21 February 2013

Making Connections

So as the snow falls in Indiana and I sit here desperately wishing I could be on the road to Illinois as planned to celebrate my birthday (and let's be serious I'm eating peanut butter out of the jar to numb my disappointment), I thought that there was no better way to pass the time than to post a new blog entry about what's been on my mind as of late.

There's nothing I enjoy more than when I am able to make connections across all areas of my life.  Maybe it's my liberal arts education at work.  Or maybe my life just really isn't that interesting.  But anyway -- this week everything converged...on the Vietnam War.  Yep, the part of history that you never really get to in high school because you run out of time so all you really know about it is what your parents and grandparents have to say or you see on TV and movies.  I think I only had one course in undergrad where talked about Vietnam.  But this week it all came together -- specifically concerning one incident during the war:  the My Lai Massacre.

This week in my history course on American Identity I have been preparing a presentation on The My Lai Massacre in American Memory by Kendrick Oliver.  In his book about the mass murder of around 500 civilians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, in South Vietnam on 16 March 1968, the initial cover-up, and subsequent trial of Lt. William Calley, Oliver argues that narratives focusing on the "real" victims of the American war in Vietnam have been displaced in American popular memory in favor of those that highlight American experiences.  Because the news media played such a large role in the massacre, his book is as much about t he way media affects public opinion as it is about My Lai.  For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of history is the process of forgetting -- or how we choose to erase or rework things in a historical narrative.  In the case of My Lai...how do we understand or rework violence?  One way was to shift blame.  In an effort to contain culpability, the military placed the blame on just a few individuals -- the members of Charlie Company -- and more specifically Lt. Calley.  This attempt had the opposite reaction with the American public.  Instead, they blamed Calley's superiors as well as the U.S. government or even the war in general.  Calley became a martyr and a hero as he saluted when his verdict was handed down -- and his sentence was eventually commuted by President Nixon. 

So where is My Lai now?  How is it remembered?  The real victims have been displaced and the experiences of Americans are highlighted instead.  At the same time, we don't want to remember My Lai at all because it challenges our notion of American exceptionalism or moral virtue.  Instead, it finds a home in popular culture through movies and novels -- where we can, in a sense, rewrite the ending.  Or pretend that it's fiction.  Films like Oliver Stone's Platoon, demonstrate just how unprepared and ill-trained U.S. soldiers were while also discussing the issue of morality and the main character rescues a girl from rape by American soldiers instead of joining in like My Lai.  Tim O'Brien's novel In the Lake of the Woods, offers a different take.  A politician running for the state senate is revealed to have been apart of the My Lai Massacre.  The novel does invite empathy for John Wade, who was greatly damaged by the atrocity, but it does not ask for readers to forgive or pity him.  For O'Brien, there is no justice or redemption, no healing, transcendence, or closure.  But still -- there is no reflection on what the My Lai Massacre meant for the Vietnamese.

Recently, in my work in the Archives I have been processing Birch Bayh's Judiciary Committee records.  Months ago, I foldered some materials about a lieutenant named Calley who was court martialed.  I think the files just read "Calley Court Martial."  Once I started reading Oliver's book, I went back to these files.  From what I can glean from them -- Senator Bayh was interested in Calley's trial because he believed that the military was letting him take the fall for the massacre.  That's some pretty powerful stuff -- and it adds to what Oliver was arguing.  Not only did the public have empathy for Calley -- but some politicians did as well.  As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Bayh wanted to reform the Military Code of Justice to make sure that something like this would not happen to any other soldiers.  But again, the emphasis was on Calley -- not the victims in the village in Vietnam.

Seymour Hersh.  One of the greatest journalists of recent history.  Vietnam.  Watergate.  Abu Ghraib.  'nuff said.  

And then for the icing on the cake, I was sitting on Twitter yesterday when I noticed a tweet from IU about a lecture that the School of Journalism was putting on.  It was by Seymour Hersh -- the investigative journalist who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre.  How perfect is that?!  So even though I had way too much work to do, I decided that I couldn't pass up the chance to hear a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Hersh was incredible.  And incredibly candid as well.  He talked in length about how he got the information to break the My Lai story -- how he went to visit Calley's lawyer and read a file sitting on the attorney's desk upside down and copied it in his notebook without the lawyer knowing.  He admitted that by publishing his story, in part he wanted to end the war, but at the same time he wanted fame, fortune, and glory.  This raised a lot of questions for me about the ethics of journalism and the effects that the media has on constructs of identity.  Hersh's story shook the foundation of what it meant to be an American.  People started questioning whether we truly had the moral high ground and if the "savage" was in us too.  All because one guy in the Pentagon told Hersh a story and he followed up on it. 

So there it is -- three paths converging and consuming my thoughts.  It's a pretty depressing topic now that I think about it.  No wonder I'm eating peanut butter straight from the jar!

15 February 2013

Valentine's/Galentine's/Anna Howard Shaw

Historically, I've never been too big on Valentine's Day.  And I don't think it's one of those bitter "I don't have a boyfriend" kind of things either.  I've had plenty of February 14ths (though none in recent history) that involved chocolates and flowers.  My parents still get me a present -- I got pink Fiestaware this year.  Yes, be jealous -- I asked for dishes for Valentine's Day.  My grandparents' still send me a card.  I got a handful of surprise cards in the mail.  But despite all of this, Valentine's Day just confuses me.  I don't understand it.  Why do we need a day to tell and show each other that we love each other?  Shouldn't we do that all the time?  I'm not one to wear my heart on my sleeve, so chances are if I've told you that I love you, I truly meant it...but still.  

So here's what I think.  It's a day to celebrate friendships.  Leslie Knope said it best.

So today, after meeting up with some girlfriends and eating peanut butter cups and lollipops (of which I ate five) and being given one singular flower by an old man in bar, I am reminded of just how blessed I am to have such a good group of friends.  Strong, intelligent, independent women who enjoy looking at photos of French bulldogs in costumes, watching the West Wing, talking about history, and generally laughing till we cry.  I say this and mean it:  I love you all.  I can't believe our two years together is coming to an end so soon.

Valentine's Day is also a time to be a little ridiculous.

Hence, this Joe Biden valentine that I posted to Facebook this morning.  My love for him is just so strong that I couldn't contain myself!

And it's a time to celebrate the things we love.  For me, that's history.  And y'all know me so well.  I had multiple people send me this story from NPR this morning about LBJ's love letters to Lady Bird.  Be still my heart.  Last, but certainly not least, some of us refer to this day as Anna Howard Shaw Day, a day we use to substitute our hatred of Valentine's Day with a celebration of the women's suffrage leader, Anna Howard Shaw, who just happened to be born on 14 February.  So for me, Valentine's Day is a time to be thankful as well.  Thankful for a history full of incredible women who paved the way for me and the wonderful group of women I have found here in Bloomington to have the opportunity to follow our dreams.  After all, would I have crush on Joe Biden if I couldn't vote?

03 February 2013

Maybe I'll buy a pair of those candy-stripes afterall...

Have you ever had a day that you know you're going to tell your kids about someday?  I think I might have had one of those yesterday.  And as silly as it might sound, that day had everything to do with basketball.  You see, ESPN's College GameDay rolled into Bloomington to film their show -- and for a basketball nut like me this was a huge deal.  So when I found out that the taping was free and open to the public, I was all over it.  So I got up at 7:00 am on a Saturday, drank my coffee as fast as I could, ate Fig Newtons for breakfast, scraped 2 inches of snow off my car as it continued to fall, and drove to Assembly Hall.  And let me tell you, there's nothing quite like Assembly in the morning.  I am literally in love with this place.  It's like a cathedral for basketball.  But anyway -- after being patted down by security guards we made our way to the seats, receiving high fives from the cutest elderly employees in red sweater vests known to man.  It was at that moment that I knew this day was going to be pretty great.  

It was pretty awesome to see the process of how they shoot a show like College GameDay.  All of the equipment and the number of staff was insane.  Probably the best part was that we were sitting behind the hosts, so we could see what they see on their monitors.  I have to admit -- after sitting (well actually standing) through two live tapings, I have a ton of respect for what they do.  All of the transitions and segments have to be perfectly executed.  And they don't have a teleprompter like a news show -- it's all dialogue and conversation.  Talk about nerve-wracking!  To make things even more difficult they had thousands of screaming Hoosier fans behind them.

 And yeah, it was pretty cool to see the commentators live and in person.  I mean I grew up listening to them.  And it was nice to see Jay Bilas sporting the candy-stripes.  That earned him a point in my book.  
And Rece Davis rocking the striped jacket as well.  Classy.
 This was the scene as taping began.  I'm somewhere to the right of the frame of this shot.  It was unreal.
I'm so glad that I have a friend who shares the same love for IU basketball.  When we made our plans to arrive at Assembly Hall two hours before the taping began, we jokingly texted each other that we were insane.  Hoosier Hysteria has definitely taken over for me.  Not that this had any factor in my grad school choice at all (insert sarcasm here), but it's pretty awesome to go to school at the university with one of the most historic basketball programs in the nation...and for us to hopefully be the new #1 when the polls come out tomorrow since we knocked off Michigan last night in one of the best games of college basketball I have ever watched.  Granted, I was in my apartment...but still.  It's going to be an exciting journey to the NCAA tournament in March.  Maybe I'll have to buy a pair of those candy-stripes after all...