Vietnam becoming America's forgotten war
BY BILL MCCLOUD
Saturday, October 13, 2012
10/13/12 at 4:00 AM
It's pretty hard for me to believe that it has come to this, but it seems to me that the Vietnam War is now in danger of becoming our new "Forgotten War."
The Korean War has carried that identification - the Forgotten War - for quite some time now. There were various reasons for this. It fell between "the Big War" that saved the world's democracies and the war that was so divisive that it threatened to tear our nation apart. Indeed, at times it seemed the Vietnam War was being fought on an American front and not just in Southeast Asia.
The fact that Korea was referred to for so long as a "conflict" led many people to discard it from its rightful place in history, as if the fact that it wasn't called a war lessened its significance.
It's also true that the lack of books on Korea, especially compared to what we got from World War II and Vietnam, is almost deafening in its sense of silence.
Vietnam veterans have long had a reputation for not wanting to talk about their wartime experiences, but that was at least as true of their counterparts coming back from the Korean War. Their war was seen as just a first long battle as part of the overriding Cold War and it also didn't help that they were returning from having won a "stalemate."
But, to Vietnam.
Almost 25 years ago I conducted a pretty major survey of junior high school and middle school students throughout Oklahoma and found that, though they were very interested in learning about the Vietnam War, the knowledge they actually had about it was very slim.
I would not think that today's middle school-age students know any more about Vietnam than those earlier students did. If anything, they likely know even less.
In the 1980s the students' interest in Vietnam had been spurred by the release of movies such as "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Hamburger Hill." These were movies they flocked to and that led them to want to learn even more about the war.
Students also made it clear to me at the time that they had a sense that the Vietnam War was the skeleton in America's family closet and they thought that they were now old enough to be let in on the secret.
Recently, there have been virtually no new movies about Vietnam and the students find themselves, after Sept. 11, 2001, living in a world with almost a total focus on global terrorism.
Today's students, I feel, have an even harder time of placing our adventure in Vietnam in its proper historical setting. Also, because of so much material to cover, I know that many courses in "recent" U.S. history being taught today never make it up to the 1960s.
For most of our current students, Vietnam is now their "grandfather's war." In order to continue to honor the service of the men and women who went to Vietnam, we must do what we can to see that it does not become our new "Forgotten War."
Bill McCloud of Pryor is a Vietnam veteran and an adjunct instructor of U.S. history at Rogers State University.
Bill McCloud: We must do what we can to see that it (Vietnam War) does not become our new "Forgotten War."