The Vietnam War


Explore activities and videos related to The Vietnam War, the latest documentary from filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The series features archival footage and testimony from nearly 100 witnesses.

  • Forces that Fueled the Vietnam War | THE VIETNAM WAR

    Students view selected clips from THE VIETNAM WAR that speak to French colonialism in Southeast Asia and American support of French colonial rule in Vietnam. Periods covered include: 1858-1954 (Activity 1), 1954 (Activity 2), and 1954-1956 (Activity 3). The essential questions are:

    1. Why did the United States feel compelled to take over for the French in Indochina?
    2. What responsibilities do nations have to help provide for a peaceful world order? 

    Themes pertain to: colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, exceptionalism, and the Cold War.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Popular Beliefs and Misconceptions | THE VIETNAM WAR

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR that explore the impressions Americans had about Vietnam, the Vietnamese people, and the Vietnamese governments. Students will examine the reality American policy makers espoused about the war versus the situations and conditions that soldiers experienced on the ground. Periods covered include: 1960-1962 (Activities 1-4), 1961-1963 (Activity 5). 

    • How did preconceptions and misunderstandings affect the war efforts of the Vietnamese and the United States?
    • Why is it important for a nation’s leaders to fully understand their adversaries and the physical and political environments in which they find themselves?
    Grades: 9-13+
  • Leadership and Decision Making | THE VIETNAM WAR

    In these scenario-based activities, students view video segments from selected episodes of THE VIETNAM WAR, describing specific situations facing each of five US presidents during the course of the war. Students then engage in decision-making activities to analyze the circumstances, explore the president’s options, and define a course of action.

    The essential questions are:

    1. How effective were the decisions made by American and Vietnamese leaders toward achieving their respective goals?
    2. How can government leaders decide the best course of action during a time of war?

    Themes pertain to: leadership, imperialism, nationalism, exceptionalism, and the Cold War

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 1: Kennedy’s “Limited War” Campaign Risk Assessment Activity

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine the Kennedy administration’s deliberation over whether to escalate the effort in South Vietnam, weighing all contingencies of the Cold War, American exceptionalism, containing communism, and the uncertainty of the enemy.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 2: Fallout after the Diem Coup

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine the situation after the coup of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Students will assess the South Vietnamese government’s ability to defend itself against the insurgency of North Vietnam after the coup.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 3: Both Sides Escalate Their Efforts

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine the war strategies and political tactics of both North Vietnamese leader Le Duan and US President Lyndon Johnson in the war’s early stages.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 4: Early War Strategy

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine communist forces and US military battle tactics during the battle in the Ia Drang (Yuh Drang) River valley. Students will then discuss the results of this pivotal battle and the lessons learned by the North Vietnamese and the Americans.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 5: Questioning the Mission

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR that examine the concern held by some Johnson administration officials, Congress, and even President Johnson himself over US involvement in Vietnam. Students will view excerpts from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings that took place in 1966 as well as the testimony of various experts about the war’s progress. Students will then consider whether to support future funding for the war.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 6: Trying to Find the Right Formula

    In the effort to find the right strategy for winning the war, US General William Westmoreland believed the key was to destroy the North Vietnamese Army and stop its infiltration into South Vietnam. He believed if he could reach a “crossover point” where US and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces were killing more enemy troops than could be replaced, then North Vietnam would have to stop and negotiate for peace. Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and evaluate the crossover point strategy and the use of overwhelming force in fighting the war. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 7: Reassessing Rolling Thunder

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine the effectiveness of the bombing campaign known as “Rolling Thunder,” which directed air attacks against Hanoi and Haiphong in hopes of forcing North Vietnam to negotiate a peace settlement. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 8: Reassessing the Crossover Point

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine General Westmoreland’s crossover point strategy and his request for more troops to end the war. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • How the War Was Fought | Activity 9: The Theory and Reality of a War Strategy

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine the tactical plans laid out by the US military command to find and destroy enemy forces. They will then see the reality on the ground as soldiers speak of their experiences and assess the effectiveness of the US military plan.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Vietnam Experience in Music

    Students will view a segment from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine lyrics from selected songs from the Vietnam era. They will share their thoughts and viewpoints on these lyrics in a class discussion. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Richard Nixon and the 1968 Presidential Campaign

    Students will view video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR detailing the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Johnson administration and presidential candidate Richard Nixon related to the peace talks with North Vietnam prior to the election of 1968.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Patriotism, Service, and Protest

    In this lesson, students will watch and listen to different perspectives about the value of fighting in the Vietnam War and the value of protesting the war.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Pentagon Papers: National Security versus the People's Right to Know

    Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine various viewpoints in regard to the legality of the publication of the Pentagon Papers. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The 1968 Democratic National Convention

    In this lesson, students will view segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and complete a graphic organizer to help them make conclusions about what they see. They then will use the information from the organizer to role-play a police officer, demonstrator, convention delegate, or someone watching the convention at home. Then, they will write a letter to a friend or family member from the point of view of someone who witnessed the event. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Who Served and Who Didn’t

    Students will view two video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR that focus on those Americans who served in the military in Vietnam and those who did not. In the first clip, four men describe their incentives for enlisting to go to war. In the second clip, students hear from Americans who chose not serve, how they avoided going to Vietnam, and why. Students will complete two graphic organizers to help them identify the motivations of, and see the similarities and differences among, those who served in Vietnam and those who didn’t. 

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Things They Carried Lesson Plan

    In THE VIETNAM WAR, Vietnam veteran and author Tim O’Brien reads from his book The Things They Carried. In this lesson, students analyze O’Brien’s writing, using literature to learn about soldiers’ experiences in war. They try their hand at writing about the things they themselves carry, and what those things say about them.

    Grades: 9-13+

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