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Book Review


Hall, Mitchell. The Vietnam War (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2000). 136 pp, $18.60.

     The dozens of volumes available in Pearson Longman's Seminar Studies in History work well in providing useful and concise information in a variety of history courses. Giving historical content as well as analysis, the intended audience are undergraduates and instructors that require information without having to track down a number of specialist texts on the subject. Mitchell Hall's slim text, The Vietnam War is no different in its intended audience or purpose from the other works in the series.

     Hall divides the book into three parts. The first section explores the 'Background' of the Vietnam War from the development and rise of Vietnamese nationalism through the French colonial period, and concludes with the complex issues related to United States President Lyndon Johnson's decision to significantly increase the role of the U.S. military in Vietnam in the early 1960s. The second section, 'Descriptive Analysis,' makes up the bulk of the text. Beginning with the increasing American involvement to support the rapidly crumbling Republic of Vietnam based in Saigon, Hall characterizes the war from 1965 onward as one of military escalation in the climate of Cold War containment policies with little forethought for long term considerations. Tracking back from the war as it advanced on the ground in Vietnam, the author also examines the inner workings of the White House, the influence of the antiwar movement, and the increasing destabilization in the American political system and civil society related to the war. Focusing on the last years of the war and its unintended legacies, the book also examines the impact of the war in all the countries involved (Vietnam and the United States) as well as its role in the increasing political destabilization and insurgency in neighboring Cambodia and Laos, which continued to suffer for decades after the end of the primary conflict. The final section of the book provides key political documents, white papers, letters, and expert interpretations of the war that give the reader evidence for interpretation of leadership decisions in both Vietnam and the United States, and perhaps a glimpse into the political climate at work on both sides of the conflict.

     The Vietnam War is almost exclusively a political history of the conflict and centers on U.S. involvement in the war. Hall attempts to provide a legitimate background to Vietnamese nationalism based on in its supposed long resistance against Chinese intrusion beginning two thousand years ago and then how this links to the French colonial experience, but the few scant pages devoted to such background are superficial. So too is the entire text if a reader is looking for any sort of detailed information on a particular event or debate about the war. Indeed, the political wrangling of the White House prior to significant troop commitment and throughout the war as well as the considerable disagreements between Ho Chi Minh and the leadership in North Vietnam receive just enough attention so the reader knows they exist. More information requires searching for other books. The document section is, however, a valuable asset to those looking for short or condensed primary sources related to the war. Both U.S. and Vietnamese sources appear in English translation.

     Given the role the Vietnam War plays in world history, Hall's book could have done so much more to make it worthwhile for classroom use. Focusing specifically on the period of U.S. involvement denies the much larger, and more meaningful for world history purposes, history of the conflict by putting the long French experience and the effects of the two world wars into a short 'background' section. The lack of detail and dry political focus of the text make for an easy but rather uninspiring read for undergraduate audiences. This is a point that should give instructors pause, since a boring book is often an unread book. Hall's work is not without merit, however. He provides an excellent overview for instructors needing a background to the conflict for lecture preparation and provides concise descriptions of the political maneuverings that often convoluted in more in-depth texts. The glossary of terms and substantial list of abbreviations will also assist instructors who are not familiar with geopolitical terms related to the war such as Vietnamization or Domino Theory. The primary source documents can also find good use in a variety of assignments, from historical analysis to imaginative essays that construct a rebuttal of a particular piece or put the student into the role as a historical actor.


Cynthia Ross Wiecko
Washington State University


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