Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Vietnam War: Common Obstacles to Historical Understanding I

There are several obstacles to achieving an understanding of a particular historic event or era. The first obstacle I will discuss is the lack of you own knowledge about the specific event or time period.

Because that obstacle is relatively easy to overcome but often time-consuming one is tempted to take short-cuts. We have a tendency to read something and think that is “enough”. Too often we know only “enough” for an opinion but not “enough” for historical understanding or interpretation.

The best place to begin our journey toward understanding the Vietnam War is by reading one or more general surveys of the war. Here we are in luck. Recently there has been a boom in Vietnam War histories. Below are the most recent and frequently recommended general surveys of the Vietnam War.

The study of history reminds me of long distance running. I have been a runner most of my life but the first mile of every run is the most uncomfortable and far from enjoyable. However, once my body warms up the more relaxed I become, my breath becomes rhythmic, stride evens out, and running becomes enjoyable.

One of the reasons we strive for historical understanding is because understanding something is enjoyable. The more we know the more we understand and, again like running, the further we can go and have fun.

I recommend any one or two of the following books. They are all available in the local library or you can purchase a copy through distributors such as Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com. Ohio State University Professor Guilmartin’s book is available online.

Next time I will explore the difficulties of time and context.


Guilmartin, John Francis. America in Vietnam: The Fifteen Year War. http:/onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/lookupid?key=olbp 18445.

Herring, George C. America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Lawrence, Mark Atwood. The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

McMahon, Robert J. The Limits of Power: The United States and Southeast Asia Since World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Schulzinger, Robert D. A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam: 1941-1975. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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