Historian’s Embellishments a Red Flag for Vietnam Researchers

     Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer prize winning historian and Professor at Mt. Holyoke College, has committed sacrilege among those who strive to preserve and pass on the human story to the ages. He has distorted his personal history and thereby attempted to distort the great story of humankind’s history. He has joined a long list of impostors and history distorters concerning the VietnamWar. Those studying the history of the Vietnam War need to be alerted once again to those whose antiwar leanings during the war mandate a perpetuation of the inaccurate stereotypes and false images of the war.

This phenomenon takes on many forms and one of the most insidious is that of the faked, disillusioned Vietnam veteran. Professor Ellis, who has taught college courses on Vietnam, falls into this category. In his 29 years of teaching he has told his students that he was a platoon leader and paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and had served in General William Westmoreland’s headquarters. He also was (surprise, surprise) with a unit near the village of My Lai at the time of the massacre. Most likely this made him an expert eyewitness to American military atrocities in the war. Ellis continued to tell his war stories associated with these faked credentials until the Boston Globe exposed the fact that he had never served in Vietnam at all.

The path of Ellis and this modern attack on the Vietnam War is that of service, disillusionment, and then protest concerning the war. This way phony veterans (and veterans that embellish their war records and experiences) can have it both ways. They can gain honor and victim hood simultaneously. They invent disillusionment based on the terrible things (most times fictitious) they witnessed their fellow soldiers doing during the war and gain personal recognition or popularity. This was the route Professor Ellis took.  Some take an existing service record and exaggerate from there, while Ellis invented a totally fictitious tour of duty

 All of this would be harmless except it distorts history of the Vietnam War that will be passed on to future generations and demonizes those veterans that served honorably and bravely in that war. Ongoing efforts must be made to counter the inaccuracies of this trend and to introduce a degree of caution and skepticism to alert those searching for the story of Vietnam concerning their sources of information. All of us that want the story to be told accurately are part of this mission whether we like it or not. There are and will always be more professors and others that will be more than happy to distort history for their personal aggrandizement.

 Jim Griffiths

F 2/11 1968-69

The Confession