How is the Vietnam War taught in Vietnam?

Many of us wonder how the Vietnam war is taught in Vietnam. What are the current Vietnamese government and their educators’ views on the Vietnam War? Are they still against Americans as they used to? Our team have contacted Long and Phuong – ones of our collaborators in Vietnam asking them about this interesting question. They have provided us with a summary of what they are taught in high school about American involvement in Vietnam and seven key points highlighted throughout all the Vietnam War lessons they have learned.

We only start to learn about the Vietnam War academically in high school (circa 2002 – 2006) although we have heard of it through our parents’ stories and various literary articles taught in secondary school. In short, Vietnam War is taught as the greatest victory of Vietnamese people and particularly the Communist Party of Vietnam against “American imperialist”, following victories over Japan in the World War II and France in the First Indochina War.

Here is a brief summary of what we are taught about American involvement in Vietnam, which may be a little bit different now since textbooks are revised once in a while.

Vietnam After Geneva Accord

North Vietnam gained total independence as France withdrew from Cat Ba island in May 1955. In the South, the U.S. replaced France establishing a puppet government under Ngo Dinh Diem in an attempt to divide Vietnam and make South Vietnam one of its “modern colonies” and military bases in Southeast Asia.

During 1954 – 1960, North Vietnam had made a remarkable land reform and economic recovery while in the South, Dong Khoi movement (1959 -1960) started a mass movement against Diem regime and also led to the establishment of National Liberation Front – Viet Cong (Mac Tran Giai Phong Mien Nam) on December 20, 1960.

American “Special War” (1961 – 1965)

The success of “Dong Khoi” movement and the rapid development of rebel forces against Diem regime in South Vietnam forced the U.S. to change its strategy to the so-called “using Vietnamese to fight against Vietnamese” and conduct the so-called “special war” (1961 – 1965). American “special war” is defined as a modern American invasion war which used South Vietnamese military forces under American advisors and modern American equipment  to fight against Vietnamese people. Despite American intervention, South Vietnamese * had fought hard and achieved success in all three major stands:

– On the pacification stand, half of “protected hamlets” and 70% of farmers were still under the control of Viet Cong in 1962 while there were only 2,200 protected hamlets left in 1965. Strategic Hamlet Program – the core American special war was basically destroyed.

– On the politic stand, the Buddhist crisis in big cities such as Hue, Da Nang and Saigon in 1963 attracted many people especially women, Buddhists and students, which contributed to the collapse of Diem regime in a coup that witnessed the assassination of both Diem and his brother Nhu in November 1963.

– On the military stand, the success of battle of Ap Bac & Binh Gia (Ba Ria) in 1963 and 1964-1965 respectively helped to destroyed American “Special War” plan.

American Limited War (1965 – 1968)

After the failure of its “special war”, the U.S. conducted the so-called “Limited War” (1965 – 1968) in South Vietnam and expanded its “deteriorating war” (chien tranh pha hoai) in North Vietnam. “Limited war” is defined as a modern American invasion war conducted by American, South Vietnamese and their allies’ troops wherein American troops play the most vital role.

Vietnamization & “Indochinazation” (1969 – 1973)

Upon Viet Cong’s psychological victory in the Tet Offensive, the U.S. was forced to change its strategy to Vietnamization and escalate the war to the whole Indochina involving both Laos & Cambodia. Vietnamization is once again described as a modern American invasion war conducted mainly by Saigon’s forces under the support of American air and advisors. The U.S. continued to employ the so-called “using Vietnamese to fight against Vietnamese” strategy to reduce American deaths in the battlefields. American involvement in Vietnam ended when the Paris Peace Accords was in 1973.

Overall, there are some key points that are constantly taught and emphasized in History textbooks that we could notice:

1. It was a war against American invasion

In Vietnam, the war is called as the “Resistance War Against the United States (to protect the country)” (Chien Tranh Chong My Cuu Nuoc) or simply “American War”. It is always taught that the U.S. was another colonist power and imperialist just like the French and that Vietnam is not a civil war but instead a war against American invasion.

2. South Vietnam: A puppet government led by traitors
South Vietnamese people were suffering

To date, Vietnam still deny the legitimacy of South Vietnamese government whose leadership are accused of being “traitors”. History textbooks claim American strategy was always to use “Vietnamese to fight against Vietnamese” at the beginning (and not until the Vietnamization strategy was carried out) and that South Vietnamese government was nothing but  a puppet regime of the U.S.

They coined the term “My – Diem” (America – Diem) to describe Diem regime and later  “My – Nguy” ( America – illegal government) for Thieu-Ky-Huong regime after Diem’s fall. They call South Vietnamese forces as Saigon’s forces and South Vietnamese people instead of Viet Cong to further the confusion and for propaganda purposes.

It is interesting to note that during the war in order to call for more and more North Vietnamese young men to join the ARVN & Viet Cong, North Vietnam created a lot of propaganda with an impression that South Vietnamese people were suffering such poor and miserable lives under a puppet regime that they needed North Vietnamese people to go southern and “liberate” them while in fact the reverse was true.

3. Causes: Lay all the blame on the U.S. and South Vietnam

We are taught that the U.S. completely made up the Gulf of Tonkin incident to send its troops to Vietnam which would peak at more than half a million in 1969. Likewise, South Vietnam is solely accused of breaking the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.

4. Crimes & Atrocities: Only Americans and their allies do evil things

Textbooks pay tremendous attention to American bombings of North Vietnam as well as its use of chemical weapons such as Napalm and Agent Orange in South Vietnam while there is almost no mention about war crimes committed by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

5. Major Battles & Casualties: Win, win & win with no casualties

Although the 1968 Tet Offensive was a disaster campaign in terms of military, it is considered a great victory and a “turning point” of the war without mentioning about North Vietnamese significant losses.

History textbooks also saw the 1972 Christmas Bombing Operation Linebacker II as North Vietnam’s greatest victory over the U.S. air force and compared it to the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Thus, they coin the term “Battle of Dien Bien Phu in the air” to describe that victory. It is taught that American air forces could not endure such heavy loss of B-52s that they had to agree to go back to the negotiating table, which is almost reverse of what was actually happening.

Almost all major battles of the Vietnam war such as East Offensive (1972), Spring Campaign (1975) especially those with Viet Cong victories are taught thoroughly with American and South Vietnamese casualties mentioned in details. However, there was no mention of NVA or Viet Cong casualties whatsoever. We still remember that in the exam we were required to memorize all South Vietnamese and American casualties (number of captured, wounded, deaths) of every single major campaign. On North Vietnamese side, we need to memorize how many South Vietnamese tanks, helicopters, etc. that the Viet Cong gained.

6. Key figures: Idealize Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap

Textbooks highly value the role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in the so-called “people’s war” against the U.S. in which popular figures such as Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap are greatly praised and almost idealised. It is taught that Ho Chi Minh was a visionary who left the country early in order to save it. Many books, documentaries and stories created to talk about him even years after his death. Real North Vietnamese key figures such as Le Duan and Le Duc Tho are hardly mentioned though.

7. Vietnam War is taught through Literature as well

It is also intriguing to note that history of the Vietnam War is not only taught in History but also in Literature. Ho Chi Minh’s proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and many poems, articles and other literary works that praise and value North Vietnamese government are carefully taught throughout Secondary and High School classes. North Vietnamese literature at the time is said to purely serve the Communist war against the U.S. Hence, many anti-war songs and poems are either banned or hardly mentioned despite their literary values.

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  • jo

    they say nothing of what their soldiers did to any american bodies they found.

  • Judi Harris

    I found this very helpful in understanding all about the Vietnam war and the roles everyone played not only during but well before and leading up to the Vietnam war.
    Does make me wonder a great deal if kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, what direction would the Vietnam war have taken and if Vietnam would still be a communist country today?