Vietnam became one of the many sites where the Cold War and the Third World intersected.

Context for U.S. decision-making

Containment policy

American leaders thought of Vietnam as an Asian Berlin, a place to draw the line against communism and to implement the containment doctrine.

China 1949
McCarthy in US (1950-1954)
Korean War (1950-1953)


French Indochina

Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) colonized in 1880s.
Vietnamese resisted French colonial regime as much as possible
Vietnamese tradition of historical resistance to invaders: China.

Ho Chi Minh:

Leader of Vietnamese Communist Party
Major leader of Vietnamese resistance to the Japanese
Vietminh declared independence from France in 1945.
Ho quoted from U.S. Declaration of Independence.

General Vo Nguyen Giap

He is credited with leading the victory against both the French and the United States.

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, Who Ousted U.S. From Vietnam, Is Dead

Vietminh war against the French

U.S. had a choice:

a) Support Ho Chi Minh's bid for independence

b) Support French return to Indochina

Result: We supported the French return.

Context for such a decision: containment of communism
We paid 80% of the costs of French war against Vietminh

Dienbienphu (May 1954)

French fall to Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu ( This Day in History | 5/7/1954)

French withdrawal from Indochina

Geneva peace conference (July 1954)

Vietnam was divided at the 17th parallel.
Ho's forces gained control of North Vietnam.
Election to unify the country was scheduled for 1956.
America, figuring Ho Chi Minh would win, did not permit the election.

U.S. replaced France in Vietnam



Ground combat took place within South Vietnam

U.S. never invaded North Vietnam

U.S. pursued an air war against North Vietnam

Enemy side:

North Vietnam and those living in South Vietnam (called Viet Cong) who will fight against the United States

Our side:

United States and those South Vietnamese friendly to U.S.

Our man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem

Our initial handpicked leader in South Vietnam
No real alternative leader in South Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh in the North
U.S. backed Ngo Dinh Diem

He consolidated power over internal rivals.
Diem was a Catholic (in a mostly Buddhist country).

Bachelor (role of his family, especially brother and his sister-in-law)

Diem's oppressive policies and persecution of Buddhists made him unpopular

Vietnamese monk burning himself to death

CIA backed an overthrow of Diem (who was murdered)

The Ugly American Telegram

Arrest and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem

JFK himself was assassinated three weeks later.

Kennedy's escalation of the U.S. war effort

North Vietnam and Viet Cong increased attempts to win in South
South Vietnam was on the verge of losing
JFK had sent 16,000 American advisors.

Big historical question: what would Kennedy have done had he lived?

After Diem, revolving-door governments in South Vietnam
LBJ: I don't want to hear any more about this coup st

Questions for historians:

Why did we let Diem be overthrown?
Was there any better alternative?
Was the country itself able to operate as a country?
Could and would the South Vietnamese leaders actually lead their own people?

At what point could the U.S. have gotten out of Vietnam?

President Lyndon Johnson and the Americanization of the War

The war became a competition with his desire for his Great Society.
But the war soon overshadowed everything else that was occurring in the US.

Tonkin Gulf Incident (August 1964)

U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War: the Gulf of Tonkin and Escalation, 1964

Response to North Vietnamese attack on American destroyer.
U.S. not entirely clean in this incident.

Tonkin Gulf Congressional Resolution
Gave LBJ authority to use unlimited military force in North Vietnam.
Johnson interpreted it as equivalent to a declaration of war.

George Ball's dissent against continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam

He wanted us to bail out of Vietnam early on; in retrospect, he was probably right.

Operation Rolling Thunder:

U.S. air campaign over North Vietnam

More U.S. bombs on Vietnam than U.S. dropped in all of WWII
North Vietnamese did not give up.
Hid in shelters; rebuilt roads and bridges
Their perseverance frustrated and awed American decision makers.
U.S. prisoners of war: John McCain among them


U.S. began to commit regular combat units to Vietnam

Johnson's decision for major increase of U.S. effort in Vietnam

Johnson sent 50,000 U.S. ground troops in July 1965.
Successive escalations of U.S. troop levels.
Maximum level of 536,000 in 1968.

We told the South Vietnamese: watch how well we could complete the job.
They watched.
We did not complete the job.

Attrition strategy

American aim was to kill more enemy than could be sent from the North.

Search and destroy tactics

Body count: the indication of success.
If it's dead and Vietnamese, it's VC

Attrition did not succeed

Sanctuary: Enemy could use Laos and Cambodia as a sanctuary
Hard to defeat an enemy that has this kind of advantage.
Compare to Taliban using Pakistan as a sanctuary.

Ho Chi Minh trail:

U.S. military in Vietnam

Many different wars depending on branch of service and location within South Vietnam

Vietnam tour of duty: 12 months for Army

Could be stationed in a U.S. unit or on an advisory team

Morale Problems: largely due to the draft

1. Fragging: US soldiers sometimes used a fragmentation grenade to kill an unpopular officer.

2. Drug use

3. Post–traumatic stress. Other wars: shell shock, battle fatigue.

Tet offensive (January 1968)

Tet Offensive by the enemy
Tet is the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday

U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive, 1968

This event was really important in retrospect
Enemy coordinated attacks all over South Vietnam
U.S. was victorious militarily

In U.S., public relations fallout was bad
Americans became convinced that war was not winnable.

Divisions at Home in U.S.

a. Pro-war—by hard hats; silent majority

b. Anti-war protests:

Counterculture and the New Left both opposed the Vietnam War
Used teach–ins, antiwar marches, and demonstrations.
Some burned draft cards
Others fled the draft by moving to Canada.
"Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

Kent State University

U.S. raid into Cambodia (1970) triggered campus protests at Kent State and Jackson State.

Kent State University: 4 students killed; National Guard unit fired into a crowd of student protesters.

Kent State Students Shot by Ohio National Guard

Richard Nixon: Vietnamization of the war

His anti-Communist credentials
As a Republican, he had not “lost” China
He began the withdrawal of U.S. troops
South Vietnamese should carry the load.
Similar to our attempts both in Iraq and Afghanistan: "if they stand up, we will stand down"

Ending the Vietnam War, 1969–1973

Fall of South Vietnam (April 1975)

Google Images: Helicopters Leaving Saigon

Saigon Falls to Vietcong Ending Vietnam War (On This Day, Finding Dulcinea)

Legacy of the Vietnam war

58,000 U.S. dead

Financial cost to U.S.: $200 billion.
America's most unpopular war.
Involvement of six U.S. presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.


Vdeo: Richard Nixon bio

Nixon as Eisenhower's Vice President (1952-1958)

1. Nixon's "Checkers" speech (September 1952)

Richard Nixon Delivers “Checkers Speech”

2. Nixon in Venezuela

3. Nixon debates Khrushchev at a fair in Moscow | 7/24/1959

Presidential Election of 1960

Remember: Nixon lost to Kennedy

Nixon-Kennedy Debate (New York Times)

Presidential Election of 1968

1. Democratic Convention (Chicago).

Johnson surprisingly decided not to run for reelection

The convention nominated Johnson's VP Hubert Humphrey.
Chicago police clashed with 5.000 anti-war protestors.
Police banged heads

2. Republican Convention (Miami Beach).

Nixon won nomination over
Nelson Rockefeller (liberal wing)
Ronald Reagan (conservative wing).

Nixon stood for stability and order:
Against war protestors
Against counterculture.

3. Results of the 1968 election

a. Nixon won (43.4% popular; 301 electoral)
Law and order candidate.
Supported by so-called "silent majority"—those not protesting

Video: Nixon's "Great Silent Majority"

b. He defeated Humphrey and Wallace

Democrat Hubert Humphrey (LBJ's Vice President) (42.7% popular; 191 electoral)

George Wallace, segregationist Alabama governor: third–party (13.5% popular; 46 electoral)

Nixon's Foreign policy

Detente. Relaxation of tensions between the superpowers.

Video: Detente Explained (Keith Hughes)

"Grand strategy." Nixon and Kissinger.

Henry Kissinger: National security adviser; then Secretary of State

Originally, People's Republic of China (PRC) seen as a tool of Soviet Union
Nixon decided to play them off against each other

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Video: Ping Pong Diplomacy (NBC Nightly News)

Nixon's Visit to People's Republic of China (PRC) (1972)

A surprise:
Nixon was such a long-time Communist–hater
U.S. had no diplomatic relations with PRC then

Nixon Leaves on Diplomatic Trip to China

Nixon and Vietnam

Ending the Vietnam War, 1969–1973

His anti-Communist credentials
As a Republican, he had not “lost” China
He began the withdrawal of U.S. troops
South Vietnamese should carry the load.
Similar to our attempts both in Iraq and Afghanistan: "if they stand up, we will stand down"

Civil Rights protests going on at same time:
Martin Luther King Came Out Against Vietnam

Election of 1972

Nixon was easily reelected over George McGovern.
Democrats, however, retained control of Congress.
He did not need to do a "Watergate."

Nixon's "Southern Strategy"

Main issue: Urged Republicans to go slow on civil rights issues

Republicans stood for law and order.

Equated Democrats with permissiveness, crime, drugs, pornography, the hippie lifestyle, student radicalism, black militancy, feminism, homosexuality, and dissolution of the family.


Saturday Night Massacre

All The President's Men

The Watergate Story Timeline (Washington Post)

Vice President Agnew Resigned

Nixon's Vice President Spiro Agnew had to resign because of income tax evasion and corruption.

Vice President Spiro Agnew Resigns

Gerald Ford became Vice President

Spiro Agnew was replaced as Nixon's Vice President by Gerald Ford.

President Nixon resigned on 9 August 1974 (before he could be impeached because of Watergate)

Richard Nixon Resigns

Gerald Ford Becomes President

When Nixon resigned as President, Gerald Ford became the new President.

Nelson Rockefeller became Vice President.

Only time neither President nor VP elected by people.

Ford Pardons Nixon

Ford Grants Pardon to Nixon (New York Times)

Post–Watergate restrictions on executive power

Congressional reactions to "imperial Presidency

It is interesting to see how our government balances itself over time.

1. War Powers Act—President must consult with Congress before sending American troops into foreign wars.

2. Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act—prohibited the impounding of federal appropriations.

3. Freedom of Information Act—to aid citizens who were the victims of dirty–tricks campaigns and by giving people greater access to government documents.


Videos: Gerald Ford bio

Ford was not dumb and klutzy as media often portrayed him
Video: Ford trips on helicopter steps

Offered pro football contract after All-American at U. of Michigan.

Went to Yale Law School instead.

Served in House of Representatives (1949-1973); leader of minority party.

Gerald Ford became Vice President, then President

Spiro Agnew was replaced as Nixon's Vice President by Gerald Ford.

When Nixon resigned as President, Gerald Ford became the new President.

He served out the remainder of Nixon's term.

Ford was defeated by Carter in 1976.

Ford Pardoned Richard Nixon (Sept 1974)

President Ford Pardons Richard Nixon

1976 Presidential election

Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election (New York Times)


Video: Jimmy Carter bio

Election of 1976

Carter took advantage of the reaction against Watergate to defeat Gerald Ford (New York Times)

Panama Canal Treaty (1977)

U.S. gave Canal Zone back to Panama on 12/31/99
Treaty passed Senate by only one vote.

Camp David Agreements (1978)

Camp David Accords and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process

Iran Hostage Crisis (1979)

U.S. permitted deposed Shah to come to the U.S. for cancer treatment.

Video: The Revolution That Led to the Iran We Know Today (WSJ)

Iranian Muslim fundamentalists took members of U.S. embassy hostage.

Unsuccessful US attempt to rescue hostages in Iran (1980)

On this day in history, 24 April 1980, the Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission ended in disaster

Human Rights

Carter and Human Rights, 1977–1981

He was accused of a double standard:

Critical of Soviet Union, Argentina, and Chile
Willing to tolerate U.S. allies (South Korea, the Shah's Iran, Philippines).

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979)

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. Response, 1978–1980

Carter Doctrine (1979)

U.S. would defend the Persian Gulf militarily from any Soviet invasion

U.S. boycott of 1980 Olympic Games

Olympic Boycott, 1980 (Historian of the State Department)

1980 Presidential Election

Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan

Assessment of Carter Presidency

Misery Index: combine the unemployment rate and the rate of inflation

Everything—domestically as well as internationally—seemed to go against him. He is a fantastic ex–president.

Carter's Post-Presidency

Nobel Peace Prize winner

Habitat for Humanity


Video: Ronald Reagan bio

Election of 1980

Reagan accused President Carter of letting America be kicked around in world affairs.
Reagan's bold conservatism scared many voters
Reagan elected largely as a reaction against Carter.
Reagan's theme of "Stand Up, America" resonated with the electorate.

Assassination attempt (March 1981)

Reagan's courageous response to assassination attempt (during first 100 days) increased his political power.

John Hinckly, Jr., Shoots President Reagan and James Brady

Reagan's administrative agenda

1. Cut taxes

2. Cut government red tape

3. Cut government spending on domestic programs

4. Increase defense spending

5. Stand up to communism

Reagan pictured Soviet Union as "evil empire." [Axis of Evil??]

Believed intense military buildup needed to confront Soviets.

Video: "Evil Empire" speech

6. Negotiate with the Soviets

Video: "Tear Down This [Berlin] Wall" speech

Reagan Urges Soviets to Tear Down Berlin Wall (New York Times)

Republican party coalition

Made up of ideologically diverse constituencies:

1. Economic conservatives who had always voted Republican

2. Cultural conservatives

Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians
Advocated family values
Opposed abortion and homosexuality

3. "Reagan Democrats"

Blue–collar workers who supported family values

4. White voters in South (no longer the Solid Democratic South)

5. Young Americans (18–30) activated during Reagan years

6. Suburban voters (anti-taxes and anti-government).


Video: Reaganomics (Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" parody) (Mr. Betts Class)

Supply–side economic policies.

Cut federal spending on domestic programs

Cut taxes for the wealthy and for corporations

Free up investment capital and encourage new job creation

Investment income to offset loss of tax revenue caused by tax cuts.

Money freed up by tax cuts would "trickle down" to less wealthy

Did not work.

We got tremendous economic deficits.

Foreign policy events during the Reagan Administration

1. Beirut barracks bombing (1983)

1983 Beirut Bomb Still Reverberates Today

2. Invasion of Grenada (1983)

Trouble spots in Central America and the Caribbean

3. Reagan Doctrine

U.S. would openly support all anticommunist fighters.

Reagan Doctrine, 1985

Presidential Election (1984)

President Reagan easily re-elected by defeating Walter Mondale.

Iran–Contra scandal

Two sides to the issue: Contras in Nicaragua and US arms sales to Iran

U.S supported those fighting against (contra) the communists in Nicaragua.

After Vietnam and Watergate, Congress anxious to oversee foreign policy

Congress ordered Reagan not to continue support of Contras

Reagan Endorses CIA Support of Nicaraguan Contras

Iran-Contra Scandal Breaks

Role of Oliver North.
Sold arms to Iran (illegal) and our enemy.
Used profits to send to the Contras to keep fighting Communists


Video: George H.W. Bush bio

Video: World War Two heroism

Video: Parachute jump on his 83rd birthday

Presidential election of 1988

In Reagan's footsteps.
Accused of the 'wimp factor"
Peace abroad and a stable domestic economy

Campaign commercials (Living Room Candidate)

Bush Presidency

Bush presidency:"First, do no harm"
Bush against government action to solve economic & social problems.
Carried his approach too far and defended it too insensitively.
Many voters want to limit government in the abstract
Most want to keep safety net of government transfer payments

Bush's political shifts
Bush accused of being the Velcro president.
Bush a political chameleon.

"Read my lips: no new taxes."
Assertion made during the 1988 presidential campaign

Broke his promise to get Congress to help balance the budget

Fall of the Berlin Wall (October 1989)

Video: The Berlin Wall Falls - 9 November 1989

Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, 1989
The Berlin Wall Comes Down

Video: Individuals attempting to flee

Berlin Wall (BBC News Timeline)

End of the Cold War

Map: The End of the Cold War

The Collapse of the Soviet Union

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square, 1989
Tiananmen Square Massacre (June 1989) (Finding Dulcinea)

Video: Tank Man: The amazing story behind THAT photo - Newsnight

Venezuela comparison

Invasion of Panama (December 1989)

Video: U.S. Invades Panama - 20 December 1989

US Forces Invade Panama

Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) (1991)

Successful effort to push Iraq out of Kuwait.
Decision not to invade rest of Iraq or go after Saddam Hussein
Subsequent opinions on whether U.S. made correct choices

Video: The Gulf War 1991 (2:59)

Video: "Highway of Death" Iraqi Army Armed Retreat from Kuwait 1991

Iraq Invades Kuwait Leading to Persian Gulf War

Map: Trouble spots in the Middle East

Maps: Gulf War

U.S. female pilot captured by the Iraqis

1992 Presidential election loss to Bill Clinton

Campaign commercials (Living Room Candidate)


Video: Bill Clinton bio

Election of 1992

Campaign commercials website (Living Room Candidate)

1. Republican George H.W. Bush (Bush #41). Incumbent President
Seemed to lack the "vision thing."
Faulted for concentrating on foreign policy.

2. Democrat Bill Clinton. Arkansas governor. "New democrat." More toward center.
Democrats countered: "it's the economy, stupid."

3. Ross Perot. Texas billionaire led a third–party bid.

Video: Giant Sucking Sound - Ross Perot 1992 Presidential Debate

4. Clinton won electoral college (with only 43% of popular vote)

Somalia ("Black Hawk Down") 1993

Video: Inside the Real Black Hawk Down | No Man Left Behind

Somalia, 1992–1993

Interviews with Rangers on the Black Hawk Down mission

1994 Congressional elections

Republicans won both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954.

Newt Gingrich became the outspoken/controversial House Speaker.

Republicans offered a "Contract with America": a list of reforms to be passed during the first One Hundred Days.

Government Shutdown

Congressional Republicans shut down government over balanced budget

They were seen by many as ideologically inflexible.

Presidential Election of 1996

President Clinton seen as reasonable and moderate
Protector of certain federal programs that Congress attacked.
Gained support of women, who benefited from such programs.

Campaign commercials (Living Room Candidate)

War in Europe: Kosovo

Balkans War: a brief guide

Map: The Breakup of Yugoslavia/Civil War in Bosnia

Impeachment attempted over the Monica Lewinsky affair

President Clinton Admits to Affair With Monica Lewinsky

Video: The Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal | National Geographic

Senate Opens Hearings on the Impeachment of President Clinton

Impeachment summary (Washington Post)

Impeachment summary (BBC News)

Bill Clinton legacy

"Breathtakingly bright but capable of doing really dumb things."

What do you think his legacy will be?

Hillary Clinton's present and future role.


Video: George W. Bush bio

Campaign commercials

Election of 2000



Video: Barack Obama bio

Campaign commercials

Life Before the Presidency [this is really good]

Letter from Barack Obama on His Muslim Heritage