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Syllabus Collection

General Sixties Courses | Literature Film & Popular Culture | Viet Nam War

1960s and Vietnam

Professor: David T. Courtwright
Institution: University of North Florida
Date: Fall 1995
Listing: AMH 3544/HIS 5934


  • Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land
  • Allen Matusow, The Unraveling of America
  • Harold Moore & Joseph Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young
  • Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir
  • Additional readings are on reserve.


An examination of key political, economic and cultural developments in the United States during the 1960s, with special reference to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations; an analysis of the Second Indochina War from Vietnamese and American perspectives; the legacies of 1960s liberalism and the Indochina conflict.


There will be two objective, multiple-choice quizzes (10% each), three papers (10%, 30%, and 20%, respectively), and a final exam (20%). If you are taking this course for graduate credit, the major paper will be substantially longer. Grading is numerical: 90s for "A"s, 80s for "B"s, etc. Class attendance and participation will be considered in assigning a final grade. Perfect attendance (neither absent nor tardy) will earn a choice of essay questions on the final exam. I take attendance promptly at the beginning of class.

Carefully proofread all work before submitting it. There is little distinction between clear thinking and clear writing. Spelling and grammatical errors will lower your grade. (In fact, if a paper contains too many errors, I will simply return it to you without a grade. I will do the same if the printing is so light as to be difficult to read.) To help you with the tasks of writing and proofreading, two guides are appended to this syllabus, How to Write an Effective Essay and Common Errors in Writing. Read them before you attempt your first written assignment.

First Paper (10% of grade): View Easy Rider outside of class, either in the library's audio-visual reserve room or by renting it on your own. Then prepare a short (no more than 800-word) essay on the film. Your essay, which will be typed or word-processed and double-spaced, should attempt to answer the following questions: How does Easy Rider reflect the realities and fantasies of the counterculture in the late 1960s? What is the message of the film? How valid does that message seem more than a quarter century later? You may wish to consult Peter Fonda et al., Easy Rider: Original Screenplay, on reserve.

Second Paper (30% of grade):

"How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth, materially supported on a scale unprecedented in history, equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology had assumed the role of a god of war, fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?" --Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., The Army in Vietnam (1986)

This is a good question, and it deserves a good answer, particularly in view of the fact that sixteen years later another well-supplied, high-tech U.S. army routed Saddam Hussein's forces in a mere four days, losing only one American for every thousand Iraquis. What happened? How could the U.S. lose the Second Indochina War, yet win so decisively in the 1991 Gulf War? In answering those questions, be sure to assess the strength and morale of the Vietnamese Communists, as well as the weaknesses of American strategy and tactics. It is essential that you demonstrate and apply your understanding of the assigned readings: Moore and Galloway, Truong Nhu Tang, and Beamon. Chapter 13 of Matusow is also germane.

Additional research in primary and secondary sources, of which your library has many, is another good idea. I have put a few of these on reserve: George Moss, Vietnam: An American Ordeal; James Olson, Where the Domino Fell: America in Vietnam, 1945-1990; George C. Herring, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-75, 2nd ed.; Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War; and several copies of The Pentagon Papers. Ben Kiernan, "The Vietnam War: Alternative Endings," American Historical Review 97 (Oct 1992): 1118-37 (periodicals room) is a good review-essay that will lead you to many sources. The AV area of the library has Vietnam: A Television History on reserve (13 cassettes). There are several hundred other sources in the stacks and in the government documents section.

I have also xeroxed and/or put some items on reserve regarding the Gulf War, including three New York Times articles: "New G.I.s Shake Off Vietnam Ghost," "Invention that Shaped the Gulf War: The Laser-Guided Bomb," and "Excerpts from Schwarzkopf News Conference on Gulf War." Also of interest is the review essay by Theodore Draper, "The True History of the Gulf War," in the January 30, 1992 issue of the New York Review of Books, available in the periodical room and on reserve. Some books on the Gulf War include Michael Gordon, The General's War; U.S. Dept. of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress; Rick Atkins, Crusade: the Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War; and Norman Schwarzkopf's autobiography, It Doesn't Take a Hero. The latter is especially relevant because it recounts the author's experiences in Vietnam as well as in the Gulf.

As you compose your paper remember that the primary focus should be on Vietnam, not on the Gulf War. The Gulf War should serve as a foil to highlight what went wrong with the more sustained (and far more costly) U.S. effort in Vietnam.

Your paper should be between 1200 and 1800 words, typed or word-processed, and double-spaced. If you go above or below that limit I will subtract a full letter grade.

Note: If you are taking this course for graduate credit, your paper must be in the range of 4000-5000 words, not counting notes and bibliography, and must be based on additional research in primary and secondary sources. See me for suggestions.

Third Paper (20% of grade): Select one book from "Books for Revew" list, read it, and then write a 900-1200 word, typed or word-processed, double-spaced book review. A good book review consists of a careful condensation of the book's main arguments or ideas, followed by a thoughtful critique. What worked and what did not work, and why? A book review that consists solely of recapitulation is unacceptable. It would also be helpful if, in the course of the review, you explain how and to what extent the book furthers our historical understanding of the 1960s and/or the War in Vietnam.

Optional Papers (40% of grade): If you dislike multiple-choice quizzes and book reviews you can please yourself and your professor by writing one of the optional papers described below. It should be 1500-1800 words (word-processed or typed, double-spaced) and will take the place of the book review (paper three), the film essay (paper one), and one of the first two quizzes. If you wish you cant take the two quizzes anyway and I will throw out whichever grade is lower. Let me know early in the semester if you are going to do one of the optional papers.

Option A: Read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Paul Perry and Ken Babbs' On the Bus, and William Plummer's The Holy Goof and then answer this question: Who was Neal Cassady and what was his significance, for good or for ill, in American history?

Option B: Read the Warren Commission Report; Michael Kurtz, Crime of the Century; Harrison Edward Livingston, High Treason 2; Gerald Posner, Case Closed; and any other pro-or anti-conspiracy books and articles you care to plow through and then answer this question: Who murdered John Kennedy and how did he (or they) do it? Fame and fortune await the correct answer. Surgeon General's Warning: This topic may be addictive.

Option C: This one is for the musically inclined. Write a review of Miss Saigon in which you assess the production both artistically and historically. To do this, imagine that a road production of Miss Saigon is coming to Jacksonville and that you are writing a newspaper piece that will appear the day before it opens. You want to share with your readers your artistic judgment, but you also want to explain the historical and operatic antecedents of the musical. Before you write the piece, listen to Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Claude-Michel Schönberg's Miss Saigon and read Edward Behr and Mark Steyn's The Story of Miss Saigon and Larry Englemann's Tears before the Rain: An Oral History of the Last Days of South Vietnam. You may also want to do some research on the fate of Amerasian children. The two books are on reserve; the Carpenter Library has both audio and visual versions of Madama Butterfly; and Miss Saigon is available as a double compact disc at the downtown public library or can be purchased through a record store.

Option D: Did film and television present Americans with an accurate picture of what happened in the Indochina War, both during the conflict itself and after the fact? Before you answer this question, read Michael Anderegg, ed., Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television; Albert Auster, How the War Was Remembered: Hollywood & Vietnam; and Jack Colldeweih, "Napalm in the Morning: The Vietnam War Film"; and George Moss, "News or Nemesis: Did Television Lose the Vietnam War?" The two articles are in Moss, A Vietnam Reader, on reserve. You should also study as many fiction and non-fiction films as you can. Your viewing should include, at a minimum, the Vietnam: A Television History series (on reserve) plus The Deerhunter, Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Born on the Fourth of July.

Option E: This one is for aspiring political scientists or historians interested in electroal behavior. From 1932 until the 1960s national political life was dominated by the New Deal coalition of the Democratic party. During the 1960s, however, the coalition broke up and was replaced by a new political system characterized by weakened party organizations, reliance on mass media, ideological polarization, low voter turnouts, deference to interest groups, chronic budget deficits, and "dual sovereignty"--Republican control of the executive branch, Democratic control of the Congress. That was pretty much how matters stood until 1994,when the dual sovereignty roles were (temporarily?) reversed: Democratic control of the executive, Republican of the Congress. Write a paper in which you explain the demise of the New Deal coalition during the 1960s and describe the evolution of the system that had replaced it by the 1980s. Who benefited from this transformation? Who lost? Has the "postelectoral" political order been good or bad for the U.S.? Base your paper on Matusow plus these three books: Benjamin Ginsberg, Politics by Other Means: The Declining Importance of Elections in America; David Stockman, The Triumph of Politics; and Kevin Phillips, The Politics of Rich and Poor.

8/29--Introduction: What and When Were the 1960s

8/31--Main These in American Liberalism. (Matusow, Preface, chs. 1-2)

9/5--The Kennedy Administration. (Matusow, chs. 3-4)

9/7--Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination. (Read xeroxed handout; select and begin reading the book for review due at the end of the term [paper 3]. Do this early to avoid a "run" on choice books.)

9/12--Quiz (10% of grade); discussion. (Begin reading Lemann)

9/14--The Segregation Era. (Matusow, ch. 5; continue reading Lemann)

9/19--The Civil Rights Movement. (Matusow, ch. 7; continue reading Lemann)

9/21--Black Power. (Matusow, ch. 12; continue reading Lemann)

9/26--Affluence and Inflation. (Matusow, ch. 6; continue reading Lemann)

9/28--The War on Poverty. (Matusow, chs. 8-9; continue reading Lemann)

10/3--The Antiwar on Poverty; Federal Urban Policy. (Prepare for quiz; finish Lemann)

10/5--Quiz (10% of grade); discussion.

10/10--The Counterculture and Its Music. (Matusow, ch. 10)

10/12--First paper due (10% of grade); class discussion.

10/17--The New Left and the Counterculture. (Matusow, ch. 11)

10/19--The First Indochina War. (Truong, ch. 5-10; begin reading Moore and Galloway)

10/24--Mr. Wrong; Diem and the Origins of the Second Indochina War. (Truong, ch.5-10; begin reading Moore and Galloway)

10/26--LBJ's War, 1964-1967. (Continue reading Moore and Galloway)

10/31--Tet. (Truong, ch. 11; continue reading Moore and Galloway)

11/2--What Went Wrong? A Veteran's Perspective. (Finish Moore and Galloway); guest lecture by Dean Holder.

11/7--The War at Home. (Matusow, ch. 13)

11/9--1968 and the Crisis of Liberalism. (Matusow, ch. 14; Truong, ch. 11)

11/14--Nixon and Kissinger: Realpolitik and bombs. (Truong, chs. 12-18; Beamon, "The Green-Faced Frogmen," on reserve)

11/16--The Legacy of Vietnam. (Truong, chs. 19-24)

11/21--Vietnam on Film. (Work on second paper)

11/28--Second paper due (30% of grade); discussion.

11/30--The Legacy of 1960s Liberalism. (Work on third paper)

12/5--Student Oral Presentations, based on third paper. (Work on third paper.)

12/7--Third paper due (20% of grade) evaluation; exam review.

12/12--Final exam (20% of grade).

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