restricted access Provoking America: Le Duan and the Origins of the Vietnam War

This article concentrates on the North Vietnamese official who became the driving force within the Vietnamese Workers’ Party (VWP) and was crucial in shaping the Vietnamese Communists’ protracted war strategy. A great deal has been written about the personality and policies of Ho Chi Minh, but Le Duan’s powerful influence on strategy has been largely overlooked. The article covers Le Duan’s background and rise to power as the VWP First Secretary, as well as his strategic thinking about the United States from the 1950s through the deployment of U.S. ground troops in 1965. Although other VWP leaders influenced wartime strategy, Le Duan as First Secretary carried the greatest weight within the Politburo and exerted the strongest influence over the southern Communists, who were pivotal in fighting both U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. In his role as head of the southern Communists Le Duan developed strategies for defeating the United States and then implemented them as his power grew. The article spotlights several recurrent themes in his thinking: the nature of a protracted war, the role of casualties, and U.S. global standing. Each of these subjects influenced how the North Vietnamese intended to defeat the United States over the long term and offers insights into how Hanoi understood its enemy.