets 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 Hammarskjod of Sweden was serving as Secretary General of the United Nations. He is quoted to have said, Peacekeeping is not a soldiers 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 weeks 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 discussion
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.
Week 5 discussion
Making Presidential Decisions (graded)
President Harry Truman, the first Cold War President, had a sign on his desk saying The Buck Stops Here. The Webliography contains a link to the photo and story. Indecisive people can pass on their responsibilities and pass the buck, and advisory people can propose their concepts and lobby for acceptance, but the President can ultimately turn to nobody else. Presidents must make the hard decisions. It is a heavy mantle to bear on those presidential shoulders. It is lonely at the top.
President Johnsons wise men possessed depth in their areas of expertise beyond that of the President, who was a master mover of legislation to accomplish domestic social programs but very much out of his league in military matters and international relations.
To begin, evaluate this question: To what extent was the March 1968 reevaluation of the Vietnam War, as a function of Cold War ideology, accomplished to satisfy domestic concerns rather than international concerns? In a time of mixed obligations, how can we differentiate what is domestic from what is international in American politics?
Impact of News Photography (graded)
When the dissolution of European colonialism began after World War II, the news media technology of the day was called a newsreel. To see the faces and hear the voices of world leaders and reports of events, you would watch one or two short films at the movie theaters along with the movie previews. These newsreels would be weeks or even months old, but they were the closest one could get to witnessing the events that we can see instantaneously on television today. If, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photographs in newspapers and the filmed newsreels taught powerful lessons. Our textbook contains some powerful photographs that still rivet our attention today.
Page 68 Figure 3.1 - President Eisenhower greeting President Ngo Dinh Diem at Washington National Airport in 1957
Page 105 Figure 4.3 - The Buddhist monk immolating himself on a Saigon street in 1963
Page 232 Figure 8.5 - Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong member on a Saigon street in 1968
Page 340 Figure 12.2 - President Nixon greeting returning POW LCDR John McCain in 1973
Your assignment is to go on a field trip through the Internet and bring back two photographs for discussion of their impact: one from Vietnam activity (not necessarily combat-related) and one from any other source that you think made significant impact on the public. Be sure to give the URLs in your discussion post for others to go and see them. Then, with each one, write a paragraph about why that photo made significant impact on the public perception of events. Okay, off you go on your field trip. We will await your return.
Week 6 discussion
How Diplomacy Involves Saving Face (graded)
The class lectures and readings from Dr. Moss book speak about how presidents get personally invested in the results of their work, and how that investment impacts the decisions they make. Presidents do not, however, engage in diplomatic negotiations directly. They send ambassadors and negotiators who may be as senior as the Secretary of State, in the example of Dr. Henry Kissinger at the Paris Peace Talks. Diplomats also get personally involved. They get involved with their own desires for career success, as well as their desires for positive outcomes for their own countries. Doing poorly and conceding often requires that negotiators not be embarrassed that is, that they save face for themselves personally and for their governments at home. Lets start this discussion with the famous leaders mentioned so far in the course: In the Week 6 readings you see their own need to save face for themselves and their countries. What are some of the great examples shown so far of saving face on the part of diplomats? What does saving face mean in diplomatic situations?
Welfare of Those Who Serve (graded)
By 1968, over one million Americans were stationed outside the United States on their countrys business, wearing the uniform and trying to accomplish the missions of their commander-in-chief. Of that number, over a half million served in and near Vietnam, with that number capped at 549,500 in April 1968.
Vietnam assignments in country were generally limited to thirteen months fixed duration. Service members reported in and departed individually on fixed departure dates called DEROS (date of rotation) rather than with their whole unit together.
How can we assess the impact that deploying individually rather than by unit had on those who served those tours? How might that differ between those who had joined the Army voluntarily and those who had been conscripted for service by the Selective Service System?
Week 7 Discussion
Coping with After-effects of Combat (graded)
Everyone reacts to experiences, often for a lifetime. The scars of warfare are not all physical ones. The deepest scars are not seen, they are psychological and well hidden. People who live and work with combat veterans often cope with those effects also, because they relate to those veterans who struggle with their memories and harsh experiences. The Vietnam War differed from other wars, in that the experiences were highly individualized and personalized. Divisions and support units were deployed to Vietnam for many years, and individuals would transfer in and out for tours of specified length, most commonly for 13 months. They would fly in for transfer to replace somebody who had been there for 13 months, or who had been wounded or killed, and then fly out alone to other assignments at the end of their own tour. This system was very destructive to both unit integrity and personal welfare. Perhaps you are, or know some combat veterans from Vietnam. With great care to not violate the privacy of people or divulge their names, what can be understood and applied from the stories of those who served and left their commands and teams to return home individually, as opposed to the experiences of other war veterans?
American Foreign Relations After the War (graded)
Cold War ideology after World War II fostered the developing viewpoint that the American military was invincible, even as a viable and dangerous enemy worked toward global superiority: the Soviet Union.
The practical application of this ideology was the policy of containing the expansionist intentions of global communism as attempted by the Soviet Union in locations of opportunity. The most notable of these proxy confrontations was the attempt to contain the communist threat in Vietnam - the subject of this course.
President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger labored long and hard to achieve peace with honor and end American involvement in Southeast Asia in the Paris Accords of 1973. The failure of that peace to endure is the story that ends our course.
Looking beyond the fall of Saigon in April 1975, we will consider how the domino theory ultimately proved false, as President Johnson had speculated: There was no global Communist surge of expansion, and the United States, with its NATO allies and its worldwide interests, did not collapse. How has American ability to act worldwide been affected by the fact that some of the most dire claims made in support of the war ultimately proved wrong?
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