Lectures and Presentations

History of Viet Nam War

Do You Teach About the Vietnam War?


What’s wrong with this statement from Rory Kennedy’s documentary film, Last Days in Vietnam?

A) The date is wrong; in actuality the offensive Kennedy refers to started in January 1975.

B) There was no territorial or political division into a North and South Viet Nam. The two rival governments, (1) the DRVN and (2) the ASVN and its successor state the RVN, each claimed to have legitimate authority over the whole of Viet Nam.  Unlike the US Civil War, there was no secession.

C) The National Liberation Front, an armed force situated south of the DMZ and allied with the DRVN, began actively fighting the non-Communist government based in Saigon in 1960. By 1965, it controlled large swaths of territory.  The insinuation of an ideological divide between the “Communist north” and the “democratic south,” and suggestion that there were no pro-Communist forces south of the DMZ who joined the PAVN to defeat Saigon in 1975, are inaccurate and misleading.

D) All of the above.

Viet Nam:  Facts and Fables

University of Washington professor of international studies and history, Christoph Giebel, examines the Viet Nam War, not with a focus on battles, but on the ways in which the various parties framed the reasons for their involvement and tried to motivate their followers.  Dr. Giebel’s focus on spatial representations underscores the role that misleading mapping plays in popular imaginations to this day.[1]

In these videos, Dr. Giebel addresses two points that are critical for teaching about the Viet Nam War:

1)  The indivisibility of Viet Nam was a fundamental belief of Vietnamese nationalists from the beginning of the 20th century.

2)  Despite widely-held American beliefs to the contrary, there was no territorial division into a North and South Viet Nam resulting from the 1954 Geneva Accords.



Timeline Terminology
1945 First independent Vietnamese state emerges with the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRVN) DRVN Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRVN), led by Ho Chi Minh with its capital in Hanoi
1947-1954 First Indochina War Viet Min Communist-led, broad nationalist organization that went to war with the French who tried to regain imperial control following WWII
1949 Declaration of the Associated State of Viet Nam (ASVN) when French make common cause with non-Communist nationalists in Cochin China.  Capital city is Saigon. ASVN Associated State of Viet Nam.  The DRVN and ASVN are “two parallel states that both claim to have sole legitimate authority from the Chinese border to the tip of the Ca Mau Peninsula” (i.e., the whole of Viet Nam)
1954 (May)

Geneva Conference: parties arrive at two main agreements:

Military ceasefire with 17th parallel as line of demarcation for regroupment zones;Political solution through popular election between DRVN and ASVN set for 1956

RVN Republic of Viet Nam, the successor state to the ASVN.  Created by Ngo Dinh Diem to evade agreement to hold elections in 1956 with DRVN as opponent
1955 Ngo Dinh Diem, installed as Prime Minister of ASVN in 1954, calls snap elections for Presidency and wins against Bao Dai, France’s puppet president and the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty NLF National Liberation Front.  The first pro-DRVN armed resistance south of the DMZ, organized against the Ngo Dinh Diem government and commonly (and pejoratively) known as the “Viet Cong”
1955 One week later, Diem abolishes the ASVN and declares in its place the Republic of Viet Nam (RVN) which was not a signatory to the Geneva Accords, thus Diem rejects agreement to hold elections in 1956 ARVN Army of the Republic of Viet Nam
1960 Formation of the NLF to resist the Ngo Dinh Diem government PAVN People’s Army of Viet Nam, the regular forces of the DRVN
1963 ARVN deposes and kills Ngo Dinh Diem in coup, with US approval, further destabilizing the southern zone “Vietnamization” The training and build-up of Vietnamese forces so that US forces could be withdrawn over time
1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident
1965 US forces land in Danang, south of the DMZ
1965-67 Rapid build-up of US forces, with approximately 500,000 US troops in southern zone by 1967; DRVN begins sending its regular army forces (PAVN) south
1968 Tet Offensive which leads to next phase of war, known as “Vietnamization”
1972 Becomes apparent that ARVN is unable to defend against the combined forces of PAVN and the NLF (under 100,000 US troops at this time)
1973 (Jan.) Paris Agreement (signed Jan. 27) included two main provisions:

Ceasefire entailing US withdrawal and Vietnamese forces remaining in place;

Political solution for reunification. US withdraws in early 1973

1975 ARVN defeated and Saigon overrun by PAVN and NLF forces (April 30, 1975)

Additional resources on Viet Nam include Professor Christoph Giebel’s lecture on the Vietnamese Revolution of 1945, a panel discussion on Ken Burns’ Viet Nam War documentary, and a lecture by Professor David Biggs titled War in the Land.

[1] The series of three lectures were delivered at Seattle’s Mirabella Retirement Center on August 23, 30, and September 6, 2018.  The first, about the early period leading up to the Geneva Accords of 1954, was not recorded.  The second and third address the Geneva Accords and their immediate aftermath and developments afterwards leading to the Paris Agreement of 1973.