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December 04, 2017 10:22 PM

Lessons Of War

Augustana University will offer a class next year on the Vietnam War.  But in this course, students won't be focusing so much on learning dates and battles.  Instead, they'll be exploring theories on what makes humans want to wage war, in the first place.   It's a heady topic that the teacher has been pondering since his own service in Vietnam, a half-century ago.  

Most people know Adrien Hannus as the scholarly anthropology professor and director of the Archeology Lab at Augustana University.  Few know about his cloak-and-dagger past as a hard-bitten army intelligence officer during the Vietnam War.

"I had never seen anybody badly cut in my life, and four days after I get to Vietnam, I'm seeing people being ripped to shreds and that went on for a whole year," Hannus said.

Hannus says during his one-year deployment in Vietnam, he was involved in 197 firefights.  His medals, including the Bronze Star, speak to the heroism and hazards of serving in a war zone.

"I don't think you can could be thinking about moral imperatives, you're thinking about keeping from being killed," Hannus said.

Hannus's assignment was to collect intelligence on enemy operatives.  

"And then at a certain point where we thought we had enough information and had been able to target the person, we then tried to take them out, in other words, to assassinate them," Hannus said.

It was Hannus's job to dispatch CIA-trained South Vietnamese locals to assassinate those enemy political and military leaders.  Yet Hannus says the murky intrigues unfolding in Vietnam at the time made this a mission that was doomed to fail.

"What we were getting was intelligence that mostly in targeting some of these people, I'm fairly convinced now, probably weren't even people that should have been targeted because they were probably being reported upon by individuals who had other agendas to get rid of them in the first place," Hannus said.

Hannus says this top-secret assassination operation would often backfire.

"There were a number of people who were these assassins who ended up killing the person who was supposed to be the U.S.-type that was sending them out on missions," Hannus said.

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"Well, it would have been me, but in my case, in my case, I mean, I was very fortunate," Hannus said.

Yet Hannus says the futility of the mission cost lives and did nothing to defeat the Viet Cong.

"Let's say it built a very healthy level of cynicism for me for the rest of my life," Hannus said.

Now Hannus wants to turn that cynicism into a teachable moment for others.  In the fall of 2018, Hannus will teach a course at Augustana University called Anthropology 397.  Students will explore whether humans are hard-wired genetically to wage war. Or, as Hannus believes, war is a learned behavior, egged-on by cultural influences.

"We went from one of the most pathetic prey creatures on the landscape to the quintessential predator.  We predate against everything else on the planet, including ourselves," Hannus said.

Hannus says the technology we've developed has raised the stakes in future conflicts.

"We have brought our capacity for killing to heights that are beyond description.  Tap a couple of buttons and you can wipe out the planet so we have really maxed this out," Hannus said.

Hannus says the U.S has never come fully to terms with the Vietnam War because of its unpopularity.  Therefore, he says Vietnam has become our latest forgotten war.  But he hopes by shedding light on what motivates us to go to war we can learn hard-fought lessons from the fields of combat in the classroom.

Hannus was in Vietnam from July of 1967 to July of '68.  

He says he experienced the war's unpopularity first-hand in the taunts he received from Americans after returning home.   So he says he learned to avoid mentioning that he ever fought in Vietnam.

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