History 183

The Vietnam War

Richard H. Immerman

Fall 2000
 
 

Final Examination Questions







Here we go again. The instructions, guidelines, and "helpful hints" I provided in the preface to the midterm questions apply to the final as well. Indeed, the only difference (other than the content of the questions themselves) is that 1) I will require you to respond to two of the questions that follow, and 2) you will have twohours to complete your examination. Oh, I forgot. There is one more difference: you are all much more experienced and thus skilled in the art of Immerman-exam taking. According, only the sky (i.e., 150 points) is your limit.
 
 

    1. "Given the extraordinary consequences that followed from American participation in the Vietnam War," concluded a recent article by two prominent scholars, "it is almost assuring to hold that [U.S.] intervention 'had' to occur [i.e. was inevitable 'given its historical context'] and therefore was not determined by particular individuals with particular strengths and weaknesses." "But in fact," they continue, "the road to intervention had many forks. The ones taken were by no means inevitable. They were taken by fallible, flesh-and-blood human beings who faced real choices and who cannot be dismissed as mere chips on the tide of history." Drawing on your vast expertise on the history of America's escalating involvement in Vietnam, assess this argument. Was the escalation one linear progression from Truman to Nixon/Ford? Or did the change of presidents and administrations influence policies and strategies, and if so, how? Don't be bashful about strutting your stuff.
     

    2. Trace the influence of domestic considerations on U.S. conduct during the Vietnam War. Be certain to specify what domestic facts you believe were salient, and what specifically was their impact. Conclude with your evaluation of Ronald Reagan's comment that the United States would have prevailed in the "noble cause" of combating communism in Vietnam were its government and military officials not sabotaged by subversive elements within the United States.
     

    3. Examine the policies and programs pursued by and political fortunes of Ngo Dinh Diem from the time of his appointment by Bao Dai as prime minister of the State of Vietnam (then Republic of Vietnam) until the coup d'etat and his subsequent assassination in November 1963. How would you define and assess the role of the United States in Diem's ascension to power and ultimate demise?
     

    4. In July 1965 key advisors to Lyndon B. Johnson waged a "battle of memos" regarding whether the president should grant General William Westmoreland's request that the United States deploy an additional 44 battalions [sic] to Vietnam. Among the principals engaged in this battle were Robert McNamara, George Ball, McGeorge and William Bundy, and Dean Rusk. Using the 20-20 hindsight that attends historical scholarship, provide me with a draft of the memo you would have written to LBJ on this subject in July 1965. Be sure to identify your position/office within the Johnson administration and entitle your memorandum (e.g., "Cutting our Losses," "To Turn the Tide," etc.) It goes without saying, or it should go without saying, that unlike the memo-ists in 1965, you are an expert on Vietnamese history, culture, and society. Make certain, moreover, to write as explicitly as possible, addressing the fundamental questions/issues. Future students may well receive an assignment from a crazed professor to prepare an "op-ed essay" based on his/her interpretation of your memo.
     

    5. As one distinguished historian has commented, "A fundamental feature of the American political system is that each president has the opportunity, has the power, to place his or her personal imprint on the formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy." Assess this comment in terms of the experience of Presidents Eisenhower through Ford in Vietnam.