This collection of Vietnam War essay questions has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors, for use by teachers and students. They can also be used for short-answer questions, homework activities and other research or revision tasks. If you would like to contribute a question to this page, please contact us.
Vietnam to World War II
1. Describe the politics, economics, social structures and culture of medieval Vietnam. How did ordinary Vietnamese people live prior to the arrival of Europeans?
2. Discuss Vietnam’s contact and relationship with the West, up to 1850. How did this contact shape or affect Vietnamese society?
3. Explain how the French assumed control of Vietnam in a relatively short space of time. What methods and justifications did they use to increase their power?
4. How did the Nguyen emperors attempt to rid their country of foreign influence, particularly religion, in the 19th century?
5. “French colonialism in Indochina was motivated by a desire to civilise and develop the local population.” To what extent is this statement true?
6. Explain how the French colonial regime maintained its political, economic and social control over Vietnam. What role was played by Francophile Vietnamese?
7. What was life like for Vietnamese peasants and workers during the French colonial period? What problems and conditions did they face?
8. Referring to at least three movements or leaders, explain how some Vietnamese resisted the French colonial regime. How successful was this resistance?
9. Why did Vietnamese nationalists like Ho Chi Minh turn to communism after World War I?
10. Why did the Japanese invade Vietnam in 1940? What methods did they use to assert and expand their control?
The struggle for control: 1945 to 1954
1. Investigate the growth of the Viet Minh in the mid-1940s. How was this group formed? Who provided its leadership and its membership?
2. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, what arrangements were made for the transition of power in Vietnam?
3. Explain why Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnamese independence in September 1945. In doing so, why did he refer to the United States Declaration of Independence?
4. During World War II the United States provided material support to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh. Why did the American position change after 1945?
5. Discuss how the communist victory in China in October 1949 affected Western policies and attitudes to south-east Asia.
6. Explain the metaphor of “the elephant and the tiger” and how it shaped the outcomes of the First Indochina War.
7. How did Vo Nguyen Giap and the Viet Minh engineer a victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu?
8. What were the terms of the Geneva Accords pertaining to Vietnam? What were they intended to achieve?
9. Many historians trace the origins of the Vietnam War to the failure of the Geneva Accords. Did the Accords have any chance or success or were they destined to fail?
10. Discussing similarities and differences, compare the development of Korea and Vietnam in the decade following World War II.
The two Vietnams: 1954 to 1963
1. Describe the political evolution of North Vietnam during the mid-1950s. Who ruled the North and what were their objectives?
2. Evaluate North Vietnam’s policy of land reform during the mid to late 1950s. Did these reforms make life better for the majority of people?
3. Investigate the background and political views of Ngo Dinh Diem. How did he become the leader of South Vietnam in 1954?
4. Western nations described Ngo Dinh Diem as the “Asian Churchill” and “our man in Saigon”. Was Diem a Western puppet, an Asian nationalist or a loose cannon?
5. Discuss the ‘Agroville’ and ‘Strategic Hamlets’ programs, initiated by Ngo Dinh Diem with Western backing. What were these programs intended to achieve and why did they fail?
6. Explain why the government of Ngo Dinh Diem failed to gain popular support in South Vietnam.
7. Investigate the role of Ngo Dinh Nhu and his wife Tran Le Xuan in the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
8. Evaluate the Kennedy administration’s policy with regard to Vietnam, between January 1961 and November 1963.
9. Why did Ngo Dinh Diem and his followers target South Vietnam’s Buddhists? What effects did this persecution have on Diem’s own regime?
10. Evaluate the origins, structure and ideology of the National Liberation Front (NLF). Why was this group formed and what methods did it employ?
The Vietnam War: 1964-75
1. Why did Lyndon Johnson decide to commit American forces to the conflict in Vietnam? What people, advice and factors influenced Johnson’s decision?
2. Explain why Thailand, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand contributed military forces to the war in Vietnam.
3. The Gulf of Tonkin incident provided a pretext for American military involvement in Vietnam. To what extent was this justified?
4. Evaluate the leadership of General William Westmoreland between 1964 and 1968. What was Westmoreland’s strategy for protecting South Vietnam? How successful was this?
5. Describe the challenges faced by American combat soldiers in Vietnam. What conditions and factors blunted the effectiveness of the American military?
6. Consider the causes and effects of the My Lai massacre of March 1968. What did this incident reveal about America’s military involvement in Vietnam?
7. Explain why the Tet Offensive was a victory and a defeat for both the Americans and the NVA-Viet Cong.
8. Discuss the objectives of Richard Nixon’s policy of Vietnamisation. How successful was this policy in achieving its goals?
9. Investigate American media coverage of the war in Vietnam. How was the war reported between 1964 and 1975 and how did this shape public attitudes and opinions?
10. Referring to data like opinion polls, evaluate American attitudes to the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1975. Which policies, developments or events caused significant shifts in public opinion?
11. What ideas, tactics and methods were used by individuals and groups opposed to Western involvement in Vietnam?
12. Evaluate the role of art, music and literature in the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Effects and aftermath
1. Compare and contrast the policies of presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon with regard to Vietnam. Which of these leaders was most responsible for entangling the United States in the Vietnam War?
2. Evaluate the development of Vietnam in the two years after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. How did the communist victory affect the lives of ordinary Vietnamese?
3. Describe the difficulties faced by Vietnam veterans as they returned to civilian life in the United States or Australia.
4. Evaluate the claim made by some leaders, including General William Westmoreland, that the United States did not lose the Vietnam War.
5. Was the Domino Theory validated or refuted by the progress and outcomes of the Vietnam War?
6. Position the Vietnam conflict in the broader Cold War. How did the Vietnam War shape or affect the relationship between the United States, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China?
7. What effects did the Vietnam War have on American government and society between 1965 and 1975? Consider changes to political, social and cultural attitudes.
8. What effect did American military intervention have on nearby Cambodia between 1969 and 1975?
9. Discuss how events in Vietnam shaped the development of neighbouring Laos from 1957 onwards.
10. Who were the Khmer Rouge and what was their vision for Cambodia? How did they go about implementing this vision?