The State of the Field: How Vietnam is Being Taught

by Joe P. Dunn

Charles A. Dana Professor of History & Politics

Converse College


I have taught a course on the Vietnam War since 1974. During this more than twenty years, I have written extensively on teaching the subject, followed closely the growth of ourses, participated in many conferences and major forums on dealing with the war, and attempted to analyze the trends in dealing with the subject. The state of the field has changed dramatically over the years and continues to evolve. Although different numbers have been tossed around at various times, no one knows how many Vietnam courses exist in the United States. The Indochina Institute at George Mason University conducted partial surveys in 1985, 1986, and 1990-91, but all were far from complete. The 1986 survey, the most comprehensive, listed over 400 offerings which dealt with the war as a significant portion of a course. Still this recorded only a small percentage of the actual courses. What is taught in these courses is another question. The Report of the 1990-1991 Survey of Courses on the Vietnam War, edited by Patrick Hagopian, (Fairfax, VA: George Mason University, January 1993) compiled a data set from the 89 faculty responses that developed some information about what was taught in Vietnam courses; but the editor admitted the limitations of his survey.

It is clear that the Vietnam War is being taught, either as a major segment or as an entire course, in many hundreds of the over 2000 junior and senior colleges and universities in America. Many campuses have several Vietnam courses taught in different departments. For a time, Vietnam was the hottest growing area of teaching on college campuses. That growth rate seems to have peaked; however, courses on the 1960s and/or the Vietnam War still remain a very popular option for special topics offerings in honors programs or other such venues. More importantly, permanent Vietnam courses are ensconced in the regular curriculum in several disciplines in colleges across the country.

Writing in the late 1980s, Douglas Pike, Ronald Spector, Frederick Z. Brown, and Alan Goodman pointed out that we do not have a large body of scholars with deep academic preparation to teach the Vietnam War.(1) That condition has not changed appreciably today. Few individuals come out of graduate school with specialty in Vietnam, either as an expert on the country or as a student of the war per se-- although the number of dissertations on the Vietnam War is growing rapidly, particularly by those in literature and popular culture areas of study. Most who teach the war are specialists in other areas who have gravitated into teaching Vietnam courses as products and participants of the Vietnam generation or because the war was the hot topic of the day. This leads to the interesting question whether the teaching of the Vietnam War is a generational phenomenon or whether courses will be institutionalized as the graying Vietnam generation moves toward retirement? Will the now-popular Vietnam courses give way to the next au courant issue? Particularly in political science departments many former Vietnam courses are being linked with the latest event. I have seen several courses titled in some fashion: Vietnam, the Gulf War, and Somalia, or the Vietnam War as one topic within a course on Low-Intensity Conflicts. With the end of the Cold War, will courses on the Vietnam War be subsumed into one of the last topics to be treated in history courses entitled "The Cold War Era"?

Categories and Sources

Asianists

At present, the state of the field of Vietnam courses in academe falls more or less in three loose categories. First, are the Asianists, students of Asian history, culture, politics, or international relations, etc.--often specialists on China, India, Japan, or another Asian area-- who in many cases became the Vietnam specialist by default. The Asianist approach to the war normally and logically views the conflict from the Vietnamese perspective. The American involvement in Vietnam is treated as merely one stage, and not necessarily the most important one, in the long history and series of conflicts in the country. Most of the Asian-emphasis courses with which I am familiar are quite critical of the American involvement.

Some of the best texts with an Asian emphasis are China- expert James Pinckney Harrison, The wndless War: Vietnam's Struggle for Independence (1982); India-specialist D.R. SarDesai, Vietnam: The Struggle for National Identity (2nd ed., 1992); and Vietnam-scholar William J. Duiker's three outstanding contributions, The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam (1981), Sacred War: Nationalism and Revolution in a Divided Vietnam (1995), and Vietnam: Revolution in Transition (2nd ed., 1995). Sacred War is a remarkable piece of work, one of the very best texts and analyses of the war from any perspective. Written by a scholar noted for his balance, judiciousness, and exceptional insight, Sacred War is an essential book for anyone dealing with the war, and everyone teaching a course on the evolution of the conflict should consider this superior paperback text for their course no matter what one's orientation or perspective. Vietnam: Revolution in Transition is the best source at the moment in bringing the story of Vietnam forward from the war to the present day. It includes fine chapters on the contemporary evolution of the economy, political reform, culture and society, and foreign relations.

Vietnam-expert William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War: A Short Political and Military History, 1954-1975 (1986) and China-specialist Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1975 (1991) are Asianist approaches which give thorough attention to the American war effort. Turley's book is excellent; Young's, a sad polemic. Two orientations exist within the Asianist approach. Many Asianists portray the communists as the true Vietnamese nationalists. The other perspective, best articulated in Bui Diem's In the Jaws of History (1987), emphasizes a strong non-communist Vietnamese nationalist movement which fought against the communist destroyers of Vietnamese destiny. Bui Diem, one of Vietnam's greatest statesmen, was South Vietnam's Ambassador to the United States during the Johnson administration, and he has remained a voice of reason, moderation, and great wisdom as a leader within the Vietnamese community in the United States ever since the end of the war.

Americanists

The second and larger category consists of courses which focus on the American side of the war. Taught normally by historians with specialties in recent United States, diplomatic, or military history or by political scientists with national security, foreign policy, or American politics specialties, these offerings vary greatly in content and orientation. Asianists complain, and quite justly, that many, if not most, American- centered courses give insufficient, if any, emphasis to understanding Vietnamese history, life, and culture. Thus students fail to truly comprehend the context of the war. I contend that Vietnam courses should be taught by individuals with adequate preparation, both in Vietnamese history, culture, and politics and in American politics, culture, and diplomatic and military history.(2)

The resources for approaching the war from the American perspective are legion. The number of very fine texts is growing annually. One's choice of a text and other readings reflects both the purpose which the texts serve in the structure of the course and one's orientation. From my perspective and orientation, the best two texts are George C. Herring's well-established diplomatic history classic, America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 (3rd ed., 1996) and Lt. General (Ret.) Phillip B. Davidson's Vietnam at War: The History, 1946-1975 (1988), primarily a military history. Personally, I use David L. Anderson, ed., Shadow on the White House: Presidents and the Vietnam War, 1945-1975 (1993), which in conjunction with William Duiker's Sacred War and a large number of other readings in my course effectively blends the Asianist and Americanist approaches. The brief, insightful essays on each of the President's handling of Vietnam in the Anderson volume written by experts such as George Herring, Gary Hess, Robert McMahon, Sandra Taylor, and others are readable, manageable, and fit in well with the large amount of other readings I employ.(3)

For the increasing number of national security focused courses, three collections of essays on military policy questions are invaluable either as texts or as supplementary readings: Lawrence E. Grinter and Peter M. Dunn, eds., The American War in Vietnam: Lessons, Legacies, and Implications for Future Conflicts (1987), an excellent source which is unfortunately available only in an expensive hardback; William Head and Lawrence E. Grinter, eds., Looking Back on the Vietnam War: A 1990s Perspective on the Decisions, Combat, and Legacies (1993); and Dennis E. Showalter and John G. Albert, eds., An American Dilemma: Vietnam, 1964-1973 (1993). The latter two are available in paperback. The forthcoming, James R. Reckner, ed., On Winning and Losing: A Reexamination of the Summers Thesis and the Vietnam War, the product of a focused conference on the Summers Thesis, should be most useful.

Literature/Popular Culture

The third category of Vietnam War courses is a broad catch-all which I will call the literature and/or popular culture approach. A large and ever-growing number of Vietnam courses fall into this area, and indeed it may become, if it is not already, the largest genre of Vietnam War studies. Vietnam certainly has spawned a vast amount of literature-- first person accounts, novels, short stories, film, poetry, etc. Much of it is excellent. No one can question the invaluable insight of literature for understanding reality. The available body of Vietnamese literature gives us a window into the various dimensions of a proud and rich culture. The hundreds, maybe into the thousand category now, of American war memoirs and novels raise important questions about the war, its conduction, and an array of moral issues. It is a rich repository of material.

I endorse the teaching of Vietnam literature and film in English, American Studies, film studies, or other interdisciplinary departments and programs. This approach is a powerful vehicle for bringing the war to new generations who have no direct or historical conception about a war so long ago in the ancient 1960s.(4) However, I have no hesitancy in letting my prejudices show: I contend that the analytical tools of the historian and the political scientist are necessary elements for passing our understanding of this very important event in American and world history on to the next generation. I am concerned that too much of the teaching of Vietnam comes from courses which are entirely literature or film-based, and that too many individuals who teach these courses are not grounded in the proper analytical tools to deal with the important political and geo-strategic issues of the war. I fear that too much of Vietnam is presented through emotive approaches and the desired result is to evoke passion. In that sense, we haven't progressed beyond the 1960s.

I have particular concern about the captivation of Vietnam War courses by the popular culture establishment. A host of largely younger academics, many associated with the Popular Culture Association, who teach Vietnam exclusively through film, novels, poetry, plays, personal testimony, etc., often through the interpretative lenses of feminism, deconstructionism, or film criticism, for the purported purpose of understanding the nature and soul of America, have become a significant force.(5) Their approaches may have merits, but I argue that their objectives are less than adequate for a deeper understanding of what, in my less than humble opinion, are the more important questions which we should be addressing about Vietnam. I have listened to several in this camp wax eloquently about their course on Vietnam when it is evident that they could barely find the country on a map, much less know anything about the geography, history, or politics so central to understanding the conflict. They rattled off cliches and stereotypes about American involvement with little interest or knowledge about the decision making processes that led us into and through that conflict. It is my position that at heart Vietnam was a question of policy making, of the process and product of decisions and of the dynamics of international politics in the mid-20th century. I understand that others have the right to very different views, but in my perspective the war's internal impact and its cultural legacy are secondary to the primary lessons we should seek from studying this experience. The many insights to be gained through the study of literature, film, testimony, etc., are valuable, enlightening, and even inspiring. They may bring students to wanting to understand the larger political and international dimensions of the war. But ultimately, they are of secondary nature.

Taking my brief remarks in response to the 1990-91 survey out of context, Patrick Hagopian set up a false dichotomy by satirizing my position as the "serious teaching" school vs. H. Bruce Franklin's employment of literature and cultural sources. I have no problem being placed as far away from the views of Mr. Franklin as I can possibly get. We have in Hagopian's words, "divergent assumptions about the content and purposes of teaching the Vietnam War." But Hagopian mis- defined the issue. The salient point of my critique was that I believe that the teaching of Vietnam should be dominated by serious scholars with proper analytical tools to deal with the central issues of the history of the involvement, the policy process, and the lessons of the war. These tools and basic grounding are not exclusive to, but might be more likely found among, historians, political scientists, or other social scientists than from most of the popular culturists with whom I have come in contact. I do recognize some notable exceptions to this prejudice, including Peter Rollins as cardinal example. I openly admit my provinciality, but I continue to contend that my emphasis is of greater import than Franklin's pseudo-psychology or therapy sessions: "When [students are] invited to tell how they first became conscious of the war, portentous revelations emerge about troubled veterans, taboos on conversation, responses to popular Vietnam movies, after shocks in their own families' lives..."(6)

Franklin is not the only one in this genre. Susan Jeffords, Kali Tall, Jacqueline Lawson, and others present the entire Vietnam War through the lenses of misogyny, racism, and class. Even with the fall of communism, the die- hards of the left continue the litany of hegemony and exploitation. Some of the popular culture approach is harmless, if marginal to silly. Papers and sessions in the Vietnam interest section at the Popular Culture Association conference on Nam Porn, comic book depictions, B-grade movies and short-run television series, and obscure dime store novelists make mockery of a serious area of inquiry. Most of this is incomprehensible except for those who travel in this make-believe world. Eliot Gruner's Prisoners of Culture: Representing the Vietnam POW (1993), a rambling, unfocused deconstructionist attempt to demonstrate the mythology of the POW experience (whatever that means), provides an example. In Gruner's words:

     I seek to break up what I see as a monologue, a
     dominant of the POW experience in American
     culture.  I want to show the  polyphony  that
     lurks beneath the surface of popular culture.  I
     juxtapose  the representations and production to
     make their contradictions visible and to soften
     the hard objective truths that  feed POW myth.  I
     do this not so much to oppose the texts but to
     embrace the differences.  I want to show that the
     array of representations I examine has
     rehistoricized the  American POW  experience in
     ways that channel us into certain roles and
     patterns of action.
     
     It may seem that I would like to exclude the POW
     experience from  popular culture, or to privilege
     certain forms of representation over others.  This
     is, however, exactly the kind of cannonization or
     silence that I would reject.  Instead, I would
     have us look at  a broader range of experiences
     and ideas in order to make visible  the
     assumptions behind the representations themselves.
     The POW story seems to hide out in the self-
     confirming  authority of autobiography or late-
     night paid TV programming.  Such  presentations,
     if taken by themselves, leave us with the
     deceptive, simplistic closure of narrative rather
     than the more     complex implications of human
     experience.  The challenge is to engage all the
     stories.  Such an approach   makes both the
     contradictions and the convergences of the POW
     story obvious. (p. 3)

The wide range of objectives among those teaching Vietnam today is reminiscent of the mid and late 1960s grassroots Vietnam courses, mini-courses, and free universities which sprang up in reaction to American military engagement in the war. Most of those first-generation courses, like Bruce Franklin's today, had more emotional political agenda than substance. Many authorities have emphasized that it is well past time to move beyond polemics to a more mature, scholarly, and dispassionate assessment of the meaning of the Vietnam experience. While this is taking place in many circles, it is less evident, from my vantage point, among the popular culture genre.(7)

The Positive Role of Video

Despite my concern that video sources play an unduly heavy role in the way that Vietnam is being presented to this generation, especially by the popular culture group, who defend their approach by arguing that this is a television or visual generation, I do recognize the value and the excellent quality of some of the visual resources available. And I understand that one cannot discuss the teaching of Vietnam without noting the impact of some of these resources. The Public Broadcasting System's thirteen- part, Vietnam: A Television History, (1983), undoubtedly was the single biggest spur to the teaching of the war in the classroom. Both the 1986 and 1990-91 surveys list 1984 as the year when the greatest number of the Vietnam courses in the respective studies began, with a large number beginning in each of the next several years. The 1986 survey indicated that many of these courses were built around the television history series.

Used with proper caveat, Vietnam: A Television History can be most instructive; but on both content/orientation and pedagogical grounds, I would argue that it should not be the basic element of the course.(8) Among the several other valuable video resources, I will mention only a few, most specifically Accuracy in Media, Inc. (AIM)'s two-part counter to the PBS series, Television's Vietnam: The Real Story and The Impact of Media (1984 and 1985)- -which despite its value should carry a few caveats itself; and Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1988), the single best video source which I have employed in the classroom. Commercial movies are very popular in Vietnam courses. When I use movies, I am less interested in the metaphorical or metaphysical than in trying to address my students perennial question: "Was that what it was really like?" Obviously any source whether visual or written can provide only a glimpse into a tiny portion of a war that had so many dimensions. That is an important point to make. Three movies that I have employed do address part of that question of what it was really like. Platoon is replete with false impressions and stereotypes but it does capture the surreal nature of combat. Hamburger Hill captures the camaraderie, the courage, and honor of soldiers in combat. Good Morning Vietnam catches some of the flavor of the rear-echelon experience.

Some Big Courses and Conferences

Two of the largest Vietnam courses in this country best illustrate the very different objectives of teaching Vietnam. Both courses are now passe, but in the late 1980s they employed similar means to achieve very different ends. Theodore R. Kennedy's "Vietnam Involvements Symposium," taught as a special topics offering under an anthropology label at the StateUniversity of New York--Stony Brook enrolled 800 students. Kennedy, a Korean War veteran, started the course as tribute to his brother who died from the deterioration of his lungs after returning from Vietnam (presumed to be from Agent Orange exposure). Kennedy spent several thousand dollars of his own money to bring in the array of speakers, academics and participants, which the course featured. Speakers included Harry Summers, James Webb, Robert Muller, Jan Scruggs, John Wheeler, William Westmoreland, David Horowitz, Reed Irvine, Douglas Pike, Peter Dunn, Nguyen Tien Hung, and a host of others including a large number of ordinary veterans. Kennedy strived for balance and wide perspective, but underlying his orientation was a tribute to the sacrifices and the honorable, even heroic, service of the veterans who suffered a controversial war which the nation never fully understood or appreciated the costs at the time nor since. Personal financial and psychological costs caused Kennedy to drop the course after two years in 1986 and 1987.

While Kennedy's symposium was a local phenomenon, Walter Capps religion course at the University of California--Santa Barbara, which accepted over 900 enrolles and turned away hundreds, remains the highest profile Vietnam offering in the nation. It was featured on CBS's "Sixty Minutes," discussed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and mentioned in every press article on teaching the war. The readings collection edited by Capps for, and to some degree from, the course--The Vietnam Reader (1991)--is an excellent source. Although both Kennedy and Capps employed the same method of inundating students with scores of different perspectives on the war, including many from Vietnam veterans, their politics and their purposes were very different. Capps described his concern as values: "The course offers an illustration of how values are transmitted within contexts of highly volatile social and political change." He continued that the fundamental questions addressed are "about the nature of virtue, the claims that vested national interests make upon justice, the properties of the good society, how far patriotism and the dictates of warfare are trustworthy guides for achieving ones telos as a human being."(9)

Some of the most significant recent conferences and symposia which have contributed to the state of the field of Vietnam study must be noted. Among these are Vietnam and the West, sponsored by the American Studies Centre at the University of Wales, Swansea (1988); the Indochina Institute's National Conference on Teaching the Vietnam War (April 1988) and National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute (1990); Seminar on US-Vietnam/Indochina War, at Columbia University (November 1990); The Air Force Academy's Fourteenth Military History Symposium (1991); The Vietnam War: Impact and Legacy, at Georgia Tech (February 1991); Remembering Tet 1968, at Salisbury State University (November 1992); Vietnam: Paris + 20, at Texas Tech University Center for Study of the Vietnam Conflict (April 1993); Viet Nam 20 Years After: Voices of the War, at Hampden-Sydney College (September 1993); Vietnam: The Early Decisions, 1961-1964, at the LBJ Library (October 1993); America and Vietnam: From War to Peace, A Transdisciplinary Conference, at Notre Dame (December 1993); the Vietnam Veterans Institute sponsored The History and Legacy of Those Who Served in Vietnam, at the University of Baltimore (November 1994); On Winning and Losing: A Reexamination of the Summers Thesis and the Vietnam War, sponsored by the U.S. Army War College and the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University (March 1995); the VVI symposium The McNamara Book and Legacy: Retrofit for "In Retrospect," in Washington, DC (November 1995); and After the Cold War: Reassessing Vietnam, at the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech (April 1996). Several books are in print from the papers presented at these conferences, and other volumes will follow from the more recent gatherings.(10)

Some of these conferences were sponsored by groups or academic centers with particular interest in the teaching of the Vietnam War. The oldest is the Indochina Institute, at George Mason University. The William Joiner Center, at the University of Massachusetts--Boston, has been active in supporting the teaching of Vietnam. The Vietnam Veterans Institute has become a major player in this field in recent years. The Center for the Study of American Wars, at Oklahoma State University, is attempting to establish itself as a center of focus on the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. However, the new center of study of the Vietnam War in the country is now the Texas Tech University Center for the Study of the Vietnam Conflict. The Vietnam Center, housed in a magnificent new multi-million dollar International Cultural Center, is building a premier archive, starting with the papers of former Commander of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and the extensive Indochina Archive, Douglas Pike's invaluable collection transferred from the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California--Berkeley. The Center is negotiating to acquire copies of Vietnam's archives as well. The large triennial conferences and the annual topically-focued conferences at the Vietnam Center have established Lubbock, Texas as the center of the study of the Vietnam Conflict for the near future.

Beyond these high-profile conferences, teaching sessions on Vietnam are commonplace at history, political science, international studies, Asian studies, and increasingly at literature, sociology, media, and other conferences. The World History Association and the Association for Third World Studies deserve special note. Often teaching sessions are more prevalent at regional than national conferences. For instance, the Southeast Conference of the Association of Asian Studies for many years had at least one session annually on teaching Vietnam, and two books have emerged from these sessions.(11)

A Brief Note on Recent Books

Although the volume has ebbed some, the quality of scholarship on the war is very strong. To my mind, the most essential questions today are how and why political and military decisions were made and what could have been done differently. The quest for the lessons of Vietnam remains central. Again to my mind, the most significant books in this genre in the last three or four years are Eric M. Bergerud, The Dynamics of Defeat: The Vietnam War in Hau Nghia Province (1991); Larry Cable, Unholy Grail: The US and the Wars in Vietnam, 1965-68 (1991); Ronald H. Spector, After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam (1993); George C. Herring, LBJ and Vietnam (1994); Richard A. Hunt, Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam's Hearts and Minds (1995); and Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995). The latter is more important for the individual involved than the insight contained.

Summation

So what is the state of the field of Vietnam in the classroom? Obviously, the subject is much alive, taught in various places in the curriculum, by a wide range of academics with varied backgrounds and reasons for dealing with the topic, who manifest many different approaches, pedagogies, and objectives. It is unclear, and probably too early, to judge whether Vietnam courses will be institutionalized as permanent components in history, political science, and international studies departments. The growth of Vietnam courses outside these areas, in literature, media, film, American studies, popular culture, and other programs is significant; but again the issue of permanence is even more a question.

By every indication we have, student interest about the war remains very high, and little reason is evident for it to wane soon. The continuing questions we face on the global scene appear to keep the Vietnam experience exceptionally relevant, if in constantly changing ways. The resources for teaching Vietnam are abundant; a network of those involved in the subject is readily available, manifested in numerous conferences and symposia; a lively debate continues over pedagogy, content, and objectives; and the quantity and quality of new scholarship abounds. Despite mine, or any other commentator's, concerns over particular directions or issues, abundant reasons exist for predicting a healthy future for the study of the Vietnam War.

This paper is a modestly-updated version of an article originally published in The Journal of the Vietnam Veterans Institute X #X (Fall 1995), 4-15.

Joe P. Dunn was a sergeant (E-5) and NCOIC of the Ground Sensor Program (electronic intelligence) of the 199th Infantry Brigade, 1969-1970; when the 199th was deactivated, he completed his tour with the 1st Air Cavalry.

ENDNOTES

1. See Douglas Pike, "Teaching the Vietnam Experience as a Whole Course," Teaching Political Science: Politics in Perspective 12 (Summer 1985): 144-151; Ronald H. Spector, "What Did You Do in the War, Professor: Reflections on Teaching About Vietnam," American Heritage 38 (December 1986): 98-102; Frederick Z. Brown, "Myths and Misperception Abound in Our Courses on the War in Vietnam," The Chronicle of Higher Education 34 (May 25, 1988): A 48; and Alan Goodman, "Scholars Must Give More Serious Thought to How They Teach and Write About the War in Vietnam," The Chronicle of Higher Education 36 (July 25, 1990): A 36.

2. See Joe P. Dunn, "Teaching Vietnam as History," Teaching History: A Journal of Methods 6 (Fall 1981): 50- 59; and Joe P. Dunn, Teaching the Vietnam War: Resources and Assessments (Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Armament and Disarmament, California State University--Los Angeles, 1990), or any of my other writings on teaching the war.

3. For teaching resources on a Vietnam War course, the three essential sources are Joe P. Dunn, Teaching the Vietnam War: Resources and Assessments (Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Armament and Disarmament, California State University--Los Angeles, 1990), now a bit dated; Marc Jason Gilbert, ed., The Vietnam War: Teaching Approaches and Resources (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991); and James S. Olson, ed., The Vietnam War: Handbook of the Literature and Research (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993). My essay, "Texts and Auxiliary Resources," in Gilbert's volume, pp. 201-225, is a critical evaluation of all the texts and other teaching resources available at the time. Some good sources have appeared since that date.

4. The best sources for introduction to the literature available for use in a Vietnam War course are found in several of the essays in both the Gilbert and the Olson volumes cited above. The single best essay is Catherine Calloway, "American Literature and Film of the Vietnam War: Classroom Strategies and Critical Sources," in the Gilbert compilation. Also see Owen W. Gilman, Jr. and Lorrie Smith, eds. American Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War (New York: Garland, 1990), which is slightly more current than three or four other similar collections; John Carlos Rowe and Rick Berg, eds., The Vietnam War and American Culture (NY: Columbia University Press, 1991); Philip K. Jason's The Vietnam War in Literature: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1992), which is extremely useful, and it updates Timothy Lomperis's invaluable early work, Reading the Wind: The Literature of the Vietnam War (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986); and Andrew Martin, Perceptions of War: Vietnam in American Culture (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).

5. Dr. Peter C. Rollins, a Marine Vietnam veteran, was responsible for creating the Vietnam War Studies groups during his tenure as President of the Popular Culture Association (PCA) in the early 1980s. Under his leadership and later that of William Searle of Eastern Illinois University, this area grew to one of the largest interest areas of PCA. At its height in 1989, PCA had 23 full sessions with 89 papers on the Vietnam War. Vietnam Generation, a journal edited by Kali Tal, emerged from this group at PCA. However, in the last several years, the Vietnam War group has declined to a mere shadow of its former self. Most serious students of the war have separated themselves from the ideological cliche who dominate the Vietnam War sessions.

6. Quote and the attempted dichotomy are found in Hagopian, pp. 48-49.

7. For a survey of the various perspectives, see Joe P. Dunn, "What Should We Teach About the Vietnam War?: The Evolution of the Debate," in James S. Olson, ed., The Vietnam War: Handbook of the Literature and Research (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 483-494.

8. For critique of the PBS series, see Stephen J. Morris, "'Vietnam,' a Dual-Vision History," The Wall Street Journal (December 20, 1983): 30; Reed Irvine, "The Flawed History of Vietnam," AIM Report (January 1984), 4 pp.; R.C. Raack, "Caveat Spectator, Organization of American Historians Newsletter 12 (February 1984): 25-28; and George C. Herring, Journal of American History 74 (December 1987): 1123-1124. Stephen Vlastos, "Television Wars: Representations of the Vietnam War in Television Documentaries," Radical History Review 36 (1986): 115-132, critiques both the PBS series and the AIM response from a different perspective.

9. Walter Capps, "On Teaching Today's Students about the Vietnam War," Federation Review 8 (May-June 1985): 10-13. Also see Capps, The Unfinished War: Vietnam and the American Conscience (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982).

10. See Phil Melling and Jon Roper, eds., America, France and Vietnam: Cultural History and Ideas of Conflict (Brookfield, VT: Gower Publishing Company, 1991), as dreadful a book as was the Swansea, Wales conference; Jane Werner and Luu Doan Huynh, eds., The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1992), a useful work from the Columbia University symposium; William Head and Lawrence E. Grinter, eds., Looking Back on the Vietnam War: A 1990s Perspective on the Decisions, Combat, and Legacies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), an exceptionally valuable volume from the Georgia Tech conference; Marc Jason Gilbert and William Head, The Tet Offensive (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996), an interesting collection from the Salisbury State conference; and James R. Reckner, ed., On Winning and Losing: A Reexamination of the Summers Thesis and the Vietnam War (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1996), a fascinating and useful compilation.

11. The two books are Lawrence E. Grinter and Peter M. Dunn, eds., The American War in Vietnam: Lessons, Legacies, and Implications for Future Conflicts (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987); and Marc Jason Gilbert, ed., The Vietnam War: Teaching Approaches and Resources (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991).


Back to Agenda Page

Back to List of Available Symposium Papers