(Continued from Saturday . . . )
My involvement in the Vietnam War protest began, as I explained on Saturday, while having lunch in Coffman Center at the University of Minnesota in 1970. However, it was four years earlier, in the spring of 1966, that I first learned about the entry of US military personnel into Vietnam.
Still in the convent and teaching high school students in Baileyville, Kansas, I met Sam, a young Quaker. He taught social studies and history; I, literature and journalism. Together we directed the seniors in three plays. During lulls in play practices Sam shared news of the wider world with me. He looked askance at how the convent didn’t permit nuns to learn the news of the day.
It was Sam who explained the whole history of our escalating involvement in Vietnam. He spoke of France and its colonization of French Indochina and of the siege of Dienbienphu in 1954—the year I graduated from high school.
Throughout the spring of 1966, I learned more. Sam spoke of the Vietnamese peasants, Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Cong, guerrilla warfare. He detailed how the U.S. first got involved as “special advisors.” He explained “containment” and the “Domino Theory” of John Foster Dulles.
One afternoon after classes ended for the day, Sam used a map to point out the 17th Parallel and the Gulf of Tonkin. He gave me a detailed history lesson: France leaving Vietnam in 1956; the use, by the US Air Force, of Agent Orange to defoliate the jungles so as to expose the Viet Cong; the arrival, in 1965, of the first US combat troops.
By the time I left Baileyville in May 1966, I balked at our telling the Vietnamese people how they were to live or who was to govern them. By the following January, I was out of the convent and watching national news on television and reading editorials, newspapers, and news magazines.
As the months passed, I observed, with great confusion, the unfolding story of Vietnam. What General Westmoreland, the politicians, and the president told the American people didn’t reflect what Sam had told me. An extremely intelligent man, he had a firm grasp of history.
After leaving the convent, I’d checked his facts about French Indochina and its history in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. He’d been accurate in his portrayal of what had happened between France and the Vietnamese and how and why the United States got involved.
Slowly I realized that the president and Congress could and would lie to the American people. Or at least render the truth unclear and unintelligible to the citizens of our country. In today’s terminology, they’d “spin” the news.
Soon I branched out to learn the differing views on the war. I did this by reading various magazines that were either right or left of our involvement. I quickly learned that what one read, what one watched on television, and what one listened to on radio was a strong influence on how one believed. To achieve a balanced view, I realized, a person had to examine both sides of any issue. That was a new thought for me. Up to then, I had simplistically believed that most issues or news stories had only one side.
More and more I was becoming politicized. Still, I did little about my beliefs. Two friends I soon met did. I’ll introduce you to them in Saturday’s posting.
(Continued on Saturday . . . )
Map from Wikipiki.