The best books on the international dimensions of the Vietnam War

Alexander Sedlmaier Author Of Protest in the Vietnam War Era
By Alexander Sedlmaier

Who am I?

As a historian and someone who grew up in Cold War Berlin, I am constantly inspired by efforts to curb the devastating effects of industrialised warfare. I love learning about people who had the courage to speak up, and how their historical understanding of the military abuse of power enables us to think differently about present-day warfare. So much of my research has been inspired by social movements and their difficult efforts to improve the world. While I am no expert on Vietnamese history, I have been fortunate to have learned a lot about how ingenious the Vietnamese revolutionaries were in actively pedalling the global emergence of Vietnam War protest. 

I edited...

Protest in the Vietnam War Era

By Alexander Sedlmaier (editor),

Book cover of Protest in the Vietnam War Era

What is my book about?

This book assesses the emergence and transformation of global protest movements during the Vietnam War era. It explores the relationship between protest focused on the war and other emancipatory and revolutionary struggles, moving beyond existing scholarship to examine the myriad interlinked protest issues and mobilisations around the globe during the Indochina Wars. Bringing together scholars working from a range of geographical, historiographical and methodological perspectives, the volume offers a new framework for understanding the history of wartime protest. The chapters are organised around the social movements from the three main geopolitical regions of the world during the 1960s and early 1970s. In an era of persistent military conflict, the book provides timely contributions to the question of what war does to protest movements and what protest movements do to war.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era

Why did I love this book?

What happened when US activists travelled to Asia during the Vietnam War?

This is the question Wu seeks to answer in one of the most important books on internationalism and Vietnam War protest. She looks at how they sympathised and identified with anti-imperialist struggles in Asia, inverting an orientalist dichotomy between imperial America and decolonising Asia “whereby the decolonizing East helped to define the identities and goals of activists in the West.”

This was one of the books that first got me interested in understanding why ethnically diverse protesters responded to the Vietnam War the way they did, and how activists’ travel fostered the imagination of new political possibilities and alternative means of political articulation as they transcended ethnic and racial backgrounds.

By Judy Tzu-Chun Wu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Radicals on the Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Traveling to Hanoi during the U.S. war in Vietnam was a long and dangerous undertaking. Even though a neutral commission operated the flights, the possibility of being shot down by bombers in the air and antiaircraft guns on the ground was very real. American travelers recalled landing in blackout conditions, without lights even for the runway, and upon their arrival seeking refuge immediately in bomb shelters. Despite these dangers, they felt compelled to journey to a land at war with their own country, believing that these efforts could change the political imaginaries of other members of the American citizenry and…

Book cover of People's Diplomacy of Vietnam: Soft Power in the Resistance War, 1965-1972

Why did I love this book?

Although Robert Brigham’s Guerrilla Diplomacy deserved the attention it got, People’s Diplomacy of Vietnam, in my opinion, does the better job of connecting the dots between the informal or unofficial diplomacy of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) and the National Liberation Front (NLF) on the one hand, and the global campaign aimed at garnering sympathy and solidarity with Vietnam, on the other.

Mehta highlights the various connections with and visits to Vietnam by activists from the West and also from the mass organisations of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. These links “enabled the Vietnamese revolutionaries to exercise international influence on a scale disproportionately larger than their meager economic and military capabilities would have otherwise allowed.” 

By Harish C. Mehta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked People's Diplomacy of Vietnam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first full-length book on the concept of "People's Diplomacy," promoted by the president of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, at the peak of the Vietnam War from 1965-1972. It holds great appeal for historians, international relations scholars, diplomats, and the general reader interested in Vietnam. A form of informal diplomacy, people's diplomacy was carried out by ordinary Vietnamese including writers, cartoonists, workers, women, students, filmmakers, medical doctors, academics, and sportspersons. They created an awareness of the American bombardment of innocent Vietnamese civilians, and made profound connections with the anti-war movements abroad. People's diplomacy made it difficult for…

Book cover of Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam

Why did I love this book?

In January 1966, Ho Chi Minh said in an eye-opening discussion with Polish diplomat Jerzy Michałowski: “We don’t want to become the victors; we just want the Americans to piss off!”

This was in the run-up to the Polish-Italian peace initiative codenamed “Marigold”. Exploring the latter in great detail, James Hershberg in 2012 brought forth the straightforward argument that it could have succeeded in ending the war before 1968. Using new evidence from Polish, Italian, and Vietnamese sources, he penned an enormous (almost 900 pages), yet accessible book exposing how the Johnson administration sabotaged this genuine peace effort with an eye to winning on the battlefield.

The result is Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam, a most impressive addition to the international history of the Vietnam War.

By James Hershberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marigold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of Vietnam's Prodigal Heroes: American Deserters, International Protest, European Exile, and Amnesty

Why did I love this book?

During the height of the war effort in Vietnam, desertion in the US military reached unprecedented levels. Deserters depended on international support networks run by organisations and activists.

Drawing on primary sources from the US, France, Germany, and Sweden, Glatz pulls together a meticulous and nuanced account of strategies of resistance, prosecution, exile, and Vietnam War activism that culminated in an unprecedented visibility of deserters in the public discourse, both internationally and in the US, leading to a major change in traditional images of the deserter.

The account provides fresh new light on the dramatic failures of US military policy in the Vietnam War, the consequences of which are felt to the present day.

By Paul Benedikt Glatz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vietnam's Prodigal Heroes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book examines the critical role of desertion in the international Vietnam War debate. Paul Benedikt Glatz traces American deserters' odyssey of exile and activism in Europe, Japan, and North America to demonstrate how unprecedented levels of desertion in the US military changed the traditional image of the deserter.

War Crimes in Vietnam

By Bertrand Russell,

Book cover of War Crimes in Vietnam

Why did I love this book?

This 1967 collection of essays and speeches by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell fascinates me because it seeks to reveal inconvenient truths while not shying away from a highly partisan intervention.

Russell discusses why he was making a global appeal to protest the US war effort in Vietnam. His book and the subsequent Russell-Sartre War Crimes Tribunal have often been dismissed as biased and uncritical of communist propaganda, but rereading this primary source illuminates an important chapter in the emergence of a global intellectual critique of US imperialism that “millions of Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans” came to share as it was debunking the official position of the Johnson administration and its allies in Vietnam.

By Bertrand Russell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Crimes in Vietnam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this harsh and unsparing book, Bertrand Russell presents the
unvarnished truth about the war in Vietnam. He argues that "To
understand the war, we must understand America"-and, in doing so, we
must understand that racism in the United States created a climate in
which it was difficult for Americans to understand what they were doing
in Vietnam. According to Russell, it was this same racism that
provoked "a barbarous, chauvinist outcry when American pilots who have
bombed hospitals, schools, dykes, and civilian centres are accused of
committing war crimes." Even today, more than forty years later, this
chauvinist moral…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in international relations, the Vietnam War, and activists?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about international relations, the Vietnam War, and activists.

International Relations Explore 245 books about international relations
The Vietnam War Explore 212 books about the Vietnam War
Activists Explore 25 books about activists