Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Me as an Oral History Source on the Vietnam War?

My niece Rachel Sanders has asked me some questions on the Vietnam War--as part of a project she is doing in her classes at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. It's odd to think of my life, experiences, and knowledge as some sort of history or historical source! But I guess I am one of many pieces of the puzzle. Here are the questions Rachel has asked me. I intend to send my answers to her and to also put them on my blog within the next week or so:

1. How old were you during the Vietnam War? Where did you live?

The Vietnam war actually pre-dated my awareness of it. I think there were advisors there in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I became aware of the war around 1964 (I was 16). My religion teacher at St. Joesph High School, Brother Richard Pilder, began talking about the war and he seemed to be really opposed to it. There were some Barry Goldwater supporters at the high school who began to tease Bro. Pilder (even acted like they were going to picket him for being a Commie!) because of his opposition to the war. Opposition to the war grew very slowly! I started developing my own opposition to the war around 1966 or '67. By 1968 I felt the war was wrong and was eager for anti-war candidates, like Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the presidency. So I think my own position to the war became clear in 1968. These things evolve as you learn things. Until the Fall of 1966 I lived in Euclid, Ohio, about 15 miles east of downtown Cleveland. Then in 1966, at age 18, I went away to college, to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. In 1966-68, opposition to the war was an unpopular position--could even get you beat up!

2. What are some vivid memories you have about the time? What do you consider to be the most important events? Why?
3. What were some of the tensions in society? Was there racial and gender equality?
4.  What was your role as a conscientious objector? What prompted you to become one? What was the process like?
5. Did you participate in any protests?
6.  How were your friends and/or family affected by the war? How was your life different during the war?
7.  How did you receive most of your news about what was going on in the US and world during the time?
8.  How was popular culture affected by the war?
9. Were there generational conflicts surrounding the war/ those who resisted service?

Gee, this looks more like a book than a simple blog response! But I will give it a whirl. The last question made me cry all of a sudden as I remembered the May 4th, 1970 Kent State shootings. My cousin Maggie Brock was on campus, practically in the middle of the smoke, the bullets, the blood. I called my Mom and Dad from the University of Notre Dame--I was a senior 5 weeks from graduation. And I proceeded, amid my tears, confusion, and anger, to yell at my Mom and Dad (people I loved dearly, who bore no blame for the war or the Kent State massacre). Such deep regret in me now for that phone call. I hope they forgave me!

The iconic image, tattooed on my heart.
Yes, there was generational conflict over the war. Our fathers had all fought in World War II. Opposing the war felt like being a traitor to the sacrifices our Dads had made 20-30 years earlier. There's a great book by James Carroll about his conflict with his father over the war--"An American Requiem."

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