Reading History: The Vietnam War

Ralph Smith assesses the material available on the conflict in South-East Asia.

It will no doubt be argued in some quarters that it is 'too early' to treat events so recent as those of the Vietnam War as 'history'. Memories of the period are still too vivid and emotive to permit the kind of detachment of which the historian is supposed to be capable; and the relevant archives have not yet been opened for research – at least, not in the comprehensive way required by professional historians. All that is true. We cannot expect to find among the literature of the Vietnam War the kind of 'standard history' which is now possible for earlier portions of the twentieth century. On the other hand, it can be argued that it is never too early for scholars to begin the attempt to see events in historical perspective; and the discipline of history need not in itself depend on the availability of archives. In any case, one way or another, the history of the war has already begun to be written.

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