- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

"Vietnam: Echoes from the Wall," a new interactive teaching guide from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, will be given to every middle school in America. The guide claims to be the first balanced and comprehensive treatment but relies heavily on popular culture and excludes key sources.
The leading the expert for the project is Stanley Karnow, author of "Vietnam: A History," the only historical work formally excerpted. In "Why Vietnam Still Matters," a book included in the Echoes package, Mr. Karnow says that "the war was unwinnable" and could have been avoided if we had realized that the Vietnamese communists "were not part of some global communist machine but were basically nationalists."
While the guide includes material from some who argue otherwise, it excludes "American in Vietnam" by Guenter Lewy, one of the best works on the conflict. Also excluded is "The Vietnamese Gulag," by Doan Van Toai. A balanced and comprehensive treatment would have used both extensively.
Conceived by Susan Griffin, executive director of the National Council for Social Studies and Gary Marx, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, Echoes promotes "teams and team learning structures" through which "multiethnic and gender cooperation and understanding is increased." In this process, "no idea is too silly to put forward" and straw polls keep "the consensus process moving forward." Students fill out "historical head worksheets," then fill in a picture of a hollow head. What they will use to fill it in is debatable. Consider, for example, the definition of the Cold War.
"The period from 1945 through 1991 when the world democracies, led by America, waged an economic, ideological struggle against communist expansion, largely led by the Soviet Union." This makes it seem as though the democracies are the aggressors. According to Echoes, communism is "a doctrine supporting state ownership of property and the means of production. Often associated with revolutionary seizure of power versus a democratic process of elections."
There is just a bit more too it, including nearly 100 million casualties, as "The Black Book of Communism" points out. It is not included in Echoes, an inexcusable lapse. The treatment of the Vietnam War itself keeps a finger on the guilt button.
My Lai, where in March of 1968, U.S. forces killed as many as 500 civilians, receives extensive description, and is the center of teaching activity. The guide does say that during the Tet Offensive, Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces massacred 3,000 civilians in the city of Hue, beheading some and burying others alive.
While Echoes observes that American soldiers were prosecuted for My Lai, it misses the crucial point that My Lai was an aberration while Hue was part of a deliberate communist terror campaign, a foreshadowing of the genocide in Cambodia.
The "team activities" include watching such movies as "Born on the Fourth of July," "The Green Berets," "Apocalypse Now," "Full Metal Jacket," "Platoon," "Heaven and Earth" (making three by Oliver Stone) and "The Deer Hunter." Much of the team activity centers on the home front, including the lyrics to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," by Peter Seeger, with no background on this longtime apologist for Stalinism. The guide also accepts the self-description of the anti-war movement.
While including lyrics by Pete Seeger, Joe MacDonald and Neil Young, the teaching guide omits a chants of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which went:
"Ho Ho Ho, Ho Chi Minh … The NLF is going to win."
These are not the words of an anti-war movement but a group against American involvement in Vietnam, and rooting for a military victory by the other side. The leaders of this movement offered no anti-war resistance or peace activism when the Soviet tanks of the North Vietnamese rolled into Saigon in 1975. New Left and SDS stalwart Tom Hayden, mentioned in the guide, celebrated that occasion, which the movement helped make possible. Echoes admits that his former wife Jane Fonda traveled to North Vietnam during the war but does not mention her anti-American harangues or show her joyously perched on enemy weaponry. It conveniently omits Mrs. Fondas attacks on Joan Baez, when the singer criticized the Vietnamese re-education camps.
Vietnamese reality gives way to American guilt in the guides treatment of the wars legacy. "Study the pictures of the girl burned by napalm," says an activity section.
The girl in the famous photo is Phan Thi Kim Phuc. Used for years by the Vietnamese regime in anti-American propaganda, Kim Phuc defected to Canada while en route to Cuba in 1992, explaining that "life is nothing in Cuba or Vietnam." A balanced, comprehensive treatment of Vietnam for American students would include something like that.

Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco.


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