The United States and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, 1941-75

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Matthew Jones E309


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

Based on a variety of primary sources, and a wide range of secondary reading, this course will explore US attitudes and policies towards and during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The United States and its post-war role in Asia; American policy toward French Indochina during the Second World War and after; American responses to emergence of the People’s Republic of China; the origins of the Korean War; the internationalisation of the war in Indochina in early 1950; the North Korean attack and Truman’s decision to intervene in June 1950; the crossing of the 38th parallel, and the Chinese intervention of October 1950; the debate over expansion of the war and the Truman-MacArthur controversy of early 1951; fighting while negotiating in Korea, 1951-53; support for the French war effort and the Dien Bien Phu crisis of 1954; the Geneva settlement and the formation of SEATO; ‘nation-building’ in South Vietnam during the 1950s; Kennedy and counter-insurgency, 1961-62; the Buddhist crisis and the downfall of Diem in 1963; LBJ and the decision to escalate in 1964-65; a war of attrition, 1965-67; the Tet Offensive and the election of 1968; Nixon’s pursuit of ‘peace with honor’, 1969-71; the Easter Offensive and the Paris settlement, 1972-73; Nixon to Ford and the fall of Saigon, 1973-75.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 4 hours of seminars in the ST.

21 two-hour seminars. Students are expected to keep up with the readings (documents and secondary literature) for the weekly meetings, and to participate in seminar discussions.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write two essays and two gobbet exercises during the year.

Indicative reading

A detailed course outline and reading list, as well as handouts, will be available as the start of the course.  The following works are recommended: Steven Casey, Selling the Korean War (2008); William Stueck, Rethinking the Korean War (2002); Burton I. Kaufman, The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility and Command (1986, or later edition); Rosemary Foot, The Wrong War: American Policy and the Dimensions of the Korean Conflict, 1950-53 (1985); George Herring, America’s Longest War (various editions); David L. Anderson, Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War (1993); David L. Anderson (ed), The Columbia History of the Vietnam War (2011); Robert J. McMahon, The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II (1999).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2012/13: 18

Average class size 2012/13: 9

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills