Last week I attended my first Society for Military History (SMH) conference. For me, panels on the Vietnam War and counterinsurgency made me rethink my understanding and mental approach to my future dissertation topic. In particular, the wrong questions about the Vietnam War are being asked. Rather than arguing over whether the war was necessary or a grave mistake, historians need to move on. Questions pertaining to how the war was, and is, interpreted by the participating nations are in need of answers. For example, Thailand’s elites view the Vietnam War as a great military and economic victory. Thus scholars need to explain the varying interpretations of the conflict. In relation to my interest in American-Australian military relations during the Vietnam War-era, I now have a better idea of how to address the deep scholarship on Australia while avoiding outdated questions. Consequently, many more books have been added to my reading list.
Besides the discussions related to my research interests, this years SMH gave me a better understanding of how to present a paper. Through the various panels, it became clear that powerpoints are only as good as the presenter and a paper based on generalities will put many people to sleep. Moreover, my belief that if one is going to ask a question it better be amazing and relevant. Sometimes is pays to be quiet and take notes.
In sum, I enjoyed the conference and am looking forward to the next SMH. Additionally, I hope to present some research next summer.