Former Trinity Professor Michael Heaney Discusses the Vietnam War

Former Trinity professor and scholar of the American Civil War Michael Heaney delivered a common hour lecture on Nov. 20 discussing his experiences as a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. Heaney, a recipient of a Purple Heart for his services during the war, reflected on his participation in the PBS documentary “The Vietnam War” and discussed the process of historical writing as well as the ability of the media to accurately convey soldiers’ experiences.
Using the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary as a guide, Heaney posed questions to the audience about the filmmaking techniques used in The Vietnam War and its effectiveness in communicating the gravity of the war and its role in experience and memory. He shared his own experiences as an Infantry Platoon Leader in combat and the war in general, both in the film and the discussion itself.
Heaney discussed his life after the war and his postwar work covered in “The Vietnam War.” In addition to working with local veteran groups in Vermont, he has travelled to Vietnam and met with former enemy soldiers. He described the conduct of his former adversaries as very welcoming, after some initial awkwardness and sizing-up. According to Heaney, the Vietnamese soldiers were themselves looking for a way to move on from the conflict, and they understood the struggles of their American counterparts.
In addition to his discussion, Heaney also sat in on History 299, a historiography methods course dedicated to the craft of historical research and writing. Professor Heaney shared his experience with historical writing at the graduate level and his interest in the American Civil War. He reflected that the most effective writing, historical or otherwise, “leverages a writer’s own experience and knowledge.”

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