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Into the Quagmire: Vietnam, the Early Years
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Annotated Bibliography | Primary Sources - Print| Websites and Web Resources | Related Archives and Collections | Other

Sources selected and annotated by Matthew Masur, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of History, St. Anselm College ( and SALEM in History staff.

Annotated Bibliography

Anderson, David L. Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

In this study of the Eisenhower administration’s policies in Vietnam, the author argues that Dwight D. Eisenhower exaggerated the importance of Vietnam in American foreign policy. Instead, he writes that “the Eisenhower years were a time of deepening American commitment to South Vietnam premised on superficial assumptions about the government in Saigon, its future prospects, and the importance of its survival to U.S. global strategic interests.”

Arnold, James R. The First Domino: Eisenhower, the Military, and America’s Intervention in Vietnam. New York: Morrow, 1991.

Arnold finds the root of America’s policy regarding Vietnam in Eisenhower’s 1954 domino theory: the belief that if Southeast Asia was lost to communism then the rest of the world would fall like dominos. Although this argument is not new, Arnold crafts a detailed narrative of how later presidents would follow Eisenhower’s lead.

Baritz, Loren. Backfire: A History of How American Culture led us into Vietnam and Made us Fight the Way We Did. New York: Morrow, 1985.

Looks at the myths of American culture (including moral supremacy and faith in technology) that led the US into Vietnam and shaped the way in which the war was fought. Reminds readers particularly about America (and Americans’) idealism and confidence in the years leading to and during the war.

Bradley, Mark Philip. Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

This study looks at the relationship between America and Vietnam through the lens of cross-cultural communications. Bradley explores the stereotypes each group had of the other, as portrayed in political, popular and personal writings: the Vietnamese thought Americans were idealistic but materialistic and often immoral; the Americans thought the Vietnamese were lazy, dishonest and unfit to govern themselves. Imagining Vietnam and America studies the impact such perceptions had on the cause and course of the Vietnam conflict.

Duiker. William J. Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

A wonderful history of the Vietnam War written from the perspective (and including voices) of the North Vietnamese. The book is based on documents and research available to very few scholars. Written for a general audience, there are images and sources included.

Elliot, David W.P. The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta 1930-1975. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.

A magisterial and magnificent 2 volume work that “is an attempt to elicit Vietnamese voices to explain what happened during the Vietnam War and why.”  This is not a story of the war from the American perspective but rather a close look at the evolution of the nation-state of Vietnam from social, political and economic perspectives beginning at the time of the earliest anti-colonial efforts. Focused on one province (My Tho) over half a century this book allows readers an intimate look at the war from the vantage point of some of its central actors.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1972

Essential reading—even more than 30 years after its original publication. Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning study of the two groups/worlds that came together in Vietnam and how the “war” came to be. Presents both the Vietnamese and the Americans from a sociological point of view; detailed discussions of Vietnamese history and culture as well as American. Emphasis is on a tragic collision of cultures.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security. Oxford University Press, 1982.

A must-read classic of Cold War history. Gaddis explores the history of US containment policy from FDR’s postwar plans through Kennan, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. He sees the US’s policy over time as a pendulum and offers a detailed look at how various administrations, each in turn, developed specific strategies to address the threat (or perceived threat) of the Soviet Union.

Gaiduk, Ilya. The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Inc. 1996.

Skillful recent examination of the complex involvement of the Soviet Union in the Vietnam War.  

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

A classic look at the architects of America’s involvement in Vietnam and the bureaucracy that facilitated the entanglement. Emphasis on how, despite the fact that the men involved were the “best and the brightest,” they managed to engage the US in a tragic war. Superb portraits of key figures involved (from Bundy to Nolting to McNamara to Rusk).

Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. New York: John Wiley, 1979.

Herring argues that America’s involvement in Vietnam stemmed from the nation’s policy on containment of communism and that our continued involvement in the conflict was as a result of an overestimation of American power and an underestimation of Vietnamese nationalism. This remains one of the best “short” histories of the war written by a scholar for a general public.

Hunt, Michael H. Lyndon Johnson’s War: America’s Cold War Crusade in Vietnam, 1945-1968. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.

An excellent, brief look at the coming of the war. Hunt uses newly declassified American and Vietnamese documents to look at the history of American intervention in Vietnam. Offers a close look at all key factors in the coming of the Vietnam War, looking back to the early 20th century and contextualizing such issues as: Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist efforts, the French colonial presence, and both continuity and change in Vietnam policy from US administration to administration.

Kahin, George McT. Intervention: How America Became Involved in Vietnam. New York: Knopf, 1986.

In this comprehensive account of the escalation of the Vietnamese conflict, Kahin details the American and South Vietnamese foreign politics and deconstructs the relationship between the two, demonstrating the growth of American power over South Vietnamese leaders.

Longevall, Fredrik. The Origins of the Vietnam War. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2000.

Accessible and thorough look at the origins of the Vietnam war. Situates the events and activities in Vietnam in a broad global context thereby highlighting the place of Vietnam and the Vietnam War in a post-WWII world.

McMahon, Robert J. ed. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War: Documents and Essays. (Major Problems in American History Series).  3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

This volume in the acclaimed and classroom-tested series “Major Problems in…” incorporates new research and a range of recently declassified documents concerning all aspects of Vietnam and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam from its years as a French colony  through the final withdrawal of troops. Offers well-balanced look at Vietnam as part of a larger Cold War discussion. Excellent coverage of the story from the vantage point of the Vietnamese (esp. Vietnamese Nationalism) as well. Pairs of scholarly essays explore multiple sides of each topic covered and relevant primary sources are included to engage discussion and interpretation.

Mann, Robert. A Grand Delusion: America’s Descent into Vietnam. New York: Basic Books,  2001.

This narrative history was written by a journalist for the general reader. In it, Mann covers the political causes of America’s entry into Vietnam, focusing on the anti communist fears of American leaders. He also adds into his story a study of Congress and their failure to play much of a role in foreign policy decisions, leaving that to the executive branch.

Rotter, Andrew J. The Path to Vietnam: Origins of the American Commitment to Southeast Asia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.

In 1950, America began military and economic aid to Southeast Asia, helping the French despite no guarantee of Vietnamese independence.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Random House, 1988.

Sheehan uses this biography of military adviser John Paul Vann to take a look more generally at Americans in Vietnam.

Tonnesson, Stein. The Vietnamese Revolution of 1945: Roosevelt, Ho Chi Minh and de Gaulle in a World at War. Oslo: International Peace Research Institute and Newbury Park: SAGE, 1991.

This study puts the August Revolution of 1945 in an international context. Tonnesson argues that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s indications of American plans to attack Indochina led to the success of the Vietnamese revolution and the ascent of Ho Chi Minh to power.

VanDeMark, Brian. Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

The author draws parallels between Johnson’s deepening involvement in Vietnam and his efforts to push his Great Society program through Congress and argues that Johnson tried to keep his foreign policy decisions from Congress and the public, lest they try to stop him.

Young, Marilyn B. The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Well written and accessible look at both the French war in Vietnam and the  American war thereafter. Also includes a briefer section on the Chinese war in Vietnam in the late 1970s. Primarily focuses on the American half of how the wars came  to be, and places American involvement squarely within the context of American foreign policy after WWII.

Zhai, Qiang. China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Recent work that examines the mix of ideological and security concerns that led China to extend substantial support to the Vietnamese communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Zhai argues that this fueled the Vietnam conflict.

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Primary Sources - Print

Greene, Graham. The Quiet American. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1956

Set in Saigon in 1952, this novel offers a critical look at the conduct, impact and activities of various groups operating in French-controlled Indochina in the early 1950s. The competition between the book’s narrator—ageing British journalist Fowler— and Pyle, a young American government agent (whose efforts are aimed at assisting a “third force”), over a beautiful Vietnamese woman (Phuong) is allegorical and set against the increasingly volatile and complex political scene in Saigon where American, French and Vietnamese factions search for control. The Cold War looms large in this novel, as does the moral ambiguity of American activities in Vietnam. Greene perceptively predicts the trouble that American “innocence” and self-confidence in Vietnam would bring.

McMahon, Robert J. ed. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War: Documents and Essays. (Major Problems in American History Series).  3rd  ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

This volume in the acclaimed and classroom-tested series “Major Problems in…”    incorporates new research and a range of recently declassified documents concerning all aspects of Vietnam and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam from its years as a French colony  through the final withdrawal of troops. Offers well-balanced look at Vietnam as part of a larger Cold War discussion. Excellent coverage of the story from the vantage point of the Vietnamese (esp. Vietnamese Nationalism) as well. Pairs of scholarly essays explore multiple sides of each topic covered and relevant primary sources are included to engage discussion and interpretation.

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Websites and Web Resources

Avalon Project
Yale Law School

Digital archive of documents relating to politics, law and government. “Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos” page includes diplomatic papers relating to Vietnam.Visitors may also search for specific documents. Included here is the *“Truman Doctrine” officially labeled:  “President Harry S. Truman’s Address Before A Joint Session of Congress, March 12, 1947” (
*(Note: this is one of the “Seminal Primary Documents to Read” according to the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework)

“Eisenhower Explains the Domino Theory” (April 7, 1954)
Online at:

This excerpt from a Presidential Press Conference on 7 April 1954 features Eisenhower's response to a question regarding the "strategic importance of Indochina." In his response, Eisenhower outlined a "falling domino" model, where the loss of one "free" region to the influence of communism leads to a sequence of other economic and political changes that would promote the spread of communism to other countries in the area.

Foreign Relations Series
U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian

Electronic version of official history of U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic activities published by the State Department. Volumes relating to the Vietnam War include those for the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations. Histories are arranged topically and include documents from the CIA, National Security Council, Department of Defense, Presidential libraries and private papers.

*John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
(sound recording and transcript)
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

Listen to the speech and/or read transcript.
*(Note: this is one of the “Seminal Primary Documents to Read” according to the2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework)

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum -Website

While there is no significant body of Vietnam-specific material available on this website, the “Historical Resources” section of the site includes a range of primary sources and materials for students and teachers which, together, can be used to establish the Cold War context of Vietnam and Kennedy’s place in the story. Of particular interest are: A number of Kennedy speeches (transcripts and audio files) including his inaugural address (see below); transcripts of more than 30 press conferences Kennedy gave between 1961 and 1963; a collection of student/teacher resources related to the Cuban Missile crisis.

LBJ White House Tapes

Click under “C-SPAN Radio,” then “LBJ White House Tapes” to listen to audio tapes of Lyndon B. Johnson’s phone conversations from 1963-1968. The tapes are searchable on the C-SPAN website and each Saturday from 3:00-5:00 p.m. C-SPAN Radio airs a collection of the phone conversations, which can be heard on the C-SPAN website. The original tapes are housed at the LBJ Library in Texas.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum - Website

Website offers a range of information about LBJ and his presidency. Of particular interest regarding the early years of the Vietnam War are the collection of National Security Action Memoranda (NSAM) available on line. NSAMs are documents that were issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson or by his national security advisors, McGeorge Bundy or Walt W. Rostow, to federal agencies to either relay policy statements or to request action programs. The collection here touches on a range of foreign policy issues between 1963 and 1968 and includes a few memoranda from 1963 and 1964 regarding Vietnam issues.

Online Bookshelves: Vietnam War
U.S. Army Center for Military History

Digitized primary and secondary sources published by the U.S. State Department on Vietnam. Includes government reports, official histories and statistical data. Infantry: Images from Vietnam page ( includes photographs from Vietnam War.

The National Security Archive
George Washington University

Website with formerly top secret U.S. government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Under “China and East Asia” are documents and transcriptions of tapes relating to U.S. Intelligence and Vietnam, JFK and the Diem Coup and North Korea and Nuclear Weapons. Also includes history and scholarly interpretation of the primary sources.

*“The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (1947)
by George Kennan (also known as “The X Article”)
CNN Interactive
Online at:

A complete version of the important “X” article (a slight revision of Kennan’s “Long Telegram”) in which Kennan discusses the need to “contain” Russian expansion. Kennan first gave the “containment” label to the policy that would shape US Cold War foreign relations.
*(Note: this is one of the “Seminal Primary Documents to Read” according to the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework)

*“The Truman Doctrine
Online at:

1) Truman Presidential Museum and Library (

2) Avalon Project – Yale Law School (

Truman's speech before Congress urges members to support the anti-communist efforts of Greece and Turkey as a matter of "foreign policy and the national security" of the United States. This address outlines his commitment to provide aid to countries in order to prevent the spread of communism. The desire to contain communism was influential in the U.S. policy-making decisions in Vietnam.
*(Note: this is one of the “Seminal Primary Documents to Read” according to the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Truman Presidential Museum and Library – Website

A rich source of primary source materials regarding Truman’s presidency. By clicking on either “Research” or ‘Education,” site visitors can access a set of Online Documents related to some of the key issues of Truman’s years in the White House. Included among these (Click on *“Truman Doctrine”) are a set of documents related to and contextualizing the speech which became known as the *“Truman Doctrine” (1947). Here you will find drafts of the speech, memos about it, other speeches Truman gave in the weeks leading up to March 12, telegrams and letters and memos from Greece, Turkey, and other European nations in the days and weeks leading up to—and following— the speech on March 12, as well as related documents from other members of the Truman administration.
*(Note: this is one of the “Seminal Primary Documents to Read” according to the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework)

Vietnam: A Teacher’s Guide
The Asia Society

Materials and excellent guide for teaching the Vietnam War. Produced by The Asia Society.

Vietnam Online
The American Experience, PBS

A website designed to accompany the Emmy award-winning series “Vietnam: a Television History” which originally aired in 1983. In 1997 it was edited down to 11 episodes and re-aired. The website includes excellent sections devoted to “Timeline,” “Who’s Who,” “Primary Sources,” and a “Teacher’s Guide.” The chonological coverage of both the series and the website begins just after the end of WWII.

The Vietnam Project
Texas Tech University

The Virtual Vietnam Archive is a database of digitized images, video, letters, government documents and transcribed oral histories relating to the Vietnam War. Also includes Teachers Resource page with a list of additional resources and a discussion group. The Vietnam Project was organized by a group of Vietnam veterans in Texas for the purpose of documenting the American experience in Vietnam.

Vietnam Interview Tape Collection
U.S. Army

Transcriptions of selected interviews of American military personnel. These interviews were conducted by U.S. Army historians during their research for preparing an official history of the Vietnam conflict. Although brief, the interviews cover military strategy, operations and organization.

Vietnam War Maps
U.S. Military Academy

Operation, battle and general maps relating to the Vietnam conflict.

The Wars for VietNam

A superb website developed around course materials for a Vassar course taught by Robert Brigham, the first American scholar given access to the Vietnamese archives on the war in Hanoi. The site offers visitors the opportunity to examine more than 20 of the most critical and often controversial sources related to the second IndoChina war which began in 1954. Many of these are official documents. Visitors can access the documents (some from American side, some from Vietnamese side) in one of two ways: 1) all are linked from a detailed and multi-vocal historical overview essay that begins with the Geneva Accords and continues until 1974; 2) a separate section of the site offers each document separately. Documents related to the early years of the war include the following (only a partial list) Geneva Accords, Eisenhower’s letter of Support to Diem, the statement of the NLF’s goals, McGeorge Bundy’s memo to LBJ advocating reprisals against North Vietnam, and The Hanoi Politburo's letter to the Communist Party in the South, regarding a protracted war. Site also includes an excellent list of additional links and
Presidential Recordings Program, University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Public Affairs

Nearly 5,000 hours of conversations that American Presidents from FDR to Nixon taped secretly in the White House, at Camp David, and the LBJ Ranch and elsewhere. Recordings include telephone calls, meetings and memoirs. At this site you will find these recordings along with a wide array of supplemental materials for scholars, educators, students and the general public. All recordings are transcribed and annotated. Of particular interest are the materials and recordings related to the Vietnam War, including frank discussions of covert actions against North Vietnam, the Tonkin Gulf incident and the resulting political capital. Site also includes a virtual exhibit about the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

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Related Archives and Collections

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

Located at Columbia Point in South Boston, the JFK Library and Museum is one of 10 Presidential Libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration—a federal government agency. The archive and research library is open to the public for scholarly and educational research. Holdings related to Vietnam include a massive volume of U.S. State Department files which contain records of the Kennedy administration’s decisions about and dealings in Vietnam up to 1963—effectively, up to Diem’s assassination. Also relevant for an early Vietnam topic are records related to other Cold War Kennedy-era topics such as the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Copies may be made on the premises.

Salem State College Archives (4th floor of Salem State College Library, Salem, MA)

The Salem State College Archives holds a rich collection of Cold War material as well as Vietnam-specific information. For foreign policy coverage see back issues of The Log (SSC student newspaper) as well as the William H. Bates Papers. Bates was a US Representative (Republican) representing Massachusetts residents from the 6th District. He served in Congress from 1950 until his death in 1969. He served on the Armed Services Committee and the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and his collection holds a range of documents related to both general Cold War concerns and both atomic energy and Vietnam specifically. A finding aid is available at the archives. Contact Archivist Susan Edwards for more information. (

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Published Lesson Plans/Teacher Resources

Magazine of History. Volume 18, Number 5 October 2004. (“Vietnam” edition)

Like all volumes of the Magazine of History (published for teachers by The Organization of American Historians) this volume (devoted to the Vietnam War) contains historical and historiographic essays on the topic by leading scholars along with primary source-based lesson plans and website reviews. Lesson Plans in this volume cover the following topics “LBJ Goes to War,” “Teaching the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese Perspective,” “The Battles of the Ia Drang Valley: A Comparative Analysis of Generals, the Media, and the Soldiers,” and “The Tet Offensive: The Turning Point of the War”. For information about subscribing to the magazine or ordering single copies of this volume see the Magazine of History portion of the OAH website at:


The Fog of War. Directed by Errol Morris; produced by Errol Morris, Michael Williams and Julie Ahlberg. Sony Pictures Classic: 2003. 178 min.

Profile of Robert McNamara.

The Quiet American. Directed by Phillip Noyce; produced by Steffan Ahrenberg and
William Holberg; from the novel by Graham Greene. Miramax Films: 2002.

Most recent film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel.

The Quiet American. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, 1958. 120 min.

Original film adaptation of Graham Green’s novel.

Vietnam: a Television History. The American Experience. WGBH.(1997)

An Emmy award-winning 11-part series on the history and experience of the Vietnam War. Chronological coverage ranges from 1945 to 1975. The first three episodes (each approx. 1hour) cover 1945 - 1965. For more on the series see the accompanying website:

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