The best books on women and the US war in Vietnam

Who am I?

I fell into researching women’s antiwar activism during the U.S. war in Vietnam by chance when I came across evidence of middle-aged American women traveling to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1965 to meet with women from North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front—the enemies of the United States at the time. Discovering that some of these same U.S. women (and many others), would later travel to Hanoi despite the United States conducting extensive bombing raids over North Vietnam, despite travel to North Vietnam being prohibited, and despite some of the women having young children at home, simply astounded me, and I had to find out more.

I wrote...

Women's Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era

By Jessica Frazier,

Book cover of Women's Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era

What is my book about?

In 1965, fed up with President Lyndon Johnson’s refusal to make serious diplomatic efforts to end the Vietnam War, a group of female American peace activists decided to take matters into their own hands by meeting with Vietnamese women to discuss how to end U.S. intervention. While other attempts at women’s international cooperation and transnational feminism have led to cultural imperialism or imposition of American ways on others, Jessica M.Frazier reveals an instance when American women crossed geopolitical boundaries to criticize American Cold War culture, not promote it.

The American women not only solicited Vietnamese women’s opinions and advice on how to end the war but also viewed them as paragons of a new womanhood by which American women could rework their ideas of gender, revolution, and social justice during an era of reinvigorated feminist agitation.

The books I picked & why

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Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era

By Heather Marie Stur,

Book cover of Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era

Why this book?

Heather Stur’s Beyond Combat provides an incomparable gender analysis of the U.S. war in Vietnam and its coverage in the United States. Digging into images of dragon ladies, the girl next door, and gentle warriors, Stur shows just how deeply ideas about gender (and race) permeated public perceptions of U.S. intervention. Stur also uncovers the roles that U.S. women in the Women’s Army Corps played in Vietnam—primarily as support to combat troops—and examines whether women’s real-world experiences in a war zone reconfigured gender role assumptions back home in the United States.

Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War

By Kara Dixon Vuic,

Book cover of Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War

Why this book?

Kara Dixon Vuic’s Officer, Nurse, Woman reveals the lives and livelihoods of nurses in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war years. Through oral histories, she presents colorful anecdotes that make one laugh, shudder, and cry. In addition to lively stories, Vuic shows the Army’s contradictory treatment of and expectations toward women, their gender, and their sexuality. For example, recruitment materials for women as nurses promised both adventure and a secure career path, including equal pay as their male counterparts. Yet, women in the military also faced sexism, harassment, and assault with little means of recourse. Both a fun and challenging read, Officer, Nurse, Woman urges readers to consider gendered assumptions that continue to shape military policy today.

Friends, and Country: A Memoir

By Nguyen Thi Binh, Mai Elliot (translator),

Book cover of Friends, and Country: A Memoir

Why this book?

As the representative of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam at the Paris Peace Conference, Nguyen Thi Binh inspired women’s rights activists around the world. Charged with forwarding efforts toward people-to-people diplomacy, Binh met with antiwar activists from all over the world, including the United States, as she negotiated for peace through official channels. With Binh’s high-level position, the reality of her experiences have often been obscured and misconstrued by people on all sides of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Thus, her memoir provides much-needed insight into her family background, her role in resisting France, her leadership in the National Liberation Front during the U.S. war, and her position in the Vietnamese government following the fall of Saigon.

This book is hard to find and only available in Vietnam currently.

The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War

By Denise Chong,

Book cover of The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War

Why this book?

Telling the story of the girl who became an international icon when the Associated Press published a photograph of her running from napalm bombing in her village in 1972, Denise Chong’s The Girl in the Picture offers insight into the day-to-day lives of South Vietnamese villagers who simply wanted to survive. Caught between the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese military and the National Liberation Front, villagers often had family members fighting on both sides of the war, not because of divergent ideological beliefs, but because repressive recruitment efforts left young men no choice but to enlist. Through the eyes of Kim Phuc, Denise Chong’s book humanizes life on the ground in a war zone and describes what happened when U.S. troops left the country.

Hanoi Journal, 1967

By Carol Cohen McEldowney,

Book cover of Hanoi Journal, 1967

Why this book?

Carol McEldowney, a community organizer in 1967, cut her activist teeth in the student protest movement in the early 1960s as a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society. In 1967, she accepted the opportunity to attend an antiwar conference with Vietnamese diplomats, including Nguyen Thi Binh, in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Following that meeting, McEldowney and six other Americans traveled on to Hanoi to find out what was happening on the ground. Her transcribed journal tells of this experience, including McEldowney’s anxieties, hopes, and doubts, and presents readers with a glimpse of life for North Vietnamese as well as a window into the questions, concerns, and perceptions of an antiwar activist.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Vietnam, the Vietnam War, and masculinity?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Vietnam, the Vietnam War, and masculinity.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Healing Wounds: A Vietnam War Combat Nurse's 10-Year Fight to Win Women a Place of Honor in Washington, D.C., When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace, and Build Your House Around My Body if you like this list.