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Technology Update: New CD-ROMs Focus on Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War is often described as the nation's first televised conflict.

Throughout most of the war, reporters and their cameras had wide access to combat zones, and their filmed reports appeared regularly on nightly news programs at home. On the home front, the protest movement received extensive televised coverage.

Much of that footage is now finding new life on cd-rom, providing comprehensive reference materials about a recent, yet complex and often confusing, period of American history.

The new crop of titles may prove a boon to teachers, many of whom lived through the war years but may lack the materials to put into context a conflict that ended before their students were born.

Although the situation has improved in recent years, some textbooks do not address the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath in any detail.

John Pine, the social studies supervisor for the West Milford Township, N.J., schools, said that while many supplemental materials are available about Vietnam, the cd-rom format adds several elements that enhance its utility for students.

The programs combine archival footage with text, still photographs, and a "hypertext" system that allows users to follow links between related concepts. That, he said, gives students a powerful way to navigate large amounts of material and even form their own mental associations among related concepts.

One such title, called Vietnam, produced by Medio Multimedia of Redmond, Wash., offers film and sound recordings of several of the most dramatic and emotional moments from the war years. Students can view President Lyndon B. Johnson announcing in a televised speech that he would not seek a second term, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. denouncing the conflict on the basis that no vital U.S. interests were threatened.

The program also contains a clip of President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953, explaining why he believed financial aid to Vietnam was in the best interest of American security. Interviews with U.S. Army officers, former protesters, Vietnamese officials, and others can also be summoned at the click of a mouse.

Mr. Pine said that although printed copies of those speeches could be found in a library, students benefit greatly from hearing the words as spoken.

Vietnam also contains selections from George Herring's America's Longest War, a one-volume history of the conflict.

Beyond the Wall, a cd-rom exploration of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is scheduled for release next month by Magnet Interactive Studios of Washington in conjunction with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The program is narrated by Adrian Cronauer, a former U.S. Air Force disk jockey whose wartime experiences were fictionalized in the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam."

Its five sections allow users to explore different aspects of the memorial completed in 1984 near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. A section on its design and construction includes an interview with Maya Ying Lin, the architect who designed the wall portion of the memorial while she was a student at Harvard University.

The disk also contains archival material made available by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, including video footage documenting the construction as well as Ms. Lin's concept sketches.

The program addresses the powerful emotional aspects of the memorial by including home movies, songs, and personal photographs from the families of casualties of the war.

Joe Feffer, the producer of the cd-rom, said the product, which is aimed at the home and school markets, "focuses more closely on the war's personal side than its battles, politics, and aircraft. It will be best used to inspire further discussion and learning about the war and the nature of war itself."

A third new product, meanwhile, provides a look at the geographic milieu in which the war was fought and sketches the cultural backdrop of Southeast Asia

Beyond the Nine Dragons, distributed in the United States by Essex Interactive of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is divided into four sections that provide a "virtual tour" of China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, all of which border the Mekong River.

The program contains 20 minutes of video footage as well as 450 color and black-and-white photographs, historic prints, and maps.

It is among the first products offered by Essex Interactive Media, which plans to introduce low-cost software into the retail market in much the same way that cut-price music CDs are marketed.

--Peter West

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