Sunday, April 20, 2014

Week 4: Liberal Academic History and The New Vietnam Studies

Tracy Nguyen
Chris Woo

The Vietnam War was a very controversial war that was seen through different perspectives. The liberal narrative of the Vietnam War is largely used through academia and exists on the view that the Vietnam War was a tragic mistake, but on a pragmatic grounds rather than moral grounds. The liberal narrative saw that the Vietnam War was not a war worth fighting because it would harm American lives.

The legacy of the liberal views on the war allowed us to emphasize most spheres of the war.  This liberal view tries to compromise aspects of the Vietnam war that covers these three main peoples: the American soldier, the young college protestor, and the Vietnamese civilian.  It may seem that these three main characters received an equal story in the liberal version of Vietnam War story, on the other hand, the liberal view has its issues of covering up most aspects of the war.

I will delve into the three aspects that the liberal narratives concentrates on and the strengths and weak spots that come with them.

The American Protestors: Vietnam War protestors were widely publicized in the media due to the majority of American civilians who disagreed with the war. The Viet Nam War protests were nothing America had seen before because a "majority in the opinion polls thought the Vietnam War was a mistake. It is good that the liberal narrative reveals the protestors because it shows that the Vietnam War was largely disagreeable by many American civilians and reveals the reasons of what was wrong with the war. This included the killings and corruptions that the protestors did not find humane.  Participants were not only young educated college liberals, but were also working class civilians who feared being drafted and African Americans that believed the war was unjust due to the overwhelming combat deaths of blacks.   Only 35% approved of the president's 'handling of the war'" (Neale 134). Images of protestors are seen as young white college students. Indeed, they were the most vocal yet they overshadowed the voices of others who disagreed as well. Although, not initially perceived as a disagreer to the war, the blue collar workers were unfavoring of the war with "41 percent of people in Dearborn, a white working-class suburb of Detroit, voted for American withdrawal,..., [the vote] was inversely associated with citizens' socioeconomic level, with blue collar workers more disapproving of the war than professionals and managers" (Neale 132). The blue collar workers were unfavoring of the war because their children were the ones being killed at the war front, not the 'brainy' college students, yet the loss of their children were not told. The protests exploded into a mass media frenzy when four young college students were killed during the Kent State protest which came as an initial shock to the American public. Although only four people were killed, it stole the attention of the thousands of soldiers and Vietnamese that were slain. The white young Americans were center stage and received the attention that those never got. The parents of slain sons, the Vietnamese civilians, the black protestors, the Chican@ protestors were silenced.

 The American Solider: The American soldier's story was also a legacy of the Vietnam War where they were seen as noble and sacrificial. They were depicted as innocent teenagers who courageously risked their lives for their country to deplete the communists' efforts. When news of murder and rape of the My Lai Massacre were revealed the same innocent soldiers were seen as merely following standard procedures from their superiors to murder mercilessly and ultimately died for a meaningless war. Some soldiers' stories were not revealed. Such as Ron Ridenhour who "committed himself to doing whatever was necessary to expose the [My Lai Massacre] incident to public scrutiny" (Turse 4) when others kept quiet on corruption they committed or seen. Ridenhour is not a household name and even his courageous act to speak up was a story not told in academia. The rape and murder of children and women are sometimes noted  but are overshadowed by the story of bravery and patriotism of the US soldiers. It is good that the American soldiers stories are told as they are a prominent role in the war, yet the young, white, male soldier were the most prominent characters in the war. This one sided story, again, fails to tell the story of the Japanese, Chicano and African American soldiers stories.

The Vietnamese Civilians (My Lai Massacre): The My Lai Massacre is described as a "civilian massacre by the U.S soldiers,..., notorious for torturing suspected communist sympathizers, killing elderly men, and the "gang-raping of young girls"' (Hamamoto 6).  The My Lai story is exposed in academia and serves as the Vietnamese civilian perspective. Yet, this does not do the Vietnamese justice as the My Lai story quickly overshadows the hundreds of other villages that were similarly attacked. My Lai serves as the one story of military brutality that it creates the illusion that this was the only attack to the innocent Vietnamese. The My Lai exposure was only one story out of thousands of other similar massacres that were ignored while the "murder, torture, rape abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, imprisonment without due process" were daily occurrences in Vietnamese life as long as the Americans were present (Turse 5).  Although the liberal views educates students the the 'bad' sides of the war, it largely overshadowed the perspective of the Vietnamese.

The liberal narratives is prominent in academia, but there exists other alternatives such as, the extremist views of the Left and Conservatives. The Left saw America as the evil doer who was morally wrong in the fight in Vietnam. They saw America as a dominate power that was intent on profiting and controlling the third world countries, mainly for economic reasons. They argued that America was the true aggressor due to the murdering of innocent people. The Left view challenges the liberal narrative that the United States was not as innocent as portrayed and war was simply a mistake. What were the true intentions of why America entered the Vietnam War? What about the untold stories of the Vietnamese that are ignored in academia? 

The Conservative view saw the war was morally right because it was a battle against the spread of Communism. It was the failures of political and military leaders who caused mistakes that undercut this worthy cause. They believed that they were able to win the war, but because of these certain mistakes this prevented a victory. The Conservative view challenges the liberal narrative that the war was not a mistake, but it was a justified war. 

The liberal narrative of the Viet Nam war is most prevalent in academia because it holds middle ground compared to the other extremist views.  The liberal narrative does a decent job in exposing most perspectives of the Vietnam War through the white American eyes, but also fails to do so in the eyes of others. This is a one sided story told through the white westernized perspective and lacks the narrative voices of the Vietnamese, the African American soldiers/protestors, the Cambodians, the Laotians, and other minorities where their voices are often muted. Why is it so?  This liberal narrative surrounds itself around the larger themes that the war was "a mistake" or was a "miscommunication" where all parties are to partake in some blame. This one sided story is dangerous; as the liberal view does not delve into the root of the problem such as American imperialism and the true intentions of the American invasion. The liberal narrative does not offer other suggestions or sides to the war that would allow students to create their own perspectives of the war. For example, students are to learn that Communism is bad and evil, thus American intervention was necessary to stop the spread of communism. Without the introduction of theology in communism, it is easy for "anticommunism [to serve] as a convenient device for mobilizing the American people to support imperial intervention" (Chomsky). The exclusion of the minorities' voices allows for  a certain story to be told.The liberal narrative does not evoke wholesome truth of the Vietnam War, instead it has ceased to reveal the American imperialistic ambitions but has now has been painted of  just a war of 'mistake'.

In my experiences, school courses have simply stated that the war was issued to stop the spread of communism. Communism was simply taught as bad and very evil and that intervention and saving of the Vietnamese people was good. Thus the war was justified. Nothing more was discussed and the Vietnam War was was only an iota in my large  History textbook. Although the details were murky, it was clear to me that the Vietnam War was not a representation of the whole truth and missing pieces to the puzzle were be found by other means.


1. What other people/countries/events were overshadowed by this liberal narrative and how does it negatively impact those people being overshadowed?
2. In your high school experiences, what sort of exposure did you receive about the Vietnam War? Did you feel that what you were taught was thorough and was it a good reflection on the war?
3. What qualities do these overshadowed people have that do not allow them to fit in the liberal narrative?
4. How has the liberal narrative of the Vietnam war affected through your education now that you have knowledge of the Vietnam war from ASA 150?
5. The liberal narrative wrote the Vietnam war as a mistake, how has this affected the recent invasion in Afghanistan?

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