Yes, there is a real difference, and in spite of what you say later in this comment I do see that difference. But no one child’s personal reaction to terrible scenes from our history should determine the educational choices made for millions of children without these kinds of experiences in their background. I’m fine with a teacher issuing a warning a day or two in advance, especially if he/she knows there are children in the classroom who may come from or have family from the region that will be the subject of the history lesson. Perhaps you should have had the opportunity to opt out. Though trigger warnings are also subject to abuse, a case can be made for them. Regardless, it’s far more important that your classmates understand the truth about the human costs of the Vietnam War than that your feelings be spared. To be frank, you are arguing that it’s better another war be started because a whole generation is ignorant of the last war than that you be made to feel the way you did. I’m sorry, but I simply can’t accept that.
As for questions about advocating the teaching of various courses using graphic images, I’m not suggesting history (or sex ed, etc.) consist of nothing but graphic images. However, you simply cannot discuss war or genocide without getting graphic now and then. Nor can you discuss sexually transmitted diseases without rather unpleasant descriptions (visual or otherwise) of their symptoms. And frankly, I think it is incredibly harmful to even be suggesting to our youth that an educational experience without any risk of being confronted with incredibly challenging feelings and ideas is something they should expect. Sparing our feelings and making us comfortable is not the purpose of an education.
If we minimize or ignore lynchings, wars or concentration camps, including the graphic images associated with these evils, to spare the feelings of the victims, then we’re inviting history to repeat itself. Awareness of these atrocities is the best inoculation we have against making the same mistakes again. It’s not 100% effective, but it’s more effective than any alternative I can think of. I know this is going to sound insensitive, but if upsetting one or two students here and there to the degree you were upset by the picture you saw is the price we must pay to avoid another Vietnam and the suffering and deaths of millions of people that would come with it, I’m willing to pay that price and I think society should be too. Indeed, I think you, as someone with family that suffered through this event, should be even more insistent than I that we do all we can to avoid making that mistake again.
I understand you will likely think that’s easy for me to say, not having lived through a war, but my lack of experience in that regard doesn’t make my argument any less valid. And by the way, countless Holocaust survivors agree with me. In spite of the fact they must relive their trauma every time it is depicted, they want everyone to know what happened so that it won’t happen again. Having been through the Holocaust Museum I can assure you its victims are not the least bit concerned about the squeamishness of the visitors.
It comes down to this: would you rather have your feelings spared and have a generation of children that lacks a realistic grasp of the horrors of war, or worse, romanticizes it, or would you prefer a generation that knows the human cost of conflict and uses that knowledge to inform their own judgments when confronted with similar choices in the future? Ignorance is the number one cause of suffering. Emotional discomfort of the type you describe, though serious for the individual, doesn’t even make the top 10 when it comes to humanity as a whole. I’m sorry, but your feelings don’t trump the need to educate millions of children regarding the history and cost of atrocities committed in the name of racism, nationalism, or other extreme ideologies.