Tag Archives: Vietnam

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


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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.

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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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And So I Issue Some Corrections …



If you’ve been following this blog (and who in the universe has not been following my garden blog? No need to answer that …) you know I was recorded for a Mediacom news video last week.

Well, by Friday they had posted it. You can click on it above. Comments are disabled on YouTube, but not on WordPress, so feel free to comment on the video on this blog post if you loved it. Anyway, a few corrections:

In the video, in the heat of the moment, I messed up the dates. I state that it’s the 60th anniversary of the US Marines landing at Da Nang and the 50th anniversary of the war’s end. I’m 10 years in the future—it’s the 50th anniversary of American combat troops entering the war in the great numbers, and the 40th anniversary of the war’s end. My apologies to all the immediate post baby boomers who are only in their 40s, not their 50s.

I also think I didn’t handle well the question that Karol asks about costs. In retrospect, she was probably asking about buying tickets—what the cost to the public is to attend events. Later, I do get around to noting that the events are free, but it took me a while to get there.

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

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

Finally, in the video, I say that the replica of the Vietnam Memorial, the famous “Wall,” will be on the MMU central green space. Actually, the location has not been finally determined. It will be on campus, although the MMU campus has more than one location, but it’s a matter of where will work best to place the wall—it’s largely a question of slope. The big V needs some flat land. Anyway, the wall will be somewhere at MMU, just not necessarily near the Rohde Plaza as I had stated.

The corrections are details. I hope the main message was still clear, and I think the biggest omission was not noting that the idea for the series came from Dr. Joe Nguyen—so, again, thank you Little Joe for all the heart you’ve put into the fall series this year.

You all click on the link and go to the MMU web site and get details on the series and then go to all of the events. The series will, I think, be very illuminating. And it’s all free, there will be cookies, so come on down. And tell people you read about it on CRgardenjoe. Start a movement.

Also, for comparative purposes, this is the second time I’ve been recorded for local cable TV. Compare how I fare now with last year when I spoke on the World War I series. At least I think my shirt looks slightly better this year. I think I ramble quite a bit in both—in neither does Karol have to say much to get me talking.

I think professors are like the donkey in “Shrek.” Getting us to talk is not the problem. Getting us to shut up is the trick.

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Joe, As Seen On TV


Karol Kelly, host of Mediacom's local "Newsleaders" cable TV segments.

Karol Kelly, host of Mediacom’s local “Newsleaders” cable TV segments.

I wrote my Corridor Business Journal column this month on this topic, and wont’ totally repeat myself here, but I had the distinctly odd sensation of being interviewed twice recently. I talked about our Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University called “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”

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

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

One interview was for a student newspaper story—and I can’t complain about that experience, not only because the student did well with the story (she did) but also because, as the newspaper’s adviser, I could see the story during the production process.

The other time was being recorded for a cable TV program called “Newsleaders,” 5-minute segments that get disseminated on a local cable channel and via the web.

That is right, I’m not a star of Mediacom’s MC22. Or at least I appear for 5 minutes in one segment.

The experience was good, but also a big weird. I arrived via bike at the Mediacom office on Council Street. I’m glad it was a cool morning, as I wouldn’t want to be all sweaty.

I was escorted through a labyrinth into a waiting room, where there were some rather sketchy looking snacks on one table, plus plenty of water. I wasn’t thirsty. A very nice young lady had me sit in a chair and take off my glasses, and she proceeded to paint my face.

Lunch at home after the show. Showing my swag--a pen and a mug. I supplied the coffee.

Lunch at home after the show. Showing my swag–a pen and a mug. I supplied the coffee.

After makeup, it was time for the interview. Host Karol Kelly was sitting behind a desk. I sat down, snaked a microphone up my shirt, and aligned my belly button, as instructed, with a piece of tape on the desk.

Karol shuffled around for a minute, looking to see if Mount Mercy University had sent her questions. Then, I briefed her on why I was there (to describe the fall series at MMU).

Taping began. She did the intro, I said hello, she asked a question and we were off. She didn’t have to ask many questions—I’m a professor, and it’s dangerous to get me talking. It was amazing how quickly five minutes flew by.

At the end, I realized I had not even mentioned Dr. Joseph Nguyen, who came up with the series idea. Sorry about that, other Joe. But at least I mentioned you here on this blog post.

It was over before it seemed like it began. The microphone lady told me she had to take my photo, so I took hers, and Karol’s too.

In the Mediacom studio.

In the Mediacom studio.

I don’t know when the video will be aired or posted, but it is done. I hope you’ll like if you see it. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the MMU series, check out the university’s web site–there is a “banner” to link to series information, so just hit the arrows until you see the series logo and then click the link.

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Preparing for ’Nam: The Logo and the Books


As most of you reading this probably already know, last year Mount Mercy University had a series of fall events on the meaning and impact of World War I.

It was dubbed, for lack of a sexier name, the “Fall Faculty Series,” and included several faculty forums, a library display, a professional opera singer performing period music on campus, and a poetry and musical final event with student groups. The series was called: “A Century of Glory and Shame: Mount Mercy Reflects on how World War I Made Today.”

The series was very popular, and the faculty decided to do it again—picking, at the suggestion of Dr. Joseph Nguyen, a chemistry professor, the Vietnam War as the theme this year, due to the 50th anniversary of the first big U.S. troop surge and the 40th anniversary of the end of the war both falling this year. Like last year, I’m coordinating the series.

But, many of you probably already know all that. So what’s new?

The Marketing and Communication Office at MMU has created a logo for the 2015 series, and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Here it is in color:

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

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

When I saw a draft and asked for a few minor changes, I also asked if a black-and-white version could be created, and it was. Here it is in black-and-white:

VietNam_Logo2

Well, I think it’s pretty cool. What do you think?

In preparation for the fall series, I’m also starting my summer reading program. I biked to two local libraries in the past two days to get these books:

Books I got from Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha libraries.

Books I got from Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha libraries.

Looks like my summer is pretty booked! We’re still planning the series at Mount Mercy, but I’ll let you know when a full roster of events is available. It looks like the second fall series will be bigger than the first.

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And Joe TV Is On The ’Net


Not Joe me, Dr. Joe of chemistry. At Mount Mercy, Joseph Nguyen had the idea for the fall faculty series about the War in Vietnam.

Last week, he stopped by my Intro to Journalism class to answer questions about the idea. I ran the camera (not all that well, I will admit) and a student scripted and voiced the resulting story:

Anyway, if you are at MMU and are interested, we’ll have another planning meeting Friday at 2 in Warde Hall 310. Hope to see you there!

Slide I used at SGA meeting to inform students of plans for fall series.

Slide I used at SGA meeting to inform students of plans for fall series.

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