A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 2001/March 2001

Arts of War

Historians At Gettysburg Explore Why The North Won The Vietnam War

By Marc Leepson

In 1958, a group of the nation's top Civil War scholars met at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Their topic: Why the North Won the Civil War. A book by that title, consisting of a half-dozen essays based on presentations by those historians at Gettysburg, came out a few years later. Today it is considered must reading for anyone interested in the factors behind the outcome of the nation's most bitter and controversial war.

On October 26-27, 2000, a group of top Vietnam War scholars met at Gettysburg College. Their topic: Why the North Won the Vietnam War. What the scholars said--their papers will be in a forthcoming book--provides much food for thought for anyone interested in the factors that led to the result of the nation's longest and most controversial overseas war.

The conference was sponsored by the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute, in cooperation with the Reserve Officers Association, the Army War College, and Gettysburg College. It was the brainchild of Earl H. Tilford, Jr., the research director at the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute. Tilford, a U.S. Air Force Vietnam veteran, is a former history professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the author of three books on the air war in Vietnam.

Tilford called upon Marc Gilbert, a Vietnam War specialist and history professor at North Georgia College and State University, to select the Vietnam War historians for the symposium. Gilbert recruited a stellar group to come to Gettysburg.

William Duiker, the Penn State University Liberal Arts Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, is perhaps the nation's top expert on the communist Vietnamese. George Herring, the Alumni Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, is widely regarded as one of the foremost Vietnam War scholars. Duiker and Herring presented papers on the international factors leading to the outcome of the war. Duiker dealt with of North Vietnam's allies, primarily the Soviet Union and China. Herring's topic was American foreign relations, primarily with our European and Asian allies.

Marilyn Young, a New York University history professor, spoke on her specialty: American domestic politics and its impact on the war. Andrew Rotter, a Colgate University history professor, delivered a talk on the impact of economic issues on the war's outcome. Robert Brigham, a Vassar College history professor, gave a videotaped presentation on the ARVN and the Viet Cong. Jeffrey Record, who teaches security studies at the U.S. Air Force's Air War College, spoke on the American military's performance.

John Prados, an independent scholar who has written widely on virtually every aspect of the war, spoke about intelligence and its role in the war's outcome. Lloyd Gardner, a Rutgers University history professor for 37 years, presented a summation.

No grand conclusions were reached, Gardner said. However, he said, the historians hit upon one major theme: while the North Vietnamese were prepared for total war, the United States was not. "We perused a limited war," Gardner said.


It looks like Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once and Young--one of the best books of Vietnam War nonfiction--is going to become one of the best Vietnam War movies. Hollywood heavy hitter Mel Gibson will play Gen. Moore in the film version of the bloody and courageous fight at LZ X-Ray in the pivotal 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. Gibson's film company, Icon, is co-producing, along with Paramount Pictures. Randall Wallace (Braveheart, et al.) is directing his own screenplay.

Filming began March 1 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and is slated to continue at Camp Roberts in California. The filmmakers expect to wrap up by June. Post-production should take until the end of the year. Expect a spring 2002 release.

"This is going to be the movie about the Vietnam War, if we have anything to say about it," Galloway, the former war correspondent who was on the ground with Moore's First Cav troopers at LZ X-Ray, told us. Galloway and Moore, in fact, have had a great deal to say about this production. They've worked closely with Wallace and have given his screenplay a big thumbs up. "Hal and I read and critiqued and corrected" the screenplay, Galloway said. "Randy Wallace has captured the heart and soul of our book."

Wallace also has high hopes for the film. In an on-line interview, Wallace called We Were Soldiers Once "probably the greatest book on infantry combat ever written." It's a "story about incredible leadership and the men who went and fought knowing that they would probably never get out alive. Everyone of them went into battle because their leader would never have left them and they wouldn't leave him."


The long-awaited film version of Wallace Terry's pioneering Bloods (the much-praised book of oral histories of African-Americans who served in the Vietnam War) could be just around the corner. In October, Terry agreed with Castle Rock Entertainment to adapt his book for the screen. Helmer Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers, Bait) will direct and there is a good chance that a big-name actor will have a leading role in the film.

VVA National Chaplain Father Phil Salois has a role in an independent film dealing with Vietnam veterans' readjustment problems. The film, Elephant Grass, will be made when its producers come up with the funds to get the project in motion. Screenwriter, director, and producer David Cash has spent three years honing the script, which is based on research he's done at Vet Centers and VA hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Father Phil "has been a great resource for me," Cash said. "He has brought a unique perspective to the project. He is going to be in the film playing himself. Father Phil has also read the script and blessed it."

The latest thing in DVD is the boxed director set. Warner recently released a ten-movie Oliver Stone set. The package includes Stone's comments and a 52-minute documentary on the former 25th Infantry Division trooper. The films in the set include Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven and Earth, Nixon, and J.F.K., but not Platoon.


It seems like it was just a few weeks ago when I noted that the Arts of War column marked its tenth anniversary in 1996. With this issue, we've now run Arts of War for 15 years. In that time we've previewed and reviewed thousands of books, movies, plays, TV shows, and other artistic endeavors dealing with the Vietnam War and its veterans--something that no other publication does.

Beginning in February 1994 we split off our book reviews from Arts of War and started the Books in Review column. Both columns have had steadfast support from four VVA presidential administrations, top-notch VVA Veteran editors and art directors, and countless Board members and national office staffers. We owe a special debt to the many supportive readers who have turned us on to many artistic works we otherwise would have missed. We thank everyone for the help and eagerly look forward to continuing this labor of love.


Philip Caputo, the former Marine and author of the milestone Vietnam War memoir, A Rumor of War, will be the guest of honor at the 2001 Ron Ridenhour Memorial Lecture at Tulane University in New Orleans. Caputo will deliver his address on March 28. On Feb. 12, Tulane played host to W.D. Ehrhart, the former Marine whose poetry and nonfiction deal mainly with his Vietnam War experiences. Ehrhart read from his work and spoke about "The Vietnam War and a Whole Lot More."

Bruce Solheim, the guitarist, songwriter, and leader of the L.A.-area rock band Just Joe, is not your run-of-the-mill rock and roller. Solheim, a post-Vietnam War Army veteran, is a history professor at Citrus College in Glendora. His area of expertise: the Vietnam War. "I write music that reflects the turbulent times of the 1960s and early seventies, my formative years," Solheim told us. "My songs are a fresh take on the roots of 1960s music."

Just Joe--Solheim, Carsten Dau, Tom Eiland, Mike Frasure, Bruce Bremer, and Maria Perez--plays an infectious brand of music. You can give a listen at their website, www.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/Justjoe , where you can download a free copy of their bouncy, appealing tune, "Paradise Lost."

The honorees at the sixth annual American Veterans Awards--which was held in Los Angeles in December and broadcast Feb. 11 on the History Channel--were Chuck Norris, Veteran of the Year; Dan Rather, Ernie Pyle Journalism Award; Richard Crenna, National Veteran Salute Award; and Catherine Bell, Woman of Honor Award. If you missed the show, you can catch it on line at www.avashow.com  The webcast will be available any time you log on throughout the year.

Rebels With a Cause (Zeitgeist Films, 110 minutes) is a documentary written, produced, and directed by Helen Garvey that examines the history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the activist organization that loudly fought racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Garvey, a former SDSer, uses present-day interviews with her former cohorts to tell her story.

Bibliographer query: Jon Ault, the reference archivist at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut, is compiling an annotated bibliography of Native Americans in the U.S. military. He is searching for materials documenting Native American participation in the Vietnam War. If you can help, write to: P.O. Box 3180, Mashantucket, CT 06339-3180; 860-396-6811 (phone); 860-396-7004 (fax); Jault@mptn.org 

Curator query: David E. Hilkert of the Army Reserve Museum, which is affiliated with the Army Center of Military History, is collecting artifacts of the U.S. Army Reserve (the 63rd, 70th, and 75th through 108th Divisions). He is interested in acquiring uniforms, equipment, photos, journals, and letters for permanent preservation. Write to: Double Eagle Heritage Collection, Dept. of the Army, HQ, U.S. Army Reserve Command, 1401 Deshler Street, SW, Fort McPherson, GA 30330-2000.

The Vietnam-America Theatre Exchange brought A Midsummer Night's Dream to Hanoi, Saigon, and Haiphong last November. One of the Exchange's founders, Marvin Browning, is a Vietnam veteran. The Forest Grove, Oregon, group had brought the famed Vietnamese play, Truong Bai's "Soul in the Butcher's Skin," to this country in 1998. The group also mounted a production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie in Vietnam. A documentary film, tentatively titled A Dream in Hanoi, was shot during the three-city Shakespeare run.

The exhibit, The Pulitzer Prize Photographs: Capture the Moment, that is running through March 11 at the Newseum in Arlington, Virginia, includes several memorable Vietnam War images. Two that stand out are Eddie Adams's 1968 shot of ARVN Gen. Loan shooting a VC suspect during Tet in Saigon and John Filo's 1970 photo of the Kent State tragedy. You can take a virtual tour of the exhibit at www.newseum.org/pulitzer 

The web site http://saturn.fhda.edu/instructor.swensson.ewrt2vn.html, "The Vietnam Conflict," has been set up to help students with research questions in the Vietnam War class taught by John Swensson at De Anza College in California. The site features a "Veterans Corner," where veterans can contribute their own stories, art, and poetry. New additions are welcome.

In the last issue we made note of former infantryman Vincent Gabriel's noteworthy Vietnam War-influenced rock CD, 11Bravo. Gabriel tells us the CD is now available through his new website: 11Bravoproject.org 


E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org


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