Tag Archives: Vietnam

Second MMU Series Leaves Many Memories


A couple cast shadows on the Moving Wall as they walk along it during its September visit to Mount Mercy. He was a Vietnam veteran who was finding some buddies whose names are there.

Mount Mercy University just completed an ambitious series of events. The second annual Fall Faculty Series, called “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War” concluded with music and readings Nov. 19.

It’s interesting to look back and remember, and to think of where the series idea came from and where it might go.

????????????In November of 2013, a blog I follow posted a link to a poignant song about the legacy of World War I. At the next faculty meeting, I asked if others might be interested in planning some events to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I, and an ad hoc committee met half a dozen times in the spring of 2014 to mull over ideas. Thus the first Fall Faculty Series, called “A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on how World War I Made Today” took shape.

I love how it happened. It was a spontaneous, organic idea that grew into 11 events. We stumbled into something that turned out to be bigger than expected. Crowds showed up—there was a group of community history buffs who attended many of the events. When the chair of our nursing program spoke about the great flu pandemic that was an indirect result of World War I, the Chapel of Mercy was packed.

When that series was over, the question was: Would we do it again? I took a few months off before going back to the faculty to pose that question, and the answer was clear. A faculty-generated fall series was worth repeating.

And so, in the spring of this year, faculty members suggested themes: It was the 500th anniversary of Magna Carta. It was an anniversary of the writing of the rules of baseball. Someone suggested something about the legacy of the 1960s—a Woodstock sort of theme. Another idea was to focus on the death penalty.

And then, at the meeting where we were to vote on the suggestions, Dr. Joe Nguyen stood up and explained that he had forgotten to email his suggestion. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. troop surge in Vietnam and the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. What about Vietnam?


Mount Mercy University’s logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

The decision seemed to make itself. We didn’t even have a formal vote—but instead simply measured response with a human applause-o-meter (Dr. Joy Ochs). There’s something happening here: The second series, like the first, seemed to come out of nowhere.

We got a later start planning the second series and were scrambling to get everything organized. To make matters even more intense, Dr. Joe also suggested we consider bringing The Moving Wall, a replica of the National Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, to campus.

And it all came together: the Wall, visits by two authors, a panel of veterans discussing their experiences, multiple faculty lectures, and some music and readings as a final event.

The first fall series proved bigger than anyone at MMU expected. The second series?

Wow. Nothing that big has happened since ’Nam.


Rose at Moving Wall, Mount Mercy, September.

I’m sure it wasn’t perfect. Our university president had to step in and name a czar, of sorts, to sort out the Moving Wall visit. I felt that the final event was tossed together quickly. But the Vietnam series was, by any reasonable metric, a huge success.

So, what now?

I’ve coordinated two of these series, the second even bigger than the first. I’m a big fan. The series does so much for Mount Mercy.

Here are some of the goals or ideals it promotes:

  • It gives us on the faculty a chance to show our stuff. Most of the presenters at both of the first two series were Mount Mercy professors. We do important work in our day jobs—educating a new generation of nurses and business people and police officers and English teachers and journalists and so many more. But, the public doesn’t see most of that work, and this fall series gives us an important venue to show that we do have expertise and information to share with the world. Granted, we’ve always done this kind of thing in faculty forums—but stringing together a series of forums on a single theme heightens the visibility of each event, and brings a larger, more diverse audience to hear what we say. It’s not simply or mainly a matter of giving an ego boost to faculty—although from experience I can say that it does feel good to speak at these events—but even more, we faculty members all state we believe in lifelong learning—this is a concrete way we promote that ideal with action.
  • It brings Mount Mercy together in an interesting, big conversation. The audience at series events includes dozens of students, and many faculty and staff from Mount Mercy. The Vietnam series, in particular, had deep staff involvement—of necessity, given its complexity—but recognizing that our community of experts and scholars includes more than those who teach in the classroom is an important point. And having more contacts between people of different disciplines and students of diverse majors is a huge plus.
  • It provides a PR bonanza to Mount Mercy. It brings many new community members to campus, and also allows us to be featured in local media. We had two TV stations interviewing veterans in our art gallery for a display of Vietnam era artifacts—the resulting stories were a wonderful way for MMU to be both seen and heard in our area.
  • It connects the educational mission of the faculty with the MMU Catholic tradition. The series has drawn from the critical concerns articulated by the Sisters of Mercy. The sisters have attended many events. Our Campus Ministry division has supplied representatives to open each of the events in the two series with a brief prayer. Public discussions of issues such as Vietnam as the television war, or connections Iowa had with World War I, wouldn’t begin with prayer if they were individual, disconnected faculty forums. As part of the larger series, however, these events connect MMU to its rich Catholic intellectual tradition, and the brief interlude of prayer is a tangible reminder of that connection—it ties us visibility to the Sisters of Mercy. The prayer is a public binding ritual. I know it’s not a ritual that all choose to participate in, and Campus Ministry has been careful to keep the prayers brief so they don’t encroach on the secular, informational purposes of the forums—but prayer is one way you know right away that you’re at a Mount Mercy series event, and not “anywhere.”

Statue of Catherine McAuley watches over students heading to class on Rohde Family Plaza earlier this semester.

Well. I was asked to try to sum up the series, and I hope this reflection does that. I don’t usually write blog posts this long. I’m sure I could come up with more to say, but for now, for all the reasons noted above, I’m pretty sure the show will go on.

We haven’t picked our 2016 theme yet. It probably won’t be a war. Whatever it is will bubble up from faculty discussion—it will reflect what is on our minds now; it will be a topic we think is worth examining publicly at some length in some depth.

I think it’s a positive attribute of the first two series that, despite all that we said, there was so much more to say. This is showbiz, to some extent, and in showbiz, I think one of the keys is to always stop while the audience still wants more.

And yes, coordinating these series has driven me a little crazy. However, the series idea is totally worth it.

Stay tuned. I’m certain there are more exciting MMU Fall Faculty Series to come.

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The Vets Clash in Peace at Vietnam Event

Allison McNeese speaks about the protest movement against the Vietnam War.

Allison McNeese speaks about the protest movement against the Vietnam War.

Well, Liz has an interesting writing challenge. The MMU Times reporter attended a faculty forum tonight presented by Allison McNeese, assistant professor of history.

She spoke on the theme “There’s Something Happening Here”: Anti-War Protests in the Vietnam Era. About 40 people showed up, including a handful of Vietnam veterans.

The information McNeese gave was fascinating. She traced the anti-war movement to the countercultural spirit of the times, and noted how many of the prominent protest groups actually began their activities before U.S. combat troops landed in Vietnam.

After describing these early movements, she went on to detail how the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the shooting of four students at Kent State University in 1970 fit into the trend of increasingly strident anti-war demonstrations.

When she was done, a Vietnam veteran who has attended a number of events stood up and gave his own short speech, mostly about what it was like for veterans returning from the war to face the anger of the anti-war movement. “You could feel their hatred,” he said.

Then, a second veteran, with a different point of view, stood up and even showed his web site, which has lots of information, some of it indicating how destructive the U.S. intervention in Vietnam was.

Karl Knutson, Vietnam ventera who speaks out against war, shows his vietviews.org web site.

Karl Knutson, Vietnam venteran who speaks out against war, shows his vietviews.com web site.

It was a bit surprising, being in the room and being younger than the Vietnam generation. Once the issue of anti-war protests was raised, clashing ideas from veteran’s in attendance were raised. Tempers didn’t exactly flare, but the emotional temperature in the room went up a few notches.

Still, despite the intense and sometimes in-your-face nature of the commentary, for the most part, everyone stayed polite and calm. Partly, I think Allison did a good job of anticipating the potential reactions to her presentation, and giving the audience ample opportunity to dive in. And in the end, she remained quite calm and engaged in exchanges with the audience.

As I said, Liz has her work cut out for her. She is a good writer, but also a 20-something kid. I know her work well enough to trust the story will be well done—but the event certainly took some unexpected twists.

On the other hand, the fact that discussion got heated is not a negative. This big conversation about Vietnam is bound to get touchy at times, and I feel it’s important to allow it to happen now and then.

Well, something like 11 down, three more events to go. I’ve just started trying to recruit student speakers for the final event, which is just a bit over a fortnight away. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

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Talking About The War on TV

One slide from my presentation. I had planned to talk for about 35 minutes, but ended up going 50 minutes. If you were there, sorry about that.

One slide from my presentation. I had planned to talk for about 35 minutes, but ended up going 50 minutes. If you were there, sorry about that.

I was a pretty young kid when the Vietnam War was going on—but old enough, at least by the end, to know something about what was going on.

I did watch the TV news. My parents were “news hounds” in a way. We always got at least one, sometimes two, morning newspapers and an afternoon paper. In Clinton, it was the Quad City Times, the Des Moines Register and The Clinton Herald.

But the papers were for mom and dad. I didn’t tune into them much, other than following “Peanuts” daily.

I did see Vietnam on TV.

It has the reputation of being the first “living room” war, one brought to a nation nightly in living color. That is said to have had a huge impact.

And I’m sure it did. Although I don’t think we always understand what kind of impact. For one thing, we recall the most shocking and grim images of that time period now—but the typical nightly news report would not have been that grim. It frequently would have used rather bland footage supplied by the Defense Department. Dead bodies or true horror were very rare.

And while it was broadcast in living color—many millions of Americans would have been it in black and white. That’s how I experienced TV in my youth—I did not routinely see color TV until my wife and I purchased our first color set in 1982. I was very disappointed to see the original “Star Trek” in color—1960s sci fi, frankly, looks better in black and white.

MMU Times reporter, waiting for news to happen. The news was me.

MMU Times reporter, waiting for news to happen. The news was me.

Television was very influential in our culture back in the 1960s, but most people still read newspapers and probably got more “facts” from their reading than from their viewing. That’s at odds with what surveys say—when asked, most people in the 1960s said they got their information about Vietnam from TV. But asking someone where he or she gets information is not the same as studying where that data actually does come from—and lots of studies have shown we retain and recall facts we read rather than the data that washes over us in our zen sleep state we exist in while vegging in front of TV.

Anyway, I spoke last week during Mount Mercy’s ongoing Vietnam series about the war on TV. It was fun to research the topic and fun to relive my own early TV memories.

If you missed it, check it out sometime from Busse Library. They videotaped it. So you can watch it.

On TV.

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Author Asks: How Long Will Healing Take?

Author Dale Kueter speaks Oct. 13 at MMU.

Author Dale Kueter speaks Oct. 13 at MMU.

Tonight, it was a pleasure to hear from Dale Kueter, former reporter for The Gazette and author of the book “Vietnam Sons.”

He spoke as part of MMU’s Fall Faculty Series on the legacy of the Vietnam War, on the topic of “How Long will the Healing Take?

Mount Mercy University's logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

Mount Mercy University’s logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

A long time, in many cases—decades after the war, one of the Marines described in his nonfiction book still blames himself for the death of another Marine. Why can’t he get over the events from almost 50 years ago? Kueter says he sometimes wonders himself, but has concluded, “He can’t.” Some wounds run too deep and some memories forever mark the young men who experience the horrors of combat in their youth.

Kueter introduced KC Churchill, one of the central characters in his book.

The presentation was very effective, I thought. Around 50 people were there to hear it, which is a decent turnout for this kind of event; although I wish Betty Cherry Heritage Hall had been packed with even more MMU students and faculty.

The central mistake of Vietnam—the stumbling into a quagmire of a war with no clear mission and no end point—was rather well described by Kueter. His presentation, I think, did a good job of bringing some of the more difficult themes of the Vietnam era to the forefront.

Dr. Joe Nguyen, chemistry professor, poses a question after Dale Kueter's presentation.

Dr. Joe Nguyen, chemistry professor, poses a question after Dale Kueter’s presentation.

He spoke for only 30 minutes or so, and like the earlier veteran’s panel, the program left me wishing a bit that there had been more. But, he answered questions for 20 minutes or so, too, and fielded a number of interesting queries.

One audience member asked what the politics of The Gazette newsroom were during the Vietnam era. Kueter replied that he and reporters of his generation were ingrained with the habit of neutrality, and he tried his best to present all sides of an issue that he reported.

I asked him about his decision to write the book, and learned that he had at first attempted to write a novel based on the circumstances, before realizing it was more effective to simply report the facts when the principal characters in the book were ready to talk about their war experiences.

The book “Vietnam Sons” is definitely worth a read—I read it this summer to prepare for this fall series. I’m glad that our VP of Finance, Doug Brock, suggested his father-in-law as a speaker. And thank you, Dale Kueter, for a very thought-provoking and interesting presentation.

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The Week My Brain Melted in a Good Way

Power to the poets! Journalist and poet Anne-Marie Cusac reads one of her works with Tanner Retzlaff, MMU student.

Power to the poets! Journalist and poet Anne-Marie Cusac reads one of her works with Tanner Retzlaff, MMU student.

Is it Thursday already? That means a performance—I am playing hand bells tonight at 7.

Am I Iooking forward to the concert? Yes. And no. I could use a night off, but I do enjoy attempting to make music, and I’m sure playing my bells is good for my brain. My poor, bruised, tired brain. It’s been a week where I’m marginally functioning on limited sleep and event overload.

Dr. Mohammad Chaichian speaks about his 1992 visit to Vietnam.

Dr. Mohammad Chaichian speaks about his 1992 visit to Vietnam.

It started Monday with an interesting presentation by Dr. Mohammad Chaichian on his 1992 trip to post-war Vietnam. I had a camera and recorded some images, but unfortunately didn’t take notes. It was interesting to note how, by 1992, Vietnam was still stagnated in postwar poverty—but after the United States ended a policy of isolating the country, the economy boomed—especially around not only Hanoi in the north, but also Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south.

I was impressed by several things—one was the diagrams Mohammad showed of the tunnel complex he visited. Or how, by 1992, many craters from B-52 bombing raids still littered by countryside. At one point, he showed a picture of a graveyard in Vietnam, and reminded us that, as much as the U.S. struggles to understand its sacrifice of 58,000 lives in that wretched war, the toll in Vietnam was far greater.

When will they ever learn?

Anyway, following the Monday presentation, Tuesday was the opening of an exhibit called “Visions of Courage: the Legacy of Vietnam” in the Janalyn Hanson White Gallery at Mount Mercy. The free exhibit, open 9 to 5 during the week and 10 to 5 on weekends, remains open until Oct. 25.

The exhibit incorporates Vietnam-era artifacts and information, some associated with Mount Mercy, some from the community. One interesting display is materials lent by Dale Kueter, the book author who speaks Oct. 13 on “The Wounds of Vietnam: How Long will the Healing Take?”

Opening of exhibit in MMU gallery.

Opening of exhibit in MMU gallery.

The gallery opening drew attention from two local TV stations, which is nice. KCRG report and KGAN report.

Wednesday saw the visit by writer Anne-Marie Cusac, who is known both as a magazine investigative journalist and as a poet. Although her presentation touched on completely different topics, to me it somehow fit in the theme of the week. It felt like there was something lurking about memory, and gritty reality, and thinking deeply about where we are and why and where we are going. And Cusac’s reporting and poetry certainly prove gritty realities, even in a book about a sexual affair that happens in a Canadian myth between a woman and a seal.

“Canadians hate seals,” she noted.

Anne-Marie Cusac speaks.

Anne-Marie Cusac speaks.

Well, I don’t know if I can survive many works week like this. Four irresistible evening events in a week is maybe two too many, for an old man like me.

I can’t say I’m unhappy. I thoroughly enjoyed them all. But this weekend is a newspaper production cycle, I have a mid-term exam to grade and two more to write.

And I’m ready for fall break. But what a week! More images.

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When Government Promotes War

Dr. David Klope at faculty Vietnam forum on selling and unselling the Vietnam War.

Dr. David Klope at faculty Vietnam forum on selling and unselling the Vietnam War.

“The machine can be derailed,” asserted Dr. David Klope, associate professor of communication, as he wrapped up his portion of a presentation on government and anti-government propaganda during the Vietnam War.

The machine is the government’s enormous resources for communication. One point Klope made was the extent and diversity of the government’s and Pentagon’s communication efforts during the Vietnam era.

The primary message being sent by the Johnson White House was: “We can win in Vietnam.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon was interested in maintaining American support for the military.

Their combined efforts ran into trouble early in 1968 during the Tet Offensive—a military defeat for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, but a PR coup because it caused many Americans to more forcefully question government policy.

I think Klope and his co-presenter, Brendan Murphy, assistant professor of marketing, were correct in calling that a key turning point. It was at the time of Tet that Walter Cronkite, the most popular network TV journalist of his day, famously declared that the war needed a negotiated settlement.

Brendan Murphy during his portion of the presentation Wednesday.

Brendan Murphy during his portion of the presentation Wednesday.

Not that the country turned completely against the war. As there were more anti-war protests, and those protests turned more violent, there was also a tendency to rally around the government and an anti-protester reaction. After all, the country did elect a conservative Republican president after President Johnson decided not to see a second full term, and then re-elected Richard Nixon by a landslide in 1972.

Still, the presentation last night has me thinking ahead to my own upcoming speech. I will focus on TV news and the impact it had at the time of Vietnam. It’s a slightly weird topic for me, because it’s a history I partially recall. I think we watched Huntley-Brinkley as often as Walter Cronkite, but I certainly was exposed to both.

Anyway, besides the next forum in our Vietnam series last night, today I attended wrap-up meeting of the group that helped plan the visit of the Moving Wall to Mount Mercy.

There were lots of operational issues identified that may help the university in 20 years when it brings the wall back—but overall, the visit went very well. The setting in front of Warde Hall was ideal, and thousands of people were attracted to see the monument in a peaceful, parklike setting.

Mount Mercy University's logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

Mount Mercy University’s logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

And now I’m looking forward to next week. Dr. Mohammed Chaichian will describe his postwar visit to Vietnam, and a gallery exhibit about the war will open. Tonight, as I write this, I’m also copying .jpg files to a flash drive—my own wall images might be included in a slideshow at the gallery.

We had about 50 people attend the “selling” forum Wednesday night. That’s a pretty good turnout for this kind of event—but smaller than some of the earlier event. Of course, we’re not going to get thousands of visitors to a free lecture given by a faculty member, but I hope the momentum of this Vietnam series again picks up.

You come on down. There’ s too much that’s too interesting to miss on a topic that continues to be too important for our culture to forget. So I hope to see you next Monday at Dr. Chaichian’s lecture, or Tuesday at the art gallery.

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Dawn, Ghost Lights and Angel Tears

My favorite image of my morning photo shoot. Spirits shine through the Wall and its angels' tears.

My favorite image of my morning photo shoot. Spirits shine through the Wall and its angels’ tears.

I hope you come down to Mount Mercy University’s main campus to see the Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the National Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial that will be open to the public until noon Monday, Sept. 21.

And if you want my advice, dawn would be a great time to see it.

A couple cast shadows on the wall as they walk along it this morning. He was a Vietnam veteran who was finding some buddies whose names are there.

A couple cast shadows on the wall as they walk along it this morning. He was a Vietnam veteran who was finding some buddies whose names are there.

My wife and I had volunteered to staff the wall from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday. Our ulterior motive that it would provide an excuse to go to a restaurant for breakfast, but we also just wanted to help with the Wall.

Anyway, there had been a lot of rain Friday afternoon into the early morning hours Saturday, and the lights that illuminate the wall had shorted out—so the drama of the morning was for the wall organizers and the facilities department to get the lights back on. Fortunately, it did not take long. Even before the lights were restored, the sky was just starting to turn from black to dark blue—that pretty early morning color of a fine fall day.

Dawn at the wall.

Dawn at the wall.

When the sun finally cleared the horizon, only the east end of the wall was directly illuminated, which meant the wall went from its black reflective color into a beautiful and eerie gold.

We had about eight people visit the wall in the early hours, so I had lots of time to try some photography—and the early morning light was great.


Blue light of pre-dawn gives way to golden sunlight of morning.

As I was shooting, a veteran approached. I caught his ghostly reflection in the black surface of the monument. He walked right up to me, almost as if to challenge me, and said, his voice shaking, asked: “Will they ever learn?”

He came up to be and asked, "Will they ever learn?" The Sisters of Mercy promote peace, and it seems this man knows exactly why.

He came up to me and asked, “Will they ever learn?” The Sisters of Mercy promote peace, and it seems this man knows exactly why.

It seemed the best and most important question I’ve heard at the Wall. I can’t say I know any sort of answer, but we did have a good conversation after that.

Rain had speckled the wall with water, and the drops and reflected, distorted lights looked like spirits and angels’ tears. I like that photo the most, so I started with it on this post. Julie, one of the faculty members who was working with my wife and me during the morning shift, said she liked how the roses some people left at the wall looked with the rainwater on them. So, Julie, thanks for the tip—a lot of my pictures are of a rose.


Rain on a rose. Or angels’ tears.

rose3 rose2

And, of course, I could not resist the flags in the dawn’s early light.

flags flag

I hope you enjoy these images. More of my wall visit photos are here and here and here. But don’t just look at the pretty pictures. If you can, come on down, be embraced by the sobering, sacred place created in front of Warde Hall by the arms of the wall. Of course, when you can, go to Washington D.C. and see the original—but it would be a shame to miss the Moving Wall while it’s here in Cedar Rapids.


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Tinkering With History in the Aftermath of 9/11

A replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial is coming to MMU next week. It will be in the pretty wooded lawn west of Warde Hall. The base to hold the wall seen Thursday.

A replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial is coming to MMU next week. It will be in the pretty wooded lawn west of Warde Hall. The base to hold the wall seen Thursday.

“The language Abe Fortas used in writing his majority opinion applies quite broadly to the nature of a democratic society.” -John Tinker

In 1965, the Vietnam War was new, but heating up.

During his excellent presentation Sept. 10, Dr. Marc McCoy of Mount Mercy was careful to talk “context” as he led an audience of around 35 at the CRST Graduate Center through a key First Amendment case that changed American education.

Himself a long-time principal of a large middle school in the Linn-Mar district, McCoy clearly had a point of view on the case, but he also was careful to present a pleasingly nuanced picture as he covered the background and impact of “Tinker v Des Moines Independent School District,” a 1969 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.

McCoy described how a group of some two dozen pupils in Des Moines were caught up in following the war on the nightly news, and, motivated primarily by their religious faith, wanted to act.

Dr. Marc McCoy during his presentation at the CRST Graduate Center Sept. 10.

Dr. Marc McCoy during his presentation at the CRST Graduate Center Sept. 10.

These were mostly children—a mixed group of elementary, junior high and high school students. One of the best known was Mary Beth Tinker, who was a 13-year-old seventh grader at Warren G. Harding Junior High in 1965. She, several of her siblings and friends decided to wear black arm bands to school on one day in December to show support for a Christmas truce that had been proposed by Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Noting how he was the same age as Mary Beth, McCoy marveled a bit at such attention to larger issues at such a young age. “That takes some chutzpah,” he noted.

School principals in Des Moines learned of the students’ plans—it wasn’t hard. McCoy said the plans had been mentioned in a student newspaper story. And Des Moines principals let it be known that the arm bands were not welcome.

McCoy said that, in his opinion, those Des Moines school officials were acting in good faith, using common academic practices of the day. He also said that they were wrong–but their actions were not surprising. An African-American who had recently graduated from high school in Des Moines had just died in Vietnam, and administrators were worried that a group of white students protesting against the war could create racial tensions and incidents in school.

That was, after all, the year of what some have called the “long, hot summer.” Frustrated with poverty and racial discrimination had boiled over into riots in some American cities—not Des Moines, but then again, those riots had been on the evening news like Vietnam had, and their impact had to be on administrators’ minds.

And the doctrine of “in loco parentis,” that schools had parental authority, was stronger in 1965.

Mary Beth wore her arm band. The principal called her into the office, and told her to take it off. She complied, but later in the school day was suspended anyway. Her brother wore a band to school the next day and went directly to the office to earn his suspension without the bother of having to attend class first.

About two dozen students engaged in the completely peaceful, silent protest in various schools, but only six were suspended from school. Administrators had wide latitude on what exactly to do, and exercised that latitude. The parents appealed to the school board, which voted to back the administrators and leave the suspensions on the students’ records.

Dr. McCoy reviewed the history of the early War in Vietnam to explain the context of the court case.

Dr. McCoy reviewed the history of the early War in Vietnam to explain the context of the court case.

And then the ACLU offered help with a lawsuit challenging the district’s actions under the First Amendment. At trial in a federal district court, the judge said both the students and the school made valid, compelling arguments—he said the arguments, in effect, balanced. Like in baseball, “a tie goes to the runner,” McCoy said—and in this context, the school district, as the local authority trying to enforce the status quo, was the runner.

Three students appealed. The appeal was heard by a panel of judges who evenly split on the case—and in this case, the trial court was the runner, so the students lost and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court ruled in 1969, 7-2, that the school district was wrong—primarily, the judges ruled, because the students had neither caused a disruption nor posed a likelihood that their actions would disrupt school. One reason for the ruling is that no teachers testified during the trial or the appeals of any classroom problems caused by the protesting students.

“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate,” Abe Fortas wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Some predicted that the ruling would cause chaos. It certainly increased lawsuits, but McCoy said that, by and large, it did not lead to lots of disruptions in schools. Partly, that’s because Tinker dealt with political speech—the most highly protected form of speech, and as Kathryn Coulter, another MMU professor, pointed out in discussion after McCoy’s presentation, other forms of speech, such as threats or harassment of teachers, do not (and never did) enjoy the same level of First Amendment protection. Coulter is a lawyer.

Mount Mercy University's logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

Mount Mercy University’s logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

The academic landscape has changed a lot since 1965. The country first became more liberal (photos of the Tinkers and their friends at the time of the protest look like they came straight off the set of “Leave it to Beaver”) and then began a slow conservative turn. Subsequent court decisions have not overturned Tinker, but have clarified that school administrators still enjoy wide latitude to control student behavior.

Today, McCoy said, one key issue is: Where does the schoolhouse gate even exist? With Twitter and Facebook, objectionable student communication may take place on a random night in July at 3 a.m.

It’s a good question.

I was also thinking of today’s anniversary. 9/11—what does Tinker mean in this world? As a country, we declared “war” on terrorism, which to my mind was a terrible idea simply because being against terrorism is like being against sin. You can declare war on it if you want to—but the war will never end. You’re starting a war that by definition has no victory point.

And that war mindset is clearly not very kind to freedom of expression. The quote at the start of this post was from an e-mail correspondence Dr. McCoy had with John Tinker before the presentation.

Today, on this 14th anniversary of 9/11, I don’t want to forget that America was attacked. But, I don’t want us to burn down freedom in an attempt to provide what we can’t get—absolute security.

It may be messy and dangerous, but I prefer democracy.

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And so the ’Nam Series is Off and Running


The crowd in Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy before the show began.

Two views of the crowd in Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy before the show began.

My day Wednesday began pretty early, with a 7:15 a.m. stop at WMT radio.

My wife had urged me to leave the house a few minutes earlier, but I didn’t get out the door until about 7:05, so 7:15 was doing well for a quick bike ride. Doug Wagner, the morning host, welcomed me into the studio, we chatted for just a few minutes, and then the interview began.

I think I did OK. I got to sit there for two segments, basically, and it seemed like before it started, my air time was over. You can go to the WMT web site, if you want, and find a podcast—I’m in the 7 a.m. hour on Sept. 2 (starting at minute 17, if you don’t want to wait).

That was just the early start to the long day. I was pretty busy all day long, and a bit frazzled this afternoon in a one-hour class that meets only once a week, when half the class was taken over by a fire drill.

I had been up a bit late the night before, getting a PowerPoint slide show ready.

At 7 p.m., Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English, and I were set to open the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University. I had arrived in the room maybe 30 minutes early (yes, I was a little anxious and antsy). Joy showed up about 20 minutes before the talk. We conferred a bit and downloaded our PowerPoint slides, and we had to fuss with the technology a little, but a Word Study student from Event Services was very helpful, and we were ready when it was time to start.


Brianna and Meg, journalists covering the Vietnam Series for the MMU Times.

Picture above was with the camera Brianna is holding--she seems more serious now that I gave her a camera to use!

Picture above was with the camera Brianna is holding–she seems more serious now that I gave her a camera to use!

Father Tony said a prayer. I did a little intro. Joy then took over and gave an interesting presentation on what she confessed was a “date movie” when she was young—“Full Metal Jacket.” She showed a scene of the drill sergeant yelling at the recruits, and noted how the visuals dehumanized the Marines and made them seem like parts of a machine. What the machine could do was shown in another clip, set in the ruins of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English, speaks. MMU Times photo by Brianna Sturtz.

Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English, speaks. MMU Times photo by Brianna Sturtz.

Then, it was my turn to head up the river with Capt. Willard in search of Col. Kurtz. It wasn’t “peace now.” It was “Apocalypse Now.”

It seemed that, like the morning radio show, the evening presentation was over before it started. At the presentation, I saw a pretty good mix of students—mostly freshmen from portal classes—and faculty. MMU’s president was there, too. And there was a decent turnout from the community—interestingly enough, some of them the history junkies who came to some WWI events.

Me. MMU Times photo by Brianna Sturtz.

Me. MMU Times photo by Brianna Sturtz.

I didn’t do a head count. I’ll have to ask Event Services tomorrow what they thought—but, although there were a few empty chairs, the seating in the room was mostly taken. All the cookies were eaten. To be truthful, I might have had something to do with that—I have an awesome reputation (as in, it does inspire shock and awe) for stress eating.

Among the students at the forum were two new journalists—Meg and Brianna sat in front, Meg taking notes for a story, Brianna in her first outing as a Mount Mercy Times photographer.

I hope the Times doesn’t mind if I show some her work as a sneak preview of the paper’s next issue. I think she did well—the bar has been set fairly high for your story, Meg.

Well, I’m pretty happy. I would hope that some of the later events in the series that are still up in the air will get organized soon, and the “big” event, the visit of the Vietnam Wall, will for a while suck some of the oxygen from the room. It will be worth it, but it will be a big energy drain.

The next speaker in the series was there--Dr. Marc McCoy talks about "Tinker v Des Moines" at the CRST Graduate Center Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.

The next speaker in the series was there–Dr. Marc McCoy talks about “Tinker v Des Moines” at the CRST Graduate Center Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.

Well, we are off to a good start. Joy and I drew a crowd. The series is underway. I survived speaking about movies in front of Dr. Jim Grove, whose little finger knows more about Hollywood films than my entire cerebral cortex. Dr. Joe Nguyen was there, too—the series theme was his suggestion, and he is the person who worked hardest to bring The Wall to MMU.

Anyway, we have 14 more events in our Fall Faculty Series. See the MMU web site, and come on down. The ride up the river has started. Join us before we get to the Do Lung Bridge.

My wife and daughter attended--wife does what she sometimes does ... objects to me taking her photo. Don't tell her it is on the blog.

My wife and daughter attended–wife does what she sometimes does … objects to me taking her photo. Don’t tell her it is on the blog.

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So It Is Starting To Look Like Vietnam

A poster in Busse Library showing U.S. presidents involved in Vietnam.

A poster in Busse Library showing U.S. presidents involved in Vietnam.

The posters are hung up for the presentation next Wednesday. Planning for the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (the famous wall) has been taken over by the university head of safety and security (thank goodness). Today, I received two news releases to look over from the PR office about the series.

I almost feel like it’s Christmas Eve. An exciting event I’ve long awaited is just about to start.

If you’re free Wednesday night, Sept. 2, come on down to Mount Mercy. Dr. Joy Ochs, an English professor, and I will be talking about the image of Vietnam in movies. It is the kickoff to a three-month conversation the university is having about what the Vietnam War meant for America. Entitled “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War,” the 2015 Fall Faculty Series promises a lot of interesting events.

Joy and I will primarily be speaking about “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket. ”

Besides the posters with the schedule and the posters for next week’s program, there are other signs of the series, too. A grassy area of campus is all staked out where the traveling wall will be installed. And the library is slowly changing appearance.

The librarians have already put out a display of the many movies and books in the collection about Vietnam. Now, informational posters are starting to appear on the pillars of the library.

Some Vietnam movies and books the library has.

Some Vietnam movies and books the library has.

I found myself loitering a bit there today and having a little walk about. When you come to MMU for one of our programs, you might want to plan to spend a few minutes in the library, too.

It’s not exactly Christmas. But there are certainly enough signs of a big event!

Another poster in the library.

Another poster in the library.

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