Limited War During the Cold War Era: The US in Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1954-75)

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible



This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics 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 problems of limited war; the origins of the Korean War; Truman and the decision to intervene; Inchon and the decision to cross the 38th parallel; the Chinese intervention and its consequences; the US home front during the Korean War; the Truman-MacArthur Controversy; Korea and US Cold War strategy: NSC-68, NATO, and ‘The Great Debate’; fighting while negotiating, 1951-53; legacies; JFK and Vietnam; LBJ and the decision to escalate; LBJ as Commander in Chief; the war on the ground in Vietnam: ‘search and destroy’ versus ‘hearts and minds’; the Tet Offensive; the media and military at war; the US home front during the Korean War; Vietnam and US Cold War strategy: détente and triangular diplomacy; fighting while negotiating, 1969-73; legacies.


The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision if and where necessary.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

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).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: 11

Average class size 2020/21: 10

Capped 2020/21: Yes (14)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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