Research into Practice: Understanding the Vietnam War from the Communists' Perspective

Most of us are familiar with the narrative of the Vietnam War as it is commonly told in history textbooks: (1) the United States got involved because they were afraid of the possibility of a domino effect of Southeast Asian countries falling to communism; (2) there was a huge public outcry back in the United States as American casualties increased dramatically and the horrors of war were shown in every home; (3) the US eventually withdrew its troops; and (4) North and South Vietnam were reunited. But in this unjustifiably sketchy summary of the typical portrayal of the Vietnam War, it is evident that most students of history only look at materials that, ironically, the losers of this war provide. American versions of these historical events often point to the failings of the South Vietnamese regime (the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem), the failed US containment policy or domestic opposition as the reasons behind the fall of Vietnam. 

Associate Professor Ang Cheng Guan's work will be of interest to teachers seeking to look beyond the history textbook in enriching students' understanding of the Vietnam War. Currently the Head of the Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, Dr Ang's research interests include international history of the Vietnam War and post-World War II Southeast Asia. He has written and published extensively on the subject of the Vietnam War, including The Vietnam War from the Other Side: The Vietnamese Communists' Perspective (2002), and its sequel, Ending the Vietnam War: The Vietnamese Communists' Perspective (2004). He has also published another book titled Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War (2010). 

Dr Ang's book, The Vietnam War from the Other Side: The Vietnamese Communists' Perspective, analyzes the Vietnamese struggle for independence. The book follows and "attempts to re-construct the evolution of decision-making on the communist side of the Vietnam War, particularly between the years 1954 to 1969, and to show the progression of the Vietnamese communists' struggle from one that was essentially political in nature to a full-scale war" (Ang, 2002, p. 4).  The Vietnam War from the Other Side examines the motivations and process behind the decisions taken by the Communists during the planning and execution of the armed confrontation with the United States. It also analyzes the changing relations between Hanoi, Moscow and Beijing and its influence on the strategic decisions taken by the Vietnamese communists in their struggle for reunification (Ang, 2002). 

This book provides an alternative to the perspective that is available in most history textbooks. Students of history need to understand the communist perspective so that they can better analyze events, issues, and personalities in light of the full evidence available. In particular, The Vietnam War from the Other Side contributes to students’ understandings of the Vietnam War as a struggle for independence and reunification by the Vietnamese. This will add to what students already can gather from history textbooks, which tend to focus more on the regime in South Vietnam or America’s containment policy in Southeast Asia.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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