By Gerry Griffith
and Leslie Moon
Brian Crumley, a part-time faculty member at IU Southeast, had donned a flak jacket, served in Vietnam, and continued to serve during a number of the conflicts he lectures about in his classes. “I teach some things in history that I witnessed, that I remember happening,” Crumley says. He is what some might describe as a salty vet, and a brusque New York City accent and rough demeanor only serve to burnish such a bearing.
“History is the study of change over time” is a phrase repeated often in his classroom. Students in his classes learn a dynamic form of history which engages not only the past but also the present, making speculation about the future. He uses the past as a template and fills in current events to surmise what will happen according to what happened in similar situations in the past.
Crumley served in Vietnam in the 335th Radio Research Company (1971-72). He understands how it felt to fight in Vietnam, but he also knows what led up to that conflict according to historians. But this was merely where his tenure in the Army began. He also served in Japan (1972-73) in the US Army Special Forces. Germany accounted for seven years of his service, including his last deployment in the Air Defense Artillery where he retired in 1992 as an E7 Sergeant First Class. His time in the military spanned some controversial periods in recent US history, and he now lectures over them nearly every year.
History is the study of change over time.
“It’s a vastly different environment for veterans today than it was when I retired,” he offers, “Undoubtedly, things are on the upswing for veterans right now.” The IU faculty member has witnessed his fair share of differing perceptions of veterans, having been an observer of the nation’s shifting reactions to its involvement in warfare and, thus, its reactions to the soldiers who have served. “When soldiers came back from Vietnam, they were being spit on, now the government can’t do enough for veterans.” He continues, “There’s certainly a different attitude toward veterans now.” But he adds, “We’ll see how long this current attitude lasts, especially if we get into another war and there are more veterans than the VA [Department of Veteran’s Affairs] knows what do with.”
Crumley has taught history at IU Southeast for 10 years in subjects as diverse as American History, History of Europe, 20th Century World History, US Diplomatic History, History of the Vietnam War, and World Civilizations. Prior to teaching at IU Southeast, he procured a Master of Arts in history from the University of Louisville and a doctorate from Texas A&M.
His personal experiences in war and study of those experiences from another viewpoint intertwine to provide him with a sophisticated understanding of the challenges faced by veterans today in comparison with those in the past. He says, “I lived during an era in which the Cold War demanded that a significant portion of the population serve in the military.” Continuing, he adds, “Now, with an all-volunteer army, veterans are becoming rarer and more appreciated. The basic ingredients of a soldier are still the same, and it takes a special person to be willing to join with all the challenges going on today.”
I teach some things in history that I witnessed, that I remember happening.
He says, “War has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. I do not envision a future without some international conflict.” He believes that war is a last effort, but that it is sometimes necessary. Stepping back and looking at history in retrospect, he is more tolerant than he was as a soldier although always believing that the fight for power sometimes consumes those who do not have it. Perhaps he holds these views because of his time fighting in the wars he is referencing, or maybe he garnered this opinion after studying the innumerable crippling wars of the past.
With that at the forefront of his beliefs, Crumley chooses to teach history to university students because he believes that students deserve to be taught the side of history that is not always the prettiest, an unbending lesson of the realities which individuals have faced. He wants the students to see the facts and devise their own opinions about the history of our nation. It is from veterans such as Crumley that the price of war might be learned and understood on an intellectual and personal level. |t|
Transformations is a publication of IU Southeast Diversity.