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Into the Quagmire: Vietnam, The Early Years
Content Session Material

Theme: The United States and the World: American Foreign Relations
Topic:  Into the Quagmire: Vietnam, The Early Years
Date: April 7, 2005
Scholar: Matthew Masur, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, St. Anselm College

Materials selected and syllabus compiled by Matthew Masur, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, St. Anselm College (


This session will explore the roots of America’s involvement in Vietnam, primarily through the lens of Graham Greene’s 1955 novel The Quiet American.  Greene’s novel prophetically suggested that America’s ignorance of the politics and culture of Vietnam, combined with its zeal to spread democracy and halt the spread of communism, would draw the United States into a losing war in Vietnam.  Reading The Quiet American in conjunction with Michael Hunt’s Lyndon Johnson’s War will help to explain the complex origins of America’s early intervention in Vietnam.  Finally, this session will demonstrate how novels and movies can be incorporated into the history classroom. 


Greene, Graham. The Quiet American. (1955). Reissue edition, Penguin Books 2004

Hunt, Michael Hunt. Lyndon Johnson’s War: American’s Cold War Crusade in Vietnam, 1945-1968. New York: Hill and Wang, 1997.


1. When did the American intervention in Vietnam begin?  What were the main reasons for American intervention in Vietnam? 

2. Can you trace changes in/differences of opinion about US policy in Vietnam from 1945-1968?

3. How/where does Vietnam fits into the history of Cold War foreign policy?

4. How does Hunt's book add to and/or clarify your understanding of The Quiet American?

5. In The Quiet American, how does Graham Greene describe political and military conditions in Vietnam in the early 1950s?  What was America’s role in the conflict?

6. How do you think audiences responded to The Quiet American when it was published in 1955?  What lessons do you think readers might have taken from The Quiet American

7. Does a novel like The Quiet American have a place in a history course?  What about a movie based on the novel? 

Reading Guide for The Quiet American