Disrupted by weather-related transportation problems, H-PAD nonetheless was a presence at the American Historical Association Meeting last weekend. Below are two brief reports on our activities at the conference, plus two links to History News Network interviews with three H-PAD colleagues. (Jim O’Brien earlier sent these links out, but we are resending them in the context of conference reporting.)
In the wake of the AHA conference, H-PAD is gearing up to join the national campaign for teach-ins, forums, and actions during the South Korean Olympics this February around the US-Korean crisis. Over forty-five national and regional organizations, including us, have signed on to this campaign. We will be sending out more information on the campaign by email this Saturday, and posting it on our web site (https://www.historiansforpeace.org/ ).
It is, though, important to state that, while we see the US-Korea crisis campaign as our main current focus, HPAD remains committed to resisting reaction on all fronts, including attacks on immigrants, undermining the economic security of working people, and gender and racial oppression.
The two HNN interviews with H-PAD colleagues at the AHA are available at:
- H-PAD co-chair Margaret Power, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/167909
- H-PAD SC member Rusti Eisenberg and historian Chris Appy, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/167907
Here are the two reports on AHA conference activities:
1, H-PAD at the 2018 AHA meeting – Margaret Power
On January 5, 2018, Barbara W., Kevin, Marc, and Margaret staffed the H-PAD table at the AHA. We were situated right outside the Book exposition, in a prime location, but not many people stopped to look at our literature. Those who did generally took samples of what we had on display, including the broadsides, which look great. About 18 people signed up on the mailing list, although some of them (i.e. Barbara W.) are already members. All of the literature was white (copied at the last moment, weather issues compounding the problem) and we agreed, more variety in the future is a must.
On January 6, 2018, H-PAD held our first meeting at the AHA. About thirty people attended. Andor, Barbara W., Kevin, Marc, Margaret, Rusti, and Van were there from the Steering Committee. Among the other people were some members of H-PAD and some new people. The meeting followed the agenda. We gave a brief history of HAW, with an emphasis on the two AHA resolutions we passed; and the transition from HAW to H-PAD. The atmosphere was overall congenial.
Much of the discussion focused on the Korea Campaign. We were fortunate to have several people from New York involved in the work: Van and Molly Nolan. Nan Kim (U Wisconsin) was particularly helpful, since she shared her involvement in the work and the Korean networks.
One other highlight was the presence of an undergrad history major from George Mason, who recommended we work with student groups. She strongly urged us to work with students/student groups and especially with SDS if there is one on the campus. It was also good to see Chris Appy, who had just given a great presentation on the previous panel discussing the Ken Burns/Lynn Novak series on Vietnam, attend the meeting and participate in the discussion.
Several members of the SC had lunch afterwards and discussed the meeting. The general feeling was upbeat, we are relaunching the organization and we have had a positive response.
2. Report on the AHA Panel on the US-Vietnam War Documentary – Andor Skotnes
During the 8.30 Saturday morning session at the AHA on January 6, the H-PAD supported panel, “A Fateful Misunderstanding: A Discussion of the Film Documentary ‘The Vietnam War’ by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick,” considered the strengths and weaknesses of this 18-hour documentary. The panel included Christian G. Appy (Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst), Mark Philip Bradley (University of Chicago), Heather Marie Stur (University of Southern Mississippi), and Carolyn Rusti Eisenberg (Hofstra University); Michael Kazin (Georgetown University) was chair. About 70 people attended.
All of the panelists affirmed, to varying degrees, evident strengths of the documentary: the power of the visuals, the engaging personal testimony that included the voices of Vietnamese figures from both the south and the north, the wealth of information, and the skilled, if rather traditional, filmmaking. On the other hand, the panelists offered a number of strong criticisms of the film. Several argued that Burns’ and Novik’s stated desire “to heal wounds” and to portray the war as a tragic mistake, masked uncomfortable, imperial realities. The overwhelming emphasis on battle marginalized questions of policy and politics. The preoccupation with US soldiers as both the heroes and victims of the war obscured civilian actions and suffering, and forestalled questions of responsibility. Women’s roles in the war and women’s testimony about the war were all but ignored. Links between the US war in Vietnam and later 21th century US wars went entirely unexplored. And the impact of the anti-war movement was severely minimized–sometimes depicted as ineffectual, and on occasion demonized.
At the beginning of the session, one commentator talked of continually grappling with the question, is this documentary “better than nothing?” By the end of session, it seemed that most of the panelists, and most of those who spoke from the audience, would have had a hard time answering yes.