Vietnam's campus comeback
In response to the article ``Vietnam makes campus comeback - still divisive after all these years,'' Nov. 10: If United States history is to be taught properly, it should be taught by historians, not politicians. To introduce politics into a history class all but destroys the objective philosophy pursued by historians. It was mentioned that George McGovern and William Westmoreland addressed a college class on Vietnam; one is a politician, the other a general. I hope these students were able to pick the political bias apart from the history in their final decisions about Vietnam. Obviously, there were many ``politically oriented'' decisions surrounding the United States' intervention into Vietnam, but again, let the historians tell what happened and keep the politicians from protecting their past decisions in using today's hindsight.
It is very inspiring to see that movies, such as ``Platoon,'' are opening the public's eyes to some of the struggles that Vietnam veterans faced. But as the public, particularly college students, we must not lose sight of the difference between factual documentaries and visual entertainment.
If today's history classes can be kept historical, and movies just entertaining, students will more objectively understand the present dilemmas such as the Central America issue. Troy D. Seffinga Eau Claire, Wis.
I've long been frustrated and irritated by the way the Vietnam war has been portrayed in the popular media and in the recent spate of action movies. I've also found it very distressing that students in American universities today should understand so little about the reasons for US involvement in that war. The most important lessons which we can learn from that war have far more to do with the appropriate conduct of US foreign policy than with the horrors of war.
The Vietnam war was a terrifying experience for those who had to fight it, but I'm sure that comparably gruesome movies could be made about every war ever fought.
However, if we are to avoid such senseless wars in the future, we must learn about more than simply the physical and psychological misery of the Vietnam war. Jack Barbash Palo Alto, Calif.
Many of us who teach about Vietnam do so precisely because history is in danger of repeating itself. While continued research is necessary in this as in many other fields, it is not likely to alter the central, damning facts of Vietnam: that the US set up a puppet government in the south after the French were defeated, knowing that 80 percent of the population supported Ho Chi Minh; that the supposed second attack against US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin was a hoax; that Johnson and Nixon lied to the American people over and over again; that US actions disrupted, with disastrous consequences, the body politic not only of Vietnam but also of Cambodia and Laos.
One of my students wrote recently: ``It is well known that the victors write history, but when the losers write it, what do they write?'' We freely criticize the Germans and Japanese when they rewrite the history of World War II to mitigate their crimes.
By suggesting that if the history of Vietnam were ``properly'' taught students would not oppose US intervention in Central America, Secretary of Education William Bennett would have us do the same regarding Vietnam - not merely to make us seem less evil in our children's eyes, but to induce them to repeat the evil. Kathe Barbara Geist Normal, Ill.
The article on the lingering divisiveness of Vietnam states, ``Most scholars agree that an understanding of the Vietnam experience is critical to an understanding of America today - and in the future.'' It goes on to ask, ``Whose version [of the Vietnam war] do you teach?'' The answer, I think, is linked to your opinion of communism. Among the range of opinions in the US, two seem to have predominance. Opinion A holds that communism is a monolithic institution set on world conquest, while Opinion B holds that communism is an ineffective and unsuccessful economic system.
What the United States needs in order to understand the present and future is discussion on the many views of communism. What are the perceptions and what are the realities? What effect did perceptions have on reality? How did these perceptions affect United States policy? Barbara Fiedler Oak Park, Ill.