Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Gary Kornblith


Vietnam, American, International, Power


The American involvement in Vietnam has motivated extensive scholarship and reflection from diverse segments of American society. The Vietnamese war for independence and the dynamics and nature of American intervention have been approached from the perspectives of many different disciplines and from all points on the political continuum. The majority of these works address, either directly or implicitly, the fundamental issue of how American involvement can be explained and understood.

The historiography of American involvement in Vietnam covers a wide range of interpretations of the impetus behind the initial commitment, the reasons for progressive escalation, and the rationales for why the United States didn't "win." Though categorizing these analyses runs the risk of oversimplification, in the interest of clarity they are classifiable in terms of the central imperatives behind intervention which they address. The salient issues these scholars bring to light can be further subdivided in that some are concerned with the motivations of intervention and others with the decision making process. The interpretations to be discussed herein base the fact or character of United States involvement on the imperatives of the balance of power, the capitalist system, American ideology, the bureaucratic establishment, domestic electoral politics, and the concept of credibility.

The balance of power approach bases American decision making toward Vietnam in pragmatism and traditional power politics. The proponents of this approach interpret American actions as the result of realistic consideration of the international situation and of the necessities of national security. This interpretation takes two main directions: one finds the motivation behind involvement in the need to maintain the balance of world power with the Soviet Union, and the other sees the maintenance of Western power on Asia as the determining factor.

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