Monday, October 26, 2009

Topic: Critical Thinking--Writing about Controversial Issues.

10-second review: What are the different effects from reading the two following interpretations of the Vietnam War written for a history textbook?

Title: “Remembering Things Past: A Critique of Narrow Revisions.” J Reiff. Research in the Teaching of English (February 1990), pp. 101 – 106. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Passage #1:

Communists Threaten South Vietnam

The most serious threat to world peace developed in Southeast Asia. Communist guerrillas threatened the independence of the countries carved out of French Indo-China by the Geneva Conference of 1954. In South Vietnam, Communist guerrillas (the Viet Cong) were aided by forces from Communist North Vietnam in a struggle to overthrow the American-supported government. During the Kennedy administration the United States sent some 10,000 servicemen as advisers, instructors, pilots, and supporting units to help the South Vietnamese government build a military force to fight the Viet Cong. In President Kennedy’s opinion, preserving the independence of South Vietnam was of ‘vital interest’ to the United Stated.

After President Johnson took office, he continued to follow the Kennedy policy of limited support for the South Vietnamese government. Then, in the summer of 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats were thought to have attacked two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, Johnson ordered an air strike against North Vietnamese coastal bases. but during the presidential campaign of 1964, the President made it clear that he did not want to broaden the war.

The Vietnamese War is Escalated

Shortly after the election, Communist gains prompted President Johnson to alter his policy concerning Vietnam. American military forces in Vietnam were increased from about 20,000 men in 1964 to more than 500,000 by 1968. Even so, North Vietnamese troops and supplies continued to pour into South Vietnam. In order to cut off this flow of men and material, the President announced that American planes would bomb North Vietnamese supply routes, bridges, and other military targets. The bombing attacks began in 1965 and, like the troop buildup, steadily increased over the next two years. American military leaders asserted that the air strikes were effective. Yet communist troops and supplies continued to enter South Vietnam from the north. Meanwhile, the Johnson administration did what it could to bolster the South Vietnam government. A constitutional convention was held, and in the fall of 1967 South Vietnamese voters elected a president, vice-president, and a 60-member senate.

Johnson tried to get the North Vietnamese to the conference table. Early in 1966 and again in 1967, he suspended bombings and redoubled his efforts to get peace talks under way. But the president of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, proved unwilling to talk. He said there would be no talks until ‘the bombing raids and all other acts of war’ against his country were stopped ‘unconditionally.’ American planes resumed their attacks on North Vietnam.

Passage #2:

The U.S. intervenes in Vietnam: Conflicting Explanations

As the U.S. grew increasingly involved in a war in Vietnam, sending money, weapons, and eventually increasing numbers of soldiers, Americans grew increasingly divided about how to understand the war and whether we should be involved at all. Each group pointed to different sets of acts and drew different conclusions from them. The ‘hawks,’ who included many of the government policy-makers, pointed to the involvement of communists in the struggle after World War II to drive out the French colonialists. They pointed to communist victory in nearby China in 1949, to the 1950-1953 war in Korea between communists in the north and anti-communists in the south, and believed that the struggle in Vietnam was part of a world-wide communist movement, directed by the Soviet Union, to gain control of the world. When France was facing defeat by the Vietnamese revolutionaries, the hawks believed that the U.S. had to step in with its superior power and intervene.

The ‘doves,’ who came to include some government officials , and included many people from other segments of American society, rejected this reading of the war. While America’s intentions in intervening may have been honorable, they believed that we misunderstood the depth of Vietnamese nationalism, and that we failed to see that the revolutionaries in Vietnam were fighting for the right to determine their own form of government, just as Americans had 200 years before. Whatever political gins we might make from containing communism in Vietnam, the doves believed that those gains were not worth the awesome amounts of death and suffering imposed by our efforts to continue the war.

A third interpretation of the war came from the radicals, who saw American intervention in Vietnam as a form of ‘neo-imperialism,’ of a new form of colonialism. In this view, the U.S. sent money and troops to Vietnam for the same reasons that it sent troops to the Philippines in 1898 and Marines to Nicaragua in the first decades of this century: to bolster U.S. control over the resources and markets of a particular region. While the resources in Vietnam itself were not critical to the United States, success in its struggle for national liberation would send an encouraging signal to liberation movements in other countries exploited more deeply by the U.S. Thus the radicals understood increasing U.S. intervention as a measure of how deeply committed the U.S. governing elites were to maintaining global control.

Comment: Well, how did the two passages written for a history textbook affect you? How will they affect your students? What can they learn about critical thinking from comparing the two passages? RayS.

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