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PO 350L Special Topics in Politics
Brecke, Ronald


Special Topics in Politics: Vietnam

Fall I, 2004

Tuesdays, 5:30 – 9:50; 8/24 – 10/12

Room 23, Mackay Hall

Professor Ron Brecke


Office, Room 20A Mackay Hall

Campus Box #38

Office Hours: One half-hour before class, after class as needed; M, 10-11; T, 10-11:30; W, 12-1: R, 10-11:30; F, 10-11.



The mission of Park University, an entrepreneurial institution of learning, is to provide access to academic excellence, which will prepare learners to think critically, communicate effectively and engage in lifelong learning while serving a global community.



Park University will be a renowned international leader in providing innovative educational opportunities for learners within the global society.



This course is a special topics course, It is an attempt to provide information about Vietnam, the Vietnam war, and the role of the United States in it.  This will not simply be a chronology of events during the Vietnam War.  This course will contain elements of such a chronology, but it will also go far beyond it.

            This course will endeavor to give answers to some vexing questions surrounding Vietnam.  We will try to gain an understanding of: the history of Vietnam; the forces which drew America into conflict there; the assumptions we made about fighting the war and the consequences of those assumptions; the forces in Vietnam, the world and at home which led to the American withdrawal; and finally, the aftermath of the war in Indochina as well as in American foreign policy and domestic politics. The course will help the student draw conclusions about the constitutionality of such armed conflict since Vietnam.

            For those who put forth more than a nominal effort in this course, the rewards can be much greater than a mere grade.  Those students who develop their critical thinking abilities, understand a major influence upon recent American history, and perhaps, decide to become active citizens in support of the conclusions they reach from participating in this course.



1.      Attend classes regularly.  Each absence will lower your cumulative grade for the course by 5%.  There are no excused absences.  If you are missing a lot of classes due to health, consider dropping the course, or taking an incomplete for the course. The administration of Park has directed me to notify them of any student who misses two consecutive weeks during the course.

2.      Students are responsible for all material covered in class while they are absent.

3.      Be prepared for class.  Read the assignment, think about what you have read and be prepared to discuss what you think.  50% of your final grade will be determined by your in-class participation in discussions and small-group activities.

4.      There will be two brief papers due for this course (see separate handout). No emailed assignments will be accepted.

5.      No assignment will be accepted after 9:50 p.m. on September 14, 2004 for the first paper.  No assignments will be accepted after 9:50 p.m. on October 12, 2004 for the second paper.. Assignments not handed in by these times will be recorded as a zero.

6.      Cheating or plagiarism will result in an “F” for the course and a recommendation to the Dean that you be dismissed from Park College.

7.      If you have any questions or problems, come and see me, call me or email me.

8.      No portable telephones or pagers are allowed on in class except for security or emergency medical personnel.

9.      Any student with special needs or who has a disability in the classroom environment should see me immediately after the first class.

10.  Course grades are determined on the following bases:


90 – 100 = A               Discussion paper #1                           25%      

80 – 89 = B                 Discussion paper #2                           25%

70 – 79 = C                 Participation                                       50%

60 – 69 = D



·        Karnow, Vietnam, 2nd or 3rd edition

·        Ely, War and Responsibility



There are two brief papers due in this course.  These papers must be typewritten (double-spaced).  The minimum is three pages, and the maximum is five pages.  Little research is needed to complete these papers.  However, if you use outside sources, be sure and give appropriate citations. 

            For every five errors in spelling, punctuation or grammar, 3 points will be deducted from your paper grade.

            Brief paper number 1 Due, 9:50 p.m. on Tuesday, September 14, 2004.

            If you had been on a college campus in the late 1960s or early 1970s, do you think you would have been an anti-war protester or a pro-war supporter?  Why????

            Brief paper number 2 Due,  9:50 p.m. on Thursday October 12, 2004.

            Would you have given pardons to those who evaded the draft in the US?  Why or why not?  Would you have given pardons to those involved in the My Lai incident?  Why or why not?



CALENDAR: please note that to accommodate guest speakers, some adjustments may have to be made.






Intro to course

The Domino Theory

Karnow, Preface & Ch.s 1, Ch. 2


Video: Roots of War



Vietnam as a place

Karnow, Ch.s 3, 4, 5


Video: The First Vietnam War

Video: America’s Mandarin



LBJ Goes to War

Karnow, Ch.s 6, 7, 8


Video: LBJ Goes to War

Video: America Takes Charge



The Enemy

Karnow: Ch. 9, 10, 11


Video: America’s Enemy

Video: TET




Winding down 

Karnow: Ch.s 12, 13


Video: Vietnamizing the War

Video: My Lai




Karnow Ch.s 14, 15


Video: Homefront

Video: Peace is at Hand



America Leaves


Video: End of the Tunnel

Video: Legacies

Ely: Ch.s 1-3



Ely: Ch.s 4 - 6





Chapter 1 - The Constitutional Framework


1. Why did the founders believe the power to declare war should be granted to Congress and not to the Executive?






2. Who, and under what Constitutional grant, has the power to make war once war has been declared?




3. What can be done, by the Executive, when a sudden threat to our national security occurs and there is not time for Congress to convene and declare war?



4. The actual practice of the Executive has not met the requirements of the Constitution many times in our history.  Does this mean, in effect, that the Executive does not have to have Congressional approval to go to war?  Explain.




Chapter 2 - Vietnam: the (Troubled) Constitutionality of the War They Told Us About


1. Who has the power to approve treaties in the United States?


2. Can such approved treaties have an impact on our domestic law even though such changes to domestic law have not been approved via the normal legislative process?




3. What did the SEATO treaty require of its signatories?






4. Did the SEATO treaty mean that the normal process for declaring war was circumvented?





5. What are the key phrases of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution?








6. Do you think that in the minds of most members of Congress, they believed they were authorizing the President to use armed forces in Vietnam?












7.What reasons do some give that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was invalid?  Are these reasons persuasive?  Why or why not?














8. Do appropriations of money for hostilities and the extension of draft calls for military personnel by Congress indicate Congress has authorized a war?









9. Was the American incursion into Cambodia in 1970 appropriately authorized?






10. Congress, by repealing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1971, effectively withdrew authority for continued operations in Indochina.  True or False?








11. What reasons are behind the author’s assertions that the bombing in Cambodia was illegal between April 1, 1973 and July 1, 1973?









Chapter 3 - Inducing Congress to Face Up to Its Constitutional Responsibilities


1. Was “Desert Storm” authorized constitutionally?




2. Why does the author believe that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 is likely to be ignored by presidents in the future?







3. What was the decision in Dellums v. Bush?








4. Why are future suits brought under the War Powers Resolution of 1973 likely to fail?




Chapter 4 - The (Unenforceable) Unconstitutionality of the “Secret War” in Laos, 1962-1969


1. What were the Geneva Agreements of July 23, 1962?







2. Why were American military advisers and CIA operatives in Laos?







3. What arguments were made to support America’s secret war in Laos?  What are the counter-arguments?

















Chapter 5 - The (Enforceable) Unconstitutionality of the Secret Bombing of Cambodia, 1969-1970


1. How was the secrecy of the bombing in Cambodia set up?











2. The author argues impeachment would have been an appropriate action resulting from the secret bombing in Cambodia.  Why?











Chapter 6 - “Covert” Wars Today


1. Covert wars are, today, legal under what conditions?