By Kevin Jachimowicz
Wednesday afternoon marked the final edition of this semester’s Central Authors Lecture series, held in the CCSU Bookstore. This episode featured professor John Tulley, who was given an enthusiastic introduction by CCSU’s own Dr. Gil Gigliotti, a Professor of early American literature in the English Department at the university.
The event took place towards the back of the bookstore, and chairs were aligned, audience-style, for the arriving crowd. Tulley’s own parents even happened to be in attendance. Professor and author, John Tulley, was here to discuss one of his published works in his Understanding and Teaching series, this one being “Understanding and Teaching: The Vietnam War.” Fresh bags of popcorn were handed out upon arrival to the completely free event, and was surprisingly delicious. A paper with a few paragraphs and also bearing the famous photograph of the execution of a Vietcong prisoner by General Loan, was also handed out as Tulley was about to begin his lecture and discussion.
The lecture began with Tulley discussing the said photograph from the handout, as well as the photographer behind it, Eddie Adams, and offers some excerpts that Adams stated after the fact: “I won a Pulitzer Prize for a photograph of one man shooting another. Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet, and General Loan. The General killed the vietcong [prisoner]; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world…people believe them, but photographs do lie even without manipulation. They’re only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was: What would you do if you were the general at that time, that place, on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers…The picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me, he told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have.”
After discussing the photograph and the motives, as well as misconceptions behind it, Tulley pushed the discussion forward and continued to explain some of the challenges that are faced in the classroom on both the high school and college level. “Was Ho Chi Minh a communist, a nationalist, or was he both? Was it even one war? I call my class Vietnam Wars: Home and Abroad. Was it a civil war, a war of communist aggression, a war for independence, a hot battle in the cold war…and what about the battles about the war fought then and now among and between Americans? Those fights influence and still influence American culture and our sense of identity as a nation, and our mission and role in the world. These are just some of the host of questions that teachers at all levels face when teaching about the Vietnam war. Understanding these questions, exploring the frameworks for discussing the war, and deciding which or what combination of them to present to students are the first tasks teachers face. This book’s goal is to help with those decisions and to provide specific ideas [to help] to carry them through to the classroom,” Tulley explained.
Before getting into a Q&A segment, Tulley delved into what inspired him to write and publish the book in the first place: “I’ve always thought that it would be very handy if I had something that would remind me of some of the ideology on the topic, and give me some really clear ideas of how to teach it well. That’s what this book is designed to do for high school and college teachers around the country. When the book was done – I sat down and read it completely, and I found 21 specific ways that I could improve my teaching of my Vietnam War class.”
“Understand and Teaching: The Vietnam War” is a part of the Understanding and Teaching series by John Tulley, which includes other topics such as LGBT, the Cold War, slavery and the Holocaust. “Understand and Teaching: The Vietnam War” is available online and in stores at most bookstores, and is also available for the Kindle.