Buzz report: The community gathers to deliberate ‘The Limits of Power: The United States in Vietnam’

By Gina Minoia

If you could go back in time and alter the course of history, what would you change? Would you change anything at all? Last Wednesday, community members met at Broome County Public Library to consider four options for U.S involvement in the Vietnam War. The deliberation coincided with the NEA’s Big Read of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, which follows an American platoon during the war in Vietnam.

Professors, veterans and others showed up to the discussion, which with began with a historical background provided by SUNY Broome’s Dr. Steven Call. “It’s a very complex picture,” explained Call. “Try to put yourself back in that period.”

“What could Johnson, what could America possibly do to salvage this situation?”

Participants traveled back in time to answer this question, imagining that the Vietnam War hadn’t yet escalated. They considered several options: Americanize the War/Fight to Win, Escalate Slowly/Control the Risks, and, finally, Unilateral Withdrawal. Professor and Coordinator of the Douglas C. Garnar Center for Civic Engagement Lisa Strahley led attendees through each option to find benefits, drawbacks and trade-offs.

Almost everyone shared their connections with the war, especially veterans who served in the war themselves. One man remembered when he and “thousands of other kids were drafted in 1967.” Another did two tours as a combat infantryman in Vietnam, while a few people remembered watching the war on television. One woman recalled tuning in as a child during her first grade class: “It was so removed … like watching a cartoon.”

Dr. Clarice Yentsch also attended the event as part of her visit to SUNY Broome, sharing that she “spent time in the 1960s protesting the Vietnam War.” Yentsch is currently the curator for Vietnam War veteran Glenn Hoover’s “Innocent Souls” photograph collection, which went on display on campus March 6. Hoover attended as well and contributed many of his experiences as a “soldier with a camera” in Vietnam.  His “Innocent Souls” exhibit will be on display in The Gallery @ SUNY Broome until March 30.

The event was a success and conversation was lively, only ending when library custodians announced that the library would soon be closing for the night. Deliberations like this one help to devise solutions for problems both in the community and across borders. Stay tuned for more deliberative discussions on our campus and elsewhere.

Gina Minoia is a freshman in the Education program.