War lecture contributes insight to American history
Vietnam War expert George Herring lectured to prove that the Vietnam War left a stain on American history that has not quite faded.
The university welcomed Herring as he gave his presentation, “Vietnam: The War That Never Seems to Go Away” in front of a sizable crowd Oct. 25 at the Business Aerospace building.
“Specifically, the Strickland lecture is meant to engage the community, as well as students and faculty, and I think this talk did exactly that by bringing in students, community members and faculty to interact around a set of ideas,” said Amy Sayward, history professor. “With the war in Iraq wound down and Afghanistan and all those analogies about Vietnam flying around, I thought it would be a very timely topic.”
Herring wrote “America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975”, which is now in its fourth edition and is still considered the standard on American policy making before, during and after the Vietnam War.
Jump starting his presentation, Herring showed several comics from over the years with allusions made not only to the Vietnam War, but the conflicts in Somalia, Afghanistan and both Gulf Wars.
“The influence that the Vietnam War had has been persistent, pervasive and powerful,” Herring said. “Such is its staying power; its hold on the national psyche that it has been called appropriately, I think, ‘The War That Never Seems to Go Away.’”
The United States’ direct involvement in the war spanned over a quarter of a century, despite the actual “shooting war” taking place from 1965-1973.
“I think the length of the war is of more than passing importance,” Herring said. “It is more than simply dates in a history book. We Americans are an impatient people. We want results. We want them quickly.”
The oddity of the surroundings in the war, as well as the vast cultural barrier and new style of engagement, also proved to complicate the conflict. Herring made the observation that the ideal American war is fought in a much shorter and organized setting than that of the Vietnam War, which is part of what led to its perception as a quagmire in modern American culture.
The scholar on foreign policy also noted that it was difficult to define a clear-set goal in this war unlike with other prior conflicts because of the fear of causing a much greater war.
“It was a war where the balance of forces in Vietnam was weighted against us where success, as we defined it, may have been beyond our reach,” Herring said. “In seeking to establish and maintain an independent, non-communist nation in southern Vietnam, we attempted a truly formidable undertaking on the basis of a very fragile foundation.”
Before fielding questions, Herring touched on the similarities between Vietnam and other modern conflicts, such as the division it caused among the American populace, the underestimation of victory and how it forced the United States to confront personal beliefs about American exceptionalism.
The lecture comes just months before the university will sponsor an faculty-led education abroad trip to Vietnam in the spring semester.