Media MIA’s


Vietnam Reconsidered: Lessons from a War;Edited by Harrison E. Salisbury; Harper & Row; New York.


James Dunkerley: The Long War, Dictatorship and Revou1tion in El Salvador;Junction; London.


It has been a decade since America withdrew its troops from Vietnam. Unfortunately, scores of servicemen remain officially unaccounted for, their fate shrouded in the jungle mists of that distant land. Regrettably, hundreds of American journalists   were also inexplicably lost during that conflict. We assume, perhaps mistakenly, that they are still alive because they continue to write and broadcast, but the wildly capricious and unreliable nature of most of their reports since early in the Vietnam War makes it clear that somehow they wandered into a wilderness of fantasy from which they have yet to escape. That they were captured and brain­ washed by the enemy cannot be ruled out. These, after all, were the people who fostered the myth that the Vietcong were an indigenous force, who trumpeted every alleged American atrocity and skimmed lightly over wholesale butchery by the North Vietnamese, who romanticized the antiwar movement and demonized the military establishment, and finally who may have even decided the outcome of the war by misrepresenting triumph as defeat during Tet. Postwar scholarship by Lewy, Podhoretz, Lomperis, Braestrup, and others has demonstrated how far removed from reality American journalism was. More tragically, the reeducation camps, the slaughter and enslavement of thousands of “petty capitalists,” the flight of the boat people, the Kampuchean genocide have all shown how little most correspondents, and the pacifists they glorified, ever understood the communist threat.



Vietnam Reconsidered, the proceedings of a four-day conference held at the University of Southern California, reveals that many of America’s journalists have never extricated themselves from the ”Vietnam” they fabricated. And though some nonjournalists participated in the conference, its chief organizer, Jack Langguth, was a Vietnam correspondent with a manifest preference for speakers who do not disturb journalistic illusions. Indeed, the newsmen who contributed to this collection have decided to blame the American government, especially Nixon and Kissinger, for all the lies circulated about the war, and they hysterically compare neo­ conservative critics of the press to Hitler and the fascists. Former antiwar activists, who were never anything without media support, also parade their moral purity in these pages, blaming America for everything that went wrong in Southeast Asia.


Speaking through the cracks, fortunately, are a few voices of sanity: a few speakers are so indiscreet as to note distortions in the usual media version of the war and its aftermath, and an unnamed Vietnamese speaker from the floor even challenges the antiwar movement’s “grandiose ideals” as shams and asks why reporters are no longer interested in investigating suffering in Vietnam.


But then reporters are now too busy warning about “future Vietnams” in Central America to stop to assess the damage that their Vietnam mythology has already caused. Such a mythology, predictably, has its uses for leftist scholars such as James Dunkerley, who begins The Long War with yet another hackneyed comparison of El Salvador and Vietnam. Hardly an objective analyst, Dunkerley admits that his book is the product of “political conviction” and “outrage.”


Certainly, any humane observer will share Dunkerley’s horror over the atrocities committed by right-wing death squads. But his uncritical allegiance to the left in Nicaragua and El Salvador is perilous. Just how perilous is best understood by millions of unphotographed, uninterviewed Vietnamese toiling on Siberian pipelines and imprisoned in tropical gulags.       cc



Power to the Professors


Richard Meisler: Trying Freedom, The Case for Liberating Education; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; San Diego.


What a glorious time to be alive the 1960’s and 70’s were, if you happened to live on campus. Most college towns offered more varieties of entertainment than a sideshow: student demonstrators who closed down universities and went to the beach; desiccated faculty wives who divided their time between peace vigils and pottery workshops; and best of all, the thousand and one creative experiments in educational innovation. You couldn’t drive through an Athens (Georgia, Ohio) or an Oxford (Mississippi, Ohio) without running into colleges without walls, alternative programs, and “new” colleges. Each of them had a different justification, a unique “goal-orientation,” but all shared a commitment to innovation (there were even faculty seminars on strategies of innovation) and to student freedom.


Richard Meisler was in the thick of “all this juice and all this joy” as an undergraduate at Antioch, where he later taught in an experimental First Year Program, and at Buffalo State where he was in charge of the Individualized Degree Program. Meisler is not dismayed by the failure of both programs. He remains convinced that higher education, with its insistence on regimentation and numerical evaluation, succeeds only in turning out grade-grubbing automata and Trying Freedom is an inarticulate plea for student independence. By choosing their own course of study, contracting for projects and credit hours, students will be free to become mature and independent-minded seekers after truth.


Assume that an independent mind — rather than a virtuous and productive citizen — is the highest goal of an education. It is not at all clear how we are going to institutionalize freedom and creativity for the masses. Jefferson, a perennial optimist about the human race, supported a plan for public education in his native Virginia. With such a system, he predicted, “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually,” of which 10 would be sent to William and Mary. Even calculating for the incredible increase in population since Jefferson’s time, the entire United States could not produce enough genuinely independent minds to occupy the talents of the Harvard faculty (to say nothing of Buffalo State).


Meisler is not interested in that kind of independence or creativity. His is a far more egalitarian deal. He tells the students to respect their own culture, “the music you listen to… the books you enjoy, including comic books … and romances; the sports and other games you play; your dancing; your politics; your slang; your humor; your hobbies … your television programs….”The students might just as well stay home and watch M1V. Besides, what sort of faculty members will find the time to direct the students in their personal search? Meisler’s program included an English teacher who was a failure and who took refuge in performing manual labor; a feminist ABO in psychology who couldn’t be distracted from her sex life long enough to keep appointments with students; finally, Meisler himself, who gave up his own field — philosophy — in favor of grant-swinging and bureaucratic hustling. Meisler defends the integrity of his program by saying that “there was less sex between IDP teachers and students than be­ tween teachers and students in conventional programs.” On the other hand, he argues, “all sex between faculty and students is not manipulative and exploitative. Fine relationships between … faculty and student men and women, can begin on campus.” It should be a great comfort to the parents of an 18-year-old female student.


It is not that Meisler and his colleagues are all wrong. There is very little good that can be said today of American colleges. Professors are, by and large, boring and anti-intellectual. Higher education is a stultifying experience for most students. Grades are an expression of the faculty’s feeble will to power. Meisler’s solution is to concentrate more power in the hands of these same professors by bringing them into closer and more intimate contact with the students whose progress will be measured not by tests and grades but by the teachers’ opinions and evaluations. The bad writing, unfocused discussions, and anecdotal approach of Meisler’s books are all excellent arguments against giving any more power to the professoriat.      cc