Comemmorating the Vietnam War

Written by Brad Miller, graduate assistant

Depending on your age, the Vietnam War may  be an event you memorized in American history class, or it may be a not too distant past that awakens challenging memories of war, protest, and vast social change. In 2008, Congress allocated funds to the Department of Defense for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The official commemoration events have already begun, but as we move closer to commemorating the peak years of American involvement in Vietnam we have to stop and think about what is being remembered. There is no doubt the events of the Vietnam War have shaped the United States, but the way in which we choose to remember it through history and commemoration will direct how it will affect us in the future.

History is a powerful tool. The recent protest of students outside of Denver, Colorado, in response to a change in the school district’s AP United States History curriculum is a testament to this power. A quick look at the Department of Defense’s objectives for the commemoration call into question whether or not all perspectives of the Vietnam War will be part of the anniversary. A recent article by Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and veteran of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement, reveals one conflicting perspective to these objectives. There is always more than one side to every story. We owe a closer look in our history to the veterans who served, the individuals who protested, and a nation that stumbled.

The Albert Gore Research Center houses several different collections that provide researchers the opportunity to explore the Vietnam War through primary resources. These oral histories, letters, military documents, and photographs reveal a more personal experience that books are not always able to capture. They do not represent all sides of the story, but they begin to show the challenging and diverse nature of the Vietnam War.

The Albert Gore Sr. Senate Papers present the anti-Vietnam War perspective of Senator Albert Gore Sr. through newsletters, legislation, and documents from his time on the Foreign Relations Committee. The papers also contain letters that Gore’s constituents sent to him regarding their varying perspectives on the Vietnam War.

Most of the 139 interviews that make up Veterans Oral Histories are with Vietnam veterans who discuss their experiences and opinion of the conflict. The majority of these interviews were conducted shortly after the Persian Gulf War (1990–1991) and offer interesting insight into veterans’ perspectives on war. Our continued partnership with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project has also resulted in several interviews with Vietnam veterans that can be found in our Middle Tennessee Oral History Project.

The Donald Price Papers discloses the personal experience of Donald Price, an U.S. Army officer who served two tours in Vietnam (1966–1967, 1969–1970). The papers include correspondence between Don and his wife Faye, photographs of South Vietnam, and his daily officers’ journals.

Our graduate assistants are in the final stages of processing the Donald Price Papers for public use, but until then, everyone should look out for an announcement for our new exhibit that will feature Donald Price and Marion Coleman Peck!

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