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Vietnam War Questions

Michael Bennett

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Hi, I'm currently doing an essay for my Vietnam module, I have 2 main questions I have thought of, don't quite know which to use yet, however I'm struggling for exactly what information should be included, any pointers would be much appreciated.

Here are the questions I have thought of:

1) Was war inevitable after Geneva, 1954?


2) Did the origins of the second Indochina war lie in US foreign policy or in Vietnam itself

For the second question, so far I have devised a plan to look at the problems in South Vietnam after Geneva, eg the corruption of the Diem government, the failure to hold free elections which were scheduled for 1956 under the Geneva accords, other problems would include Diem's poor policies of repression of the Buddhists, other oppositionary groups in SVN such as the Binh Xuyen, Hao Hoa, and Cao Dai, and Diem's anti-communist policies provoking the NLF to arise. Also looking at the north's role, the help to the insurgencies such as the NLF. And finally looking at America's role, the policy of containment, the domino theory, problems over the cold war context.

In terms of 'origins of the war' my argument would be ultimately the origins lay with the USA since they always focused on the region since WW2, this was evident in the economic support given to the French in the first indochina war, and the us were also seen as yet another foreign invader to the Vietnamese, however a culmination of events can also be argued as origins of the war, with problems sparking conflict in both North and South Vietnam.

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This seems more like an outline of a book. I would suggest you narrow down your subject matter.

To get the most from the panel you want to ask specific questions that can be answered concisely. As it stands at the moment, I don’t think anyone would be able to reply to your posting.

You will find information about the war here:



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I would suggest you narrow down your subject matter.

I agree with John Simkin. We're not trying to discourage you. It's clear that you have already done some thorough research and have amassed a considerable amount of material. The problem is that the questions you are suggesting lack sufficient focus. Examiners are always saying that candidates must be encouraged to narrow down their research questions. Remember that you have a fairly strict word limit to which you must adhere. Can you really say anything useful about either of those questions within those limits? John Simkin and I just don't think so...

So, what can you do? Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Pick a specific aspect of the Geneva Agreement which you believe may have had consequences leading to a renewal of the war and analyze

a. why this item was included in the agreement

b. the consequences you think it had

c. the logical connections between the cause and effect

All, of course, backed up by evidence...

2. Look at the "policy drift" which led to the increasing US commitment to the French in Indo-China.

3. You seem to have collected a lot of evidence about the non-Communist political opposition in South Vietnam. Perhaps something about that might make a good topic. (If you do decide on that one, I'd love a copy -- it's a hole in my knowledge about the war)

As John said, once you've narrowed things down a bit, re-post to the forum and I'm sure you'll get some useful help and advice.

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Ok, thanks for your input guys, I saw my tutor today over the question(s) and after consultation I've broken it down to the question of 'How did the Geneva Agreements of 1954 lead to war?'

With this question ill be basing my argument that war was not entirely inevitable after Geneva until the free elections (proposed for 1956) were not held for the whole of Vietnam, only the south. this I believe was the catalyst for the north, also the failings of the Diem government obviously only deepened these wounds.

The era I will be focusing on will be from 1954 up until the death of Diem in 1963

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Hello Michael -

I'd say the question is more like "How did failure to follow the 1954 Geneva accords lead to war?" The US and South Vietnam refused to sign the agreement, and ignored the provision for country-wide elections scheduled for 1956. They did this because they knew that Ho Chi Minh would win if such elections were held.

Even so, war was not inevitable. If Diem had been a more competent prime minister, with the needs of his country foremost in his mind, it's possible he could have convinced the average peasant that life would be better under a "democratic" regime. But Diem was incompetent - and worse. That and the refusal of the US to read the seeds of Vietnamese nationalism correctly is what led to war.

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yeah, ive found this whilst reading Robert J. Mcmahon's 'Major Problems in the history of the Vietnam War' which he sums up the reign of Diem very well indeed

"by the end of 1958, diem had succeeded brilliantly in routing his enemies and arrogating power. but he had also alienated large segments of the south vietnamese population, creating a swell of animosity throughout the country."


"even as old enemies regrouped, diem was busy adding new ones. in the countryside he destroyed at a blow the dignity and livelihood of several hundred thousand peasants by canceling the land-redistribution arrangements instituted by the vietminh in areas they had controlled prior to 1954."

i think these two extracts show the ineffectiveness of diem's presidency, the nepotist oligarchic government certainly didnt help either and ultimately diem was not the leader to create the south vietnam, the us had hoped under the policy of nation-building, merely he pursued us support as a powermonger with authoritarian and dictatorite means, ironically in my perception, the government of the south was no better than the 'evil cliche image of the communist north'

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