Vietnam War Class Part Learning, Part Healing : Education: Moorpark College professors will explore history and impact of conflict, focusing at times on students’ experiences.
For the first time in 24 years, Moorpark College psychology professor Frank Bianchino is going back to Vietnam.
Not by plane or ship--the way he went as a Marine in 1971--but through a class he and two colleagues are teaching about the history, politics and philosophy of the Vietnam War.
“This is the first time I’ve mentioned Vietnam,” Bianchino said, standing before the 100 students taking the class, which is titled simply “The Vietnam War.”
“This class is a tribute to all of those who have given their lives, men and women,” he said.
At the first session Wednesday night, eager students, ranging in age from 17 to 83, crowded the college’s Forum building to learn more about the war than the facts and figures in textbooks.
The students--among them veterans, their sons and daughters, protesters and Vietnamese immigrants--had personal stories to tell. They came to learn about the war from those who had been affected by it.
“My dad and uncle fought in Vietnam,” Michelle Ferry, a Newbury Park 19-year-old, told Bianchino. “And my uncle died. I want to know why.”
Other young students said their war-vet fathers would not talk about their experiences. “My dad fought in the war. When we sit down to watch a movie about it, he’ll cry but he won’t tell me why,” a woman said. “I want to understand what he went through because this has always been a gap between us.”
At times fondly recalling Vietnamese villagers, at other times holding back tears at the thought of a fallen fellow soldier, Bianchino replied to each request: “We’ll talk about that.”
Bianchino--who is team-teaching the class with history professor Dan Brown and humanities professor Hugo Ekback--said the class would consist of more than war stories. The teachers are taking a holistic approach to the war, covering the history leading to the conflict, events during the war, the war’s impact on the United States and the geography and culture of Vietnam.
The class will feature guest speakers, including former nurses and Vietnamese officers, as well as documentaries and popular films.
Many of the students in their 20s said they were frustrated that they had to wait until college to delve into the realities of the war, complaining that high school history textbooks glossed over the subject in a paragraph or two.
Brown, one of the instructors, acknowledged that many teachers cover the issue superficially because of the emotions involved. Having spent a year fighting in Vietnam, Brown admitted that he was reluctant to teach the class.
“I’m kind of confronting something that I’ve been leery of for 25 years,” he said. “I’m not here to proselytize or incite or anything like that. I just hope to come to some sort of understanding.”
Often, Bianchino reached out to the handful of Vietnam veterans in the class, interjecting phrases like “Those of you who were there know” into his stories about training villagers to fight the Viet Cong.
Several veterans enrolled in the course said they wanted to have the war put in a historical perspective. Chuck Johnson, who is studying to become a history instructor, chose the class to learn more about Vietnam, where he worked on helicopters in the early ‘60s. Wearing a cap with the message “America Is #1 Thanks to Our Veterans,” Johnson, 55, was encouraged by the large number of young people taking the class.
“Hopefully, they would see where our government--which allowed this to happen--made mistakes and not allow those mistakes to happen again,” he said. “That’s what history is all about.”
Some who fought in Vietnam said their memories are too traumatic to share in class, but some former anti-war protesters and those who refused to be drafted were vocal about their reasons for enrolling.
“I’m trying to deal today with the guilt trip,” said one man who evaded the draft for years. “Am I evil or did I make the smart move?”
Bianchino’s stoic reply: “You’re not evil . . . and we’ll tell you why.”
Don Pope, the oldest student at 83, worked as a program officer for the Agency for International Development in Vietnam during the late 1960s. He shared stories of fresh-faced young soldiers on their first trip away from home. He hoped the class would help heal those whose lives had been torn apart by the war.
“It used to be the motivation was to scream yes or no,” Pope said. “There was no getting together. This seems like a group that wants to learn about it.”