Forum provides 3 perspectives on the Vietnam War

Matt Quijas

GROSSMONT COLLEGE — With so many distorted views about the Vietnam War, students and faculty gathered for the 101 speed course on facts and fictions of the war.  Speakers told their stories and experiences, with the focal point on Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as a way of expressing the effects war has on those who directly and indirectly experience its traumas

Among the speakers on Wednesday, May 2,  were Joseph Radzikowski, Victoria Featherstone, and Steve Bedle., who presented their own personal memoirs of what the Vietnam war was to them

Radzikowski spent 30 years in the United States Marine Corps; two tours in Vietnam.  He is a military historian who teaches a 17-week course at Grossmont, explaining that conflict.  He explained the war was a misunderstood conflict with a “dark shadow” upon which he hopes to shed a bit of light.  America’s goal was to stop the spread of communism in a country that had a long history of fighting and conflict.

He offered parallels between Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, explaining that the U.S. was trying to create a model of democracy and the individuals we fought were easily able to blend into the local populace.  Similarly, media had a great deal of control in persuading American supporters in either direction.  The problem, as Radzikowski explained it, “the U.S. was fighting a limited war when the Communist were fighting a full flung war.”

Radzikowski broke down his 17-week course in less than 20 minutes.  He closed with a story from 2000 when while giving a presentation, he looked into the audience to see two North Vietnamese generals sitting in front of him.  He wondered if he had ever been in such to the  two men during the war.

Victoria Featherstone, and SDSU professor of literature, opened with a quote from Hemingway stating, “The writers job is to tell the truth.”  She went on to explain her personal experiences from the war and remembered a recruiter coming to her high school.  Her boyfriend who had been the captain of the football team insisted on joining the Green Berets, and within 6 months of being in country, he was killed by a sniper.  That was only the beginning.

She eventually got married and was forced to say goodbye once again.  Her husband went off to the war, but he never returned mentally.  They had a child together; unfortunately, the child was born with disabilities.  The disabilities may have resulted from her husband’s exposure to Agent Orange during his time overseas.

Although she did not directly experience the horrors of war, Featherstone was forced to live with the mental trauma of her husband’s encounters while in the jungle.  She is able to see and understand what young men and women have to deal with as they return from a barbaric lifestyle.

Grossmont student Steve Bedle, focused on The Things They Carried asking the audience “Is it really worth it?”  He explored the mental impacts on young men who went to war.  He said that Tim OBrien, who was the featured speaker for Thursday, May 3, at the  Literary Arts Festival, wanted his readers to know and try to understand the truths of war.  He wanted readers to comprehend not only the physical “tangible” things that warriors  carried, but also what they carried emotionally.  Though The Things They Carried is a fictional account, it is filled with truth and is designed to express feelings in the moments of traumatic experiences.

Bedle closed with a strong and provocative quote stating, “I tell you all my secrets but lie about my past.”

Quijas is editor of the GC Summit.  He may be contacted at [email protected]