About the Author: Lindsay Krasnoff serves as a Historian in the State Department's Office of the Historian.
The first day of our conference was a long one -- 12 hours of events and programs -- yet eventful. Secretary Clinton opened the conference, reminding us that, "people do not easily shake off the weight of history." The concept of history -- what it is, the different ways that one may reflect on it, and how history can be used in the realm of diplomacy and international affairs -- was one of the central themes addressed by each of our speakers, scholars, and panelists. Throughout the day, we were reminded of how much the history of the period of American involvement in Southeast Asia, from 1946 through 1975, marked and shaped the United States in a multitude of ways -- and how much this history is still with us today.
History through the eyes of those who participated in it was the prevalent theme for the first half of the day. Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Holbrooke told the audience about their experiences conducting U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, while two scholars from Vietnam, Ambassador Tran Van Tung and Dr. Nguyen Manh Ha, exposed us to "The View from Hanoi." However, it is also important to think about how one can use history, as the several of the senior scholars of the field reminded us yesterday afternoon. How can historians make history more accessible, and how can policymakers better use history to help inform them when making present-day policy decisions were two important questions raised for reflection.
Those who participated in the evening's media roundtable forced the audience to look at the history of the Vietnam War through yet a different lens. In sharing their experiences of covering the war, from both Vietnam and Washington, DC, William Beecher and Morley Safer gave us a better perspective of what went on behind the scenes of the media's coverage of the war and U.S. policy at the time. Moderator Marvin Kalb not only shared his experiences, but directed the discussion over a range of topics that included how the panelists felt their coverage impacted U.S. policy. Edith Lederer provided countless examples of what it was like to be a female reporter in Vietnam covering the war and the various obstacles she encountered, while Barry Zorthian explained what it was like to be on the other side of the divide while he served as the U.S. Minister Counselor for Information and Director of the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office in Vietnam.
Ambassador Negroponte began our second day by asking us how we wish to teach the Vietnam War to our students, and to reconsider some of the popular myths that surround this period in our history. The four academic panels today investigated how the United States interacted with its allies, how force and diplomacy were used during the Vietnam War, and what can be learned from the history of the counterinsurgency and reconstruction programs in Vietnam. The final panel of the conference brought the entire experience back home to the United States, with a look at the reaction of Americans to the U.S. intervention in Vietnam.