Theme 1: Forces That Fueled the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War Lesson Guide

A North Vietnamese Shantou-class gunboat burns near Hon Ne Island
Photo caption

A North Vietnamese Shantou-class gunboat burns near Hon Ne Island, after an attack by aircraft from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Constellation, off North Vietnam's Lach Chao Estuary, August 5, 1964.

Theme Overview

Why Vietnam?  What were the root causes of the war from a geopolitical perspective? From a bi-polar perspective? Through a Cold War lens? The Vietnam War is generally understood as a manifestation of post-WWII Cold War geopolitics, but lessons will examine it in the broader story of imperialism, post-colonialism, and emerging nationalism, as it played out in the complex history of Vietnam. The war was fought during a time of a vast buildup of nuclear arms, and its history cannot be understood outside of the global tensions between the U.S. and its communist enemies in the U.S.S.R. and China and an arms race that threatened to destroy the world.

Essential questions:

  • Why did the US feel compelled to take over for the French in Indochina?
  • What responsibilities do nations have in helping provide for a peaceful world order?

The lessons

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