Why I Teach HIS 273: The U.S. and the Vietnam War

Guest post by GCC instructor Bonnie Saunders

There’s a good chance that I taught the very first course on the Vietnam War, way back in 1984 (yes, I’ve been doing this for a while). I have no personal connection to the Vietnam War but I have had strong opinions about it, opinions that have mellowed over the years to a much more rational stance than in the past!

Throughout the teaching of this course I’ve invited Vietnam veterans to talk to my class about their experiences- everyone from the veteran who finally won the court case against the Pentagon for his injuries from Agent Orange, to a nurse who worked in a M.A.S.H. unit, to soldiers who couldn’t tell the difference between a regular peasant and a Viet Cong insurgent.

Despite the terrible consequences Vietnam veterans live with, many have returned to Vietnam to help the Vietnamese people. Some have relocated there permanently and spend all of their time doing humanitarian work. Despite the length of the Vietnam War and the bitterness that followed it, many American tourists now take spectacular vacations to that country.

In HIS273 I teach students to explore why and how the U.S. become involved in the Vietnam War, to examine the consequences, and to ask what we have learned from the experience. One of the most interesting exercises is a written dialogue assignment to write letters between two veterans, one from the Vietnam War and one from either the recent Iraq or Afghanistan wars (real people or invented veterans created from readings and research). Most importantly, I ask them to think about its relevance today, especially as we mark, in 2015, the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict.

I enjoy teaching and discussing this subject, and I welcome any comments or questions at bonnie.saunders@gccaz.edu.

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