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Symposium will explore 'manpower and morale' following the 1968 Tet Offensive

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas symposium is bringing together scholars of the U.S. war in Vietnam — including some who are Vietnam veterans — to discuss what followed the 1968 Tet Offensive.

"Manpower & Morale after Tet" will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Adams Alumni Center on the Lawrence campus. Registration is recommended for anyone attending and is necessary to reserve a free meal at lunch.

In the months and years following the 1968 Tet Offensive, the U.S. media documented a growing “crisis of morale” among American service personnel in Vietnam. There were frequent stories of malaise and desertion, drug use, racial conflict, combat refusal and challenges to legitimate authority, along with reports of scandals and atrocities. Internal military documents tell much the same story.

What did happen? Why did morale appear to plummet? How did U.S. military leaders understand the extent and significance of the problems they confronted and, equally significantly, how did they try to manage this crisis? 

At the symposium, scholars will discuss how the U.S. military defined problems of manpower and morale and wrestled with solutions that ranged from the mundane and predictable to the unexpectedly creative.

E. Casey Wardynski, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower & reserve affairs, will offer the keynote address, “Army Personnel Policy since Vietnam: Lessons Learned for Today's All-Volunteer Force.” The luncheon talk will be given by Chris Noel, a former actress who entertained troops in Vietnam, then served as a veterans’ advocate in the decades that followed.

Beth Bailey, Foundation Distinguished Professor and director of KU’s Center for Military, War & Society Studies, said that the symposium was an official part of the national 50th-anniversary commemoration of the U.S. war in Vietnam.

“As we remember the war and those who fought,” she said, “it is also important to consider the war’s impact on the U.S. military and the lessons it drew as leaders combated what some described as 'the war within the war.'”

“Manpower & Morale after Tet” is co-sponsored by KU’s Center for Military, War, and Society Studies and the U.S. Army Center of Military History.