SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H398 - The Vietnam War and Asia I

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3, Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Full Year

This course examines the Vietnam War and its impact on Asia, in particular on a number of Southeast Asian societies. Properly known as the Second Indochina War, the conflict was unique in the scale of U.S. military investment and the profound destruction delivered by the world’s most powerful military machine, the U.S. Air Force. Nevertheless, the war did not result in American victory, nor did peace result in stability, leading instead to decades of civil war, social disruption, poverty, one of the world’s most notorious examples of genocide in modern history, and yet another Indochina War by the end of the 1970s. Why the war resulted in so much collateral damage is often explained by reference to American overkill and strategic errors by the Nixon Administration. This course considers whether these explanations are sufficient. The course examines the broader Asian experience of the Vietnam War, how Asians shaped and were impacted by the conflict, and why the war ultimately spun out of control and beyond the borders of Vietnam. It will do so by examining a wide range of primary source documents, including conventional archival documentation but also oral histories, newsreels, photographs, and even movie making.


  • Students  enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students will:

  1. an understanding of the broader regional context of the Vietnam War and its consequences
  2. an understanding of the main historiographical debates and archival constraints related to the history of the Vietnam War
  3. An ability to analyse of primary documents and core secondary literature to write critical essays answering questions related to issues covered in the course
  4. The ability to conduct systematic research using archives and the library, including both primary and secondary sources, to answer a research question related to the topics covered in the course

Scope and syllabus

1. Introduction and the Archive for the Vietnam War
2. Post-Geneva/Bandung Asia
3. Conflict Zones without strong centralised states: The Laos Crisis
4. The Rise and Fall of Diem
5. US Special Forces and the CIA: Training Minority Armies
6. Strategic Hamlets
7. The Beginning of the Quagmire: 1964-1968
8. Culture and Society in North Vietnam Under Aerial Siege
9. Culture and Society in South Vietnam During the War
10. SEATO: Thailand and the Philippines and the Vietnam War
11. Neutrality and the War: Cambodia under Sihanouk
12. When Things (are made) to Fall Apart: US Bombing in Cambodia, the Overthrow of Sihanouk, and the U.S. Invasion of Cambodia
13. The Khmer and Vietnam Republican Armies
14. Communist Insurgents in Cambodia and Laos
15. Triangular Diplomacy and the Negotiated Peace
16. Going it Alone: the Decline of the South Vietnam Army after 1973
17. The Resumption of War and the Fall of South Vietnam
18. Communist Victory in Laos
19. Genocide in Cambodia
20. Legacies of the Vietnam War
21. Revision
22. Revision

Method of assessment

  • Exam worth 55%
  • 2,000 word essay worth 15%
  • 2,000 word essay worth 15%
  • 2,000 word essay worth 15%

Suggested reading

  • F. FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake
  • Bradley, Mark Phillip. Vietnam at War
  • Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950–1975
  • Lawrence, Mark Atwood. The Vietnam War: A Concise International History
  • Christopher E. Goscha & Thomas Engelberg, Falling Out of Touch. A Study on Vietnamese Communist policy towards an emerging Cambodian communist movement, 1930-1975
  • Conboy, Kenneth with James Morrison, Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos.
  • Ed Miller, Misalliance Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam
  • My War with the CIA: The Memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk
  • R. Komer, Bureaucracy at War
  • W. A. Williams, ed., America in Vietnam: A Documentary History
  • R. B. Smith, An International History of the Vietnam War
  • N. Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie
  • F. Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules