Dive into one of the 20th century’s most consequential wars in The Vietnam War, with expert John C. McManus. In just 24 lectures, reconstruct the battle for Vietnam from the fall of French Indochina to reunification in the 1970s. Analyze a broad range of military operations and strategies utilized throughout the conflict. Survey the scope of American involvement in Vietnam alongside the politics of war back home. Explore the American anti-war movement. And dive into the human dimensions of war and its impact of the individuals involved in or touched by the fighting.
The Vietnam War
John C. McManus is the Curators’ Distinguished Professor of US Military History at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He earned a PhD in History from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is a specialist in modern American military history, focusing on World War II through the present and emphasizing ground combat soldiers. He is the author of 14 books on military history, including Fire and Fortitude, which won the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History. He also hosts Someone Talked!, a podcast on military affairs.
01: A Half-Century Cataclysm
The war in Vietnam was a human tragedy that wreaked havoc on its participants and witnesses. In the course’s inaugural lecture, examine the conflict from the bottom-up by exploring a constellation of people intimately connected to the fighting, and zero in on what war could reveal about the human condition.
02: French Indochina and the Viet Minh
Survey the economic exploitation and repression that came to define Vietnam in the 19th and early 20th centuries. See how the Vietnamese, including the famed communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, resisted their occupiers with help from the United States. And learn about the tense political situation that emerged in Vietnam following World War II.
03: Dien Bien Phu and Vietnam Divided, 1953–1959
Examine mid-century Vietnam from the First Indochina War to the October 1955 referendum. Reconstruct the Battle of Dien Bien Phu from both French and Vietnamese perspectives. Study how the international community reckoned with a newly divided Vietnam. And survey the emergent political landscape in North and South Vietnam.
04: Five Leaders Who Defined the Vietnam War
Explore the makings of war in Vietnam through five major players, starting with Vietnamese leaders Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan in the north and Ngo Dinh Diem in the south. Then, travel across the world to see how two successive US presidents viewed and experienced the escalating conflict.
05: The Rise of the Viet Cong, 1959–1962
Why did the northern Vietnamese government decide to wage guerilla war in the south, and how did its adversaries respond? What was the Viet Cong and what role did it play in the conflict? And how did the United States contend with escalating tensions in Vietnam?
06: South Vietnam in Crisis, 1963
In 1963, South Vietnam careened toward crisis. Dig into the ARVN’s deficiencies from lackluster military commanders to political legitimacy. Investigate the religious tensions that plagued South Vietnam and its leader, Ngo Dinh Diem. And explore the contentious relationship between US leadership and Diem’s government.
07: The Gulf of Tonkin and a Crossroads, 1964
From the Gulf of Tonkin incident to Rolling Thunder, explore the ways in which escalating tensions on the ground in Vietnam and domestic political considerations in the United States led to more costly confrontations on the Indochinese Peninsula. Examine how the specter of communism in neighboring Indonesia shaped calculations made by the United States.
08: The Vietnam War in the Skies
While the United States boasted an impressive air force, its air campaign struggled when confronted by VC forces. Here, investigate the specifics of America’s air campaign throughout the Johnson administration, as well as the roles played by China and the USSR in helping North Vietnam circumvent American aggression in the skies.
09: America Goes All In, 1965
America, terrified by the prospect of losing South Vietnam in the global struggle against communism, dove headfirst into war in 1965. What were the forces at play—politically, militarily, even interpersonally—that led to such a consequential decision? And how did the Unites States plan to fight a conventional war in Vietnam?
10: The World of the American Combat Soldier
Spend some time with the Vietnam War’s often overlooked but incredibly important participants: combat soldiers. Construct a thorough portrait of a typical American grunt from his daily routine in wartime to where he stood in the greater military hierarchy and see how ordinary soldiers weathered brutal combat over the course of a typical 12-month tour.
11: The World of the Vietnamese Combat Soldier
How did Vietnamese combat soldiers in both the North and South think about and experience war? Follow Vietnamese military recruits from initial enlistment to guerilla combat in the tunnels of South Vietnam and see how the VC and ARVN operated at a granular level.
12: Guns, Gear, and Food in the Vietnam War
From garments to guns, what kinds of tools did soldiers in Vietnam have available to them? Did the VC and United States differ in the types of gadgets and technologies they gave their combat soldiers? And how did soldiers on both sides manage to feed themselves in the deep and winding jungles of Vietnam?
13: False Optimism, Failing Strategies, 1966–1967
Zoom outward to take stock of the overall situation in Vietnam between 1966 and 1967. See where fighting was fiercest from the DMZ to Hill 875. Examine how the United States approached battle through a series of expansive operations. And take stock of how leaders from President Johnson to North Vietnam’s Le Duan felt about the war, at that point.
14: How to Fight an Asymmetric War
How does one fight and ultimately win an asymmetrical war? And what exactly is an asymmetrical war, anyway? Tactics: Learn about the military strategies deployed by the North Vietnamese army. Examine the ways in which the strategies differed from US approaches and investigate how America and the ARVN responded to them.
15: The Tet Offensive, 1968
Perhaps one of the most consequential campaigns in the entire Vietnam War was the so-called Tet Offensive in 1968. Dive into this extraordinary communist attack. What happened? Who was involved? To what extent did it fail militarily? And how did this meticulously planned and highly coordinated siege change the course of the war?
16: America in Turmoil, 1968
The year 1968 was difficult for ordinary Americans—not just in terms of Vietnam. Survey the tense domestic political landscape in the United States, with special focus on President Johnson. Explore why peace negotiations to end the war in Vietnam ultimately failed. And dive into the 1968 presidential election.
17: Race, Culture, and Women in the Vietnam War
The 1960s and 1970s were socially and culturally transformative. Explore the ways in which war in Vietnam exposed racial and gender inequities within the United States, fueling a series of movements for not only equal rights but also peace, and examine how the US presence in Vietnam altered the social and cultural landscape there, as well.
18: The Antiwar Movement in America
Disapproval of the war in Vietnam coalesced into a powerful, if ultimately diffuse and incohesive, movement. But who were the personalities and groups behind the struggle? What sort of protest tactics did the more militant anti-war groups deploy? And did such profound anti-war sentiment impact the scale and scope of fighting at all?
19: Nixon and Vietnamization, 1969
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, America pursued a new strategy in Vietnam, hoping to reform the South from within. Examine the imperfect but steady democratization of South Vietnam. Define and evaluate Richard Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization.” And explore the events and decisions that led up to the bombing of Cambodia.
20: The Race against Time, 1970
In 1970, the United States found itself in a difficult position. Still, a North Vietnam victory was by no means inevitable. Evaluate the allied position in the war at the start of the 1970s, from the surprising strength of South Vietnam to the invasion of Cambodia, and see how anti-war advocates tempered US involvement.
21: America Pulls Back, the North Strikes, 1971–1972
After Cambodia, the burden of combat fell to the AVRN, while morale among US troops hit an all-time low. Reconstruct the Lam Son 719 operation in Laos and the Easter Offensive. Survey the problems that plagued US servicemen in Vietnam. And dive into bombshell investigations like Winter Soldier and the Pentagon Papers.
22: The Bitter End, 1972–1975
Nixon knew by 1972 that US involvement in Vietnam had to end. But how it would end, and exactly when, was up for debate. Evaluate national security advisor Henry Kissinger’s role in procuring a ceasefire in Vietnam. Explore the lead up to the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. And track the fall of South Vietnam to the communists.
23: Vietnam’s Casualties, Prisoners, and MIA
With the dust of war settled, how many ultimately died or went missing in Vietnam? Investigate the human consequences of the conflict from POWs to casualties, evaluating the effectiveness of allied and NVA hospitals in treating wounded soldiers along with the treatment of prisoners in Vietnamese camps.
24: Vietnam Becomes a Country, Not Just a War
Survey the post-war issues while the United States attempted to recover from war, tracking the initial alienation of Vietnam vets in America to their acceptance in mainstream America. Conclude by focusing on post-war Vietnam. What happened to the South and her people? And what did normalized relations between the United States and Vietnam look like?