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Hanoi’s Revolutionary Strategy and the Origins of the Viet Nam War, 1963-1964


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February 15, 12:00 p.m.
Presented by Professor Pierre Asselin, Chaminade University

Due to the failure of western scholars to exploit records and studies in the Vietnamese language, there are few good studies and assessments of the communist leadership prior to the Viet Nam War. That is especially evident in the work of American diplomatic historians, whose studies on the war reflect a poor understanding of “the enemy.” In a recent essay, to illustrate, Robert Buzzanco suggested that history and instinct were the primary forces guiding the Vietnamese war effort. “The Vietnamese viewed their struggle [against the United States] as another round in a historical process that had already lasted over two millennia,” he wrote, making no similar reductionist claim about the forces behind the American war effort. Viet Nam was “pulled into conflict due to the United States’ larger goals in that region,” Buzzanco also wrote, leaving no room for agency on the part of Vietnamese leaders in the causes and coming of the war. Among the least studied and most misunderstood dimensions of this time period are the workings of the Hanoi leadership, including its organizational functions, its political philosophy, and its perspectives on conflict with the United States.This talk addresses the policymaking of leaders of the Vietnamese Workers’ Party in the pivotal period of 1963-64. Specifically, it traces the rise and triumph of a “hawkish” group within the Party leadership, and the consequences of that change of leadership for the revolutionary situation in southern Viet Nam, for North Viet Nam’s relationship with China and the Soviet Union, and for the coming of the American war.


Pierre Asselin is associate professor in the Department of Historical and Political Studies at Chaminade University of Honolulu. He is the author of A Bitter Peace: Washington, Hanoi, and the Making of the Paris Agreement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).