Why Didn’t I Learn About Vietnam?

Did you learn about the Vietnam war in history class in middle or high school? Did you learn about the Watergate Scandal? Maybe if we did, our generation would care more about the goings on in today’s government and better understand the importance of participation.

There have been many comparisons drawn between the situation in Iraq and the situation in Vietnam a generation ago. These comparisons speak to the similarities in the shady nature in which the conflicts were handled by the US government, the way that those that did not blindly support the war were ridiculed and negatively typecasted as weak pacifists, how so many principled politicians sat by idly as thousands of soldiers were killed in another country’s civil war, and the idea of the domino theory that once “applied” to communism now “applies” to terrorism.

One thing that characterized the US during the Vietnam War was the effectiveness of protests. There have been protests to the conflict in Iraq since before it began, and the momentum that they are building is reminiscent of those that took place in the 1960s and 70s against Vietnam. These public citizen actions were a catalyst for the Congressional action that ultimately ended the war. Prayerfully, the same will be said about Iraq protests in the very near future.

So why don’t curriculum designers teach students about their country’s activist past? Why don’t standardized tests include reading comprehension sections comprised of pieces describing Vietnam, a war that was taking place only 3 decades ago? It’s hard to believe that this is not on purpose.

What’s the solution?

Contemporary study should cover contemporary events. If you are a parent, why not lobby your school board/district to have unit(s) on Vietnam added? At least ask the question. If it can be done over the useless Intelligent Design debate, it surely can be done over a subject in which a student’s knowledge can allow them to immediately take action in the world today. If you are a student, write a compare-contrast paper on America during Vietnam and America during today’s Iraq conflict. Doing so will educate yourself, your peers, and your instructors. If you are just a concerned citizen, read up on Vietnam.

It’s important to answer questions, especially ones that are never asked.

One Love. One II.

Foreign Policy
So-called “War on Terror”


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

2 responses to “Why Didn’t I Learn About Vietnam?”

  1. Kyle says :

    That’s a really good point. The call is always to learn from the past in creating and building leaders for the future. But relegating Vietnam to one of those subjects that you should take your own time and research does absolutely no justice to the importance of the conflict in American history [even if it’s just showing that America may have messed up here and there]. Plus, it makes no sense to say that the same history we should be learning from is not far enough in America’s rear-view to be learned from in comparison to conflicts arising today. Sort of seems like speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth to me. A historical moment is a historical moment. I especially appreciate the call for students to do their own compare-contrast paper on the subject. There’s a wealth of knowledge that could be gained from that exercise – more than you might get by just following a couple headlines and calling yourself “educated” on the topic.

    “The more things change…”

  2. Garlin II says :

    Thanks Kyle.

    Maybe the issue is how history education is perceived and/or approached.

    There are at least two schools of thought:
    The Academic Approach
    You should learn history so that you can internalize the knowlege
    The Activist Approach
    You should learn history so you can act on the knowledge

    Depending on the context, either or both can be appropriate. I would error on the side of The Activist Approach because I think that it is more beneficial to individuals and society as a whole tho have people who not only know their history but who can use that history to effect change in the present.

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