Book Collects Student Insights on Vietnam War

Posted Feb. 10, 2006

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“To Oppose Any Foe,” a collection of 11 essays from U.Va. law students on the legacies of the Vietnam War, not only showcases some of the best student work from the Law School’s seminar on legal and policy issues in the Indochina War, but also makes a significant contribution to the scholarship of a much-studied conflict, according to professor John Norton Moore, who has team-taught the Vietnam War seminar with professor Robert F. Turner for the past 15 years.

Moore said he believes the book to be the first published collection of essays written entirely by U.Va. law students. He added that he has never seen a collection of student essays receive the widespread praise from other scholars that “To Oppose Any Foe” has gotten since its publication in January.

“This is quite a remarkable collection,” Moore said. “It’s the same quality as any other academic book that’s being published.”

The quality of papers in the Vietnam seminar has always been unusually high, according to Turner. Turner said that he and Moore had discussed publishing a collection of student essays for several years and began the project in 2003 after reading a particularly impressive essay by Ross Fisher on the role of the Kennedy administration in the overthrow of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem.

Fisher’s essay became the book’s first chapter and he joined Turner and Moore in the compilation effort. The book’s first six essays explore the war from a historical perspective, the following three take a legal perspective, and the last two consider contemporary legacies. Most of the essays came from students in Turner and Moore’s seminar on the Vietnam War, but two came from Moore’s seminar on the rule of law.

The essays cover an array of topics, including the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, Naval interception operations, analysis of U.S. legal advice at the beginning of the war, and comparisons between the Vietnam War and the U.S. intervention in Somalia. 

The book takes its title from President Kennedy’s assertion during his 1961 inaugural address that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Moore said he first conceived the Vietnam seminar as a class that would focus on a different war each year but soon realized that the Vietnam conflict addressed broader wartime issues in a unique way. Over the years, Turner and Moore have brought in a number of guest speakers to talk about their experiences with the war.

“The Vietnam War is such an incredibly rich case study,” Moore said. “It’s got relevance for Somalia, for Iraq, and even the Persian Gulf.”

Fisher, who graduated in 2004 and now works as an antitrust lawyer in Washington, D.C., said that the war in Iraq did not prompt the decision to publish the book, but comparisons between certain essays and current events were sometimes inevitable. “It became more timely as we were working on it,” Fisher said. For example, he said he selected an essay about the My Lai massacre and command responsibility just after Saddam Hussein had been captured in Iraq. Fisher said that the essay’s discussion of military tribunals made him wonder what sorts of tribunals would emerge in the current conflict and what roles they would perform.

According to Fisher, several of the essays’ authors (including a student who became the Navy's first female JAG admiral) had prior military experience, but most were too young to experience the Vietnam War first-hand. He said that the writers’ distance from the emotional turmoil of the period may have helped them to keep a sense of critical distance in their scholarship. “Maybe with the benefit of the passage of time, people can look at [the Vietnam War] with a little more objectivity, or just a fresh perspective,” Fisher said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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