Radio Diaries – Prisoners of War

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Episode: Prisoners of War

Series: Radio Diaries

Release Date: Unknown
Producers: Sarah Kate Kramer, with Joe Richman and Nellie Gilles

Episode Link: http://www.radiodiaries.org/prisoners-of-war/

Tags:  History, War, Prison, Vietnam, 1960s, 1970s, Race, Racism, Protest, Vietnam War, Transnationalism, African American History, Black History, Soldier, US History, American History, Veteran, Oral History

ALTERNATIVE TRANSCRIPT: If you need a transcript, you can find a shorter version of this podcast via the series Code Switch. They offer a transcript of their episode here: https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=642617106

Description:

Narrative/Oral History The episode uses oral history interviews to describe the context and famous riot at the Long Binh Jail – a prison built by the US military outside of Saigon to house US soldiers during the Vietnam War. The episode focuses on the racial context that precipitated the riot, as more than half of the jail’s population were African Americans.

Notes: Kera Lovell: I like this episode because it sheds light on the intersection of two key threads in 1968 – the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the war in Vietnam. Most importantly, the episode centers on the voices of Black soldiers who felt that they were unable to mourn the loss of King as well as communicate their frustrations with racism on the American home front. The episode does include some cursing – if you need a clean version, see their website.

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Prisoners on work duty, filling sandbags in the “Big Red” work area.
Paul Grossheim/Courtesy of Forsyth Library, Fort Hays State University

Assignment Ideas:

1) Film Comparison: There are dozens and dozens of films on the Vietnam War that could be paired with the podcast. Here is a brief list of films focused on the homefront during the Vietnam War: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/12-documentaries-vietnam-war-american-homefront/ One I’ve shown to classes is The War at Home: http://firstrunfeatures.com/warathomedvd.html

2) Primary Source Analysis: The GI Press Collection offers a great opportunity for students to learn more from the perspective of US soldiers. http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15932coll8

3) Comparative Analysis: The Densho Archive offers a brief synopsis of Asian American resistance to the Vietnam War with links to primary sources in the archive. This could offer a helpful comparison of cross-cultural resistance to American imperialism in the late 1960s. https://densho.org/asian-american-opposition-vietnam-war/

4) Podcast Comparison: The new podcast series Vietnamese Boat People includes episodes on and with Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam War. It could offer a helpful comparison for students to see multiple sides of the conflict. https://www.vietnameseboatpeople.org/podcast

GI Press landing page image
Peruse the digitized GI Press Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society for ways to add depth to this podcast assignment. http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15932coll8

Potential Reflection Questions:

1) Why did African American soldiers riot at Long Binh Jail?

2) Applying theory: WEB DuBois coined the term “double consciousness” to describe how African Americans had to look at themselves through the lens of others, to know when they were being seen as Americans (part of the community) or as Black (the Other). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_consciousness Apply DuBois’s concept of double consciousness to interviewees in this podcast. How did Jimme Childress, Jr., for example, how he was seen by others as both American and black?

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Aerial shot showing destruction at Long Binh Jail after the August 1968 riot.
National Archives/Courtesy of Displaced Films  – See more images like this at Code Switch: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2018/08/29/642617106/the-forgotten-history-of-a-prison-uprising-in-vietnam

Other Relevant Sources:

Wiki overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_B%C3%ACnh_Jail

Book: Cecil Barr Curry, Long Binh Jail: An Oral History of Vietnam’s Notorious U.S. Military Prison, https://www.amazon.com/Long-Binh-Jail-Vietnams-Notorious/dp/1574883372

Digital Archive: Wisconsin Historical Society, GI Press Collection: http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15932coll8

Book: James Westheider, Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War: https://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Two-Fronts-African-Americans/dp/081479324X

Video Theory: The Atlantic, WEB DuBois’s theory of double consciousness: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/554972/web-dubois-striving-negro/

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