UCL Institute of the Americas


Christopher Hoekstra

US Special Operations Strategy in South Vietnam, 1954-65


Dr Tony McCulloch and Professor Iwan Morgan

My research focuses on the military and political role of US special operations in South Vietnam. My PhD is a historical case study that has resonance for contemporary issues in American special operations policy.
The dissertation explores recently released documentation on the Vietnam War to examine Washington's special operations strategy and conduct, especially during the period of 1954 to 1965. Commentators in the field of Vietnam War studies have characterized special operations as the most successful element in addition to the most misinformed aspect of the war. Yet no fully comprehensive study explores American special operations in Vietnam as a matter of policy and strategy.
This provides a unique angle for my thesis, which investigates a period recently cited by the Pentagon as a priority area for special operations research. It aims to understand what American policy makers were trying to do by employing and extending the effort they devoted to special operations during the Vietnam War. The thesis addresses this by covering the historical background of special operations doctrine during the Roosevelt and Truman years, the growing application of this to South Vietnam under Eisenhower, and the expansion and evolution this strategy under Kennedy and Johnson up to conventional escalation of the war in 1965.