NDISC Experiences: Students and Professors Visit Historic Sites in Vietnam | News | Department of Political Science


Located in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is known for its mountains and waterways. With a population of over 96 million, it is the 15th most populous country in the world. Vietnam has a rich history dating back more than a thousand years, as evidenced by the capital Hanoi, founded in 1010.

Vietnam is one of the last countries in the world controlled by a communist government. The country has had a long history of war, colonization and political unrest. The United States became militarily involved in Vietnam in 1955 after Vietnam split into North and South. The United States backed anti-communist South Vietnam, while the Soviet Union and China backed communist North Vietnam, heightening Cold War tensions.

A Missouri-born young man named Jim Webb was one of approximately 2.7 million American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. He was promoted to first lieutenant and served as a platoon commander during his time with the Corps of Mary in Vietnam. The Marine would later earn his JD at Georgetown, represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate, serve as the 66th Secretary of the Navy, and in 2020 become a Fellow of the Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC).

This semester, NDISC undergraduate scholars had the opportunity to learn about the Vietnam War from Senator Webb’s perspective in a course aptly titled Webb’s War. The class accumulated a ten-day trip to Vietnam during the 2022 fall vacation to see the places Senator Webb discussed in class and to learn about Vietnamese culture.


The students first arrived in the capital, Hanoi. During their stay in the city, the students visited several historical and cultural sites. Among these were Hoa Lo Prison and the Temple of Literature. Hoa Lo, also known as Hanoi Hilton or Central House, is one of the most infamous prisons used by North Vietnam to hold prisoners of war. Part of this infamy is due to the months or years that some American soldiers spent in detention there, among those soldiers was the future senator John McCain. The prison is now a museum dedicated to those who spent time there during the Vietnam War and the political prisoners who were there while Vietnam was under French colonial rule. Among the artifacts in the museum is the exact flight suit McCain was wearing when he was captured.

Students got a glimpse of student life in ancient Vietnam at the Temple of Literature. The temple was built in 1070 by the Emperor of Vietnam for scholars to study the works of Confucius. The Imperial Academy in the temple was also Vietnam’s first university. Students walked the grounds and heard what everyday student life was like as they prepared for exams.

While in Hanoi, the students also met with US Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper at the US Embassy. Ambassador Knapper and his team worked alongside the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV) to set up a diplomacy simulation involving both NDISC and DAV students. In the simulation, students from both countries worked together to prepare presentations and get to know each other. In addition to deepening students’ understanding of diplomatic discussions, this simulation has also been designed to nurture relations between countries.

Hoi An

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Considered the gastronomic and cultural capital of Vietnam, Hoi An was the next stop on our student’s journey. During their stay, the students visited several historic sites, including a 400-year-old Japanese covered bridge that connected the city when it was divided into two districts. The students participated in a cooking class with local chefs to learn some of the cultural dishes of the region. The students also enjoyed a sampling of the different local cuisines during a city tour.

The most important day of the trip was visiting the battlefields, airstrip and war memorials with Senator Webb. Senator Webb described the importance of remembering soldiers who were lost on both sides of the war at a memorial for North Vietnamese soldiers. The students walked alongside Senator Webb to the old airstrip where he spent time during the war. There he explained the events that happened nearby and how it affected the soldiers there. Before they left, Reverend William Graham led the group in prayer.

Ho Chi Mihn City

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The last stop was in the southern city of Ho Chi Mihn, formerly Saigon. While there, the students participated in a panel discussion between Senator Webb and Mr. Bui Kien Thanh, a Vietnam financial and economic expert. This panel gave students insight into the two perspectives that emerged from post-war Vietnam and the effects the conflict had on the people.

The Mekong Delta is the “rice bowl” of Vietnam. The students took a boat trip on the Ben Tre River, making stops to learn about the importance of coconuts to the local economy. Local traders showed how coconut caramel and other coconut products are made. Our guide explained the different types of coconuts and how the water coconut hid soldiers during the war. After the boat tour, the students experienced another means of local transport: the xe lôi also known as tuk-tuk or rickshaw. seen the landscape from the back of these motorized carts.

Finally, our students visited other historical sites in Ho Chi Mihn City, including the War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace, and the former US Embassy B, where many famous photos were taken during of the 1975 evacuation. These three sites gave students additional perspective on the war and its aftermath. The War Remnants Museum showcased the weapons and vehicles used in the war as well as the horrors of war itself. The Reunification Palace showed the end of the war and the peace talks/treaties that brought North and South Vietnam together. The former US Embassy B was an interesting juxtaposition between the modern city and the history of the place. Today, the embassy sits among shops and office buildings with little to identify its history.

The Notre Dame International Security Center offers its students the opportunity to visit and learn about the most important places in the global community, in the United States and abroad. Want to know where the next NDISC adventure will take you? Contact us today!

Originally posted by Notre Dame International Security Center at ndisc.nd.edu on November 08, 2022.


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