Recently, a history professor at a distinguished university commented during a TV interview that Americans should be more humble. After all, he said, more than 50,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died during the Vietnam War for no reason. This distinguished historian stated that the calamitous results, predicted by those in favor of the war, of what were to happen if the communists conquered South Vietnam did not occur.
I wondered where this professor was during the late 1970’s and the 1980’s. Surely, he was aware of what transpired in Vietnam and Cambodia. This elite historian must have known about the “Boat People.”
The refugees who fled communist Vietnam after the war were known as boat people since they put out to sea from Vietnam, on anything that could float, to escape the atrocities of the communists. According to one conservative estimate, from the Dart Center for Journalism, after the communists conquered South Vietnam:
• An estimated 1 million people were imprisoned without formal charges or trials.
• 165,000 people died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s re-education camps, according to published academic studies in the United States and Europe.
Three years ago I interviewed Vietnamese refugees for an article I wrote about Senator Kerry’s allegations that American soldiers committed atrocities in Vietnam. One refugee, Tran-Van-Ca, was a major in the South Vietnamese army. He served 12 years, 10 months, 7 days in “re-education” camps simply because he was a former ARVN soldier. He was not a POW. He was simply punished because he was a South Vietnamese soldier.
While being “re-educated,” he witnessed the execution of 20 of his colleagues because the communists wanted to show the populace, during an election, that they must do what the government says. They executed his friend during election season because, as he told me, “They want to show people that this will happen to you if you don’t do what told to do.”
Things were so bad in Vietnam following the communist conquest that former Vietnam War protesters, led by singer Joan Baez, published, in several major American newspapers, an “Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” The letter stated that thousands of innocent Vietnamese were being imprisoned and tortured. It also said that the communists had created a “painful nightmare.”
One would think this is common knowledge. Were history professors at elite universities somehow not aware of this?
Of course, I should not be surprised at this. About ten years ago, I argued with another history professor—this one was the history department chair at an Ivy League school—about the internment of Japanese during World War II.
This eminent professor of history proffered that the internment of Japanese was simply a racist act. I responded that it was more a function of the fear caused by the invasion of American soil by the Japanese committed at Pearl Harbor. I also mentioned that many Italians were interred as well, despite the fact that Italy had not committed an act similar to Pearl Harbor.
The distinguished scholar sent me a rejoinder—by email—that Hawaii was not American soil in 1941! Why was it referred to as the Territory of Hawaii, if it were not considered American soil?
All of which causes me to wonder why universities cost so much if the professors are so ignorant of the facts.
Is this ignorance confined just to the Humanities and Social Studies departments? Are History Departments at elite universities the only ones staffed with such uninformed professors? Are other departments the same?
If a distinguished historian at an elite university does not know simple history, then does this mean, say, the civil engineering department chair at an elite university does not know trigonometry? If so, what does this say about bridges that are being built?
The American people need to keep colleges and universities responsible for what they teach. It has been far too long now that they have been absolved of providing evidence that what they teach is worth the price of admission.
Then again, maybe these anecdotes are just that—anecdotes. Maybe these professors made understandable mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes—especially writers. Yet, these do not seem to be simple mistakes. Besides when writers make mistakes—they hear about it and issue corrections.
Perhaps academicians should have similar standards.
Michael P. Tremoglie is author of A Sense of Duty.