A two-day symposium called “The Vietnam War: Lessons and Legacies” brought veterans, senators, journalists, professors and one former U.S. Secretary of Defense to the University of Nebraska-Omaha Thursday and Friday.
The panelists discussed many aspects of the war, including the music produced at the time, Vietnamese refugees, the impact on the U.S. military and poetry and stories written by veterans.
One point of discussion during the Keynote session was the lack of public knowledge on the Vietnam War.
“This was a war that we wanted to forget quite frankly, so I think it’s natural you’re not going to see a lot of time being used up in explaining that war.” Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said. “…I am astounded at the lack of basic understanding of our young people and our citizens of how government works, or history. If you really want to envision legacies and lessons learned in society with our young people, it resides in those discipline.”
Professor of political science and the moderator of the Keynote session, Dr. Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado further emphasized the importance of educating people on the Vietnam War.
“If we do not understand the truth behind our history, we will be destined to repeat it,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “So much of what we understood about Vietnam was rather conveniently dismissed in the run up to our incursions in the Middle East over the past 15 years.”
The impact of the Vietnam War on American foreign policy was also discussed.
“It [Vietnam War] really exposed the difficulty that the U.S. experiences when we commit to war. It also revealed that unless there are clear objectives for engagement with measurable outcomes that include an exit strategy we should not enter into conflict,” Benjamin-Alvarado said. “Unbelievably, this is exactly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to some extent, Syria. We didn’t learn the lesson of Vietnam, and now, we will be paying for that failure for some time to come.”
Benjamin-Alvarado’s statement seemed to echo the tone of many of the guest speakers, who discussed the Vietnam War with, at least, a bit of regret.
“These wars cost money. It goes on for 50 years,” Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerry said. “These injuries, traumatic brain injury. … If you’re not willing to pay the price, don’t do it.”
However, that regret in no way repressed the respect and gratitude shown to the more than 500 veterans in attendance.
“It’s great that UNO is doing this,” Robert Yazowski, who served in the Air Force, told the Omaha World Herald. “If we don’t get the story out, Hollywood will do it for us. And they’ll get it wrong.”