In my new job, I have been learning American History in order to do teacher professional development on the eText. I have been slogging away through history of the United States from 1877 to present. This morning I got to the chapter on Vietnam. Several things occurred to me as I studied this chapter.
I only know about Vietnam from television and movies. I was born in 1968 so much of the conflict occurred when I was ages 0-5 so I was not the most attentive news watcher. As I read the history, I recalled the movies I have seen set in the Vietnam Era--Good Morning Vietnam, Forrest Gump, and Apocalypse Now (watched that one for a class). Then, there are the ones I have not watched--Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, We Were Soldiers, The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, and Full Metal Jacket. Being media savvy now, I can see how these movies all had their individual bias about what they were trying to communicate about Vietnam.
Next, I wept as I read about the Army nurses who were treating the young soldiers and who were just trying to get them home safe. And I wept again as I read about the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. I have seen it and seen my uncle Bill's name and Gus's cousin Eddie's name on that vast slab of black marble. It is haunting to me to see all those men's names literally spelled out in a tribute. I am sure there are families who did not suffer a loss in Vietnam, but the ripples thato out from the over 58.000 men lost continue. I am crying now as I write this.
Finally, I realize as a 40-something person in 2013 that the 11 year-olds and even the high schoolers who will study the Vietnam War see it as something from long, long ago. They will probably think of it as I used to think of World War II--something my grandparents dealt with. But then, I do the math and for many of these current students even their grandparents won't have much memory of Vietnam.
My hope is that history teachers in the future will treat Vietnam as the war it was and show both sides of the war--the hawks and the doves--the brave soldiers who fought--the nurses and doctors who patched them up--the South Vietnamese people who tried to help the Americans--the protesters at home. I hope also they show this video clip of POWs returning home. And take the time to find pictures like these to share.