In this lesson, 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.
One class period (50 minutes).
- Identify different motivations for serving in Vietnam and attitudes about fighting in the war held by those who served.
- Explain how some Americans avoided serving in the war.
- Identify patterns among those who served in Vietnam and those who did not serve in Vietnam.
- Examine why the US military in Vietnam “skewed toward minorities and the underprivileged.”
- Evaluate the fairness of the draft as it was enacted during the Vietnam War.
- Who Enlisted and Why: Graphic Organizer
- Who Didn’t Serve and Why: Graphic Organizer
- Exploring Perspective in the Classroom Handout
About The Author
Julie Weiss holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, and taught media analysis and women’s studies at the college level before turning her focus to curriculum development. She contributed lessons based on the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks. She has also written for Teaching Tolerance, the Newsweek Education Program, the California Environment and Education Initiative, and Aramco World magazine, among others. Currently a social worker, she developed a program that helped veterans with PTSD train dogs to provide emotional support.
- Introduce the lesson by asking students, “When the United States goes to war, who fights in that war? How does someone become a soldier?” Students might point out that most people who fight in wars are young and usually male. They might say that people choose to join the military and fight, or some may have an idea about a draft. Explain that during the Vietnam War, there was a draft, which meant that some young men were required to serve in the military. Ask students if they know anyone who served in the Vietnam War. (Explain that there is no draft in place today.) Point out that not everyone serves in the military, and that was true during the Vietnam War, too. Explain that in this lesson, students will be learning about who served in Vietnam and who didn’t serve. Students will discuss some of the inequities of the military draft during the Vietnam War and design a draft system for military service.
- Explain to students that they are going to watch two video segments from The Vietnam War. In the first segment, they will see and hear from four men who enlisted in the Marines so that they could serve in Vietnam.
- Pass out copies of the Who Served and Why: Graphic Organizer. Explain that the four men are listed in the left-hand column of the chart. Point out that across the top are possible reasons for enlisting. Tell students that in the video, each man explains why he enlisted. Instruct students to put a checkmark in the appropriate boxes to show the reasons each man gives for enlisting. Students might use the “Other” column for additional reasons. By the time the segment is over and they have filled in the table, they will have a visual record of why each man enlisted.
- Next, view the segment “Who Served and Why” and give students a few minutes to complete their graphic organizers. Have them write a sentence or two under the chart that summarizes any patterns they see among the men and their reasons for enlisting. Have students hold on to the handout, so that they can return to it later.
- Tell students that now they will be viewing another segment from The Vietnam War. Explain that then, like now, 18-year-old men were required to register for the draft. But just because they registered didn’t mean they served in the military. In this clip, students will learn about why some young men did not serve.
- Pass out copies of the Who Didn’t Serve and Why: Graphic Organizer. Ask students to fill in the graphic organizer as they watch the next segment. In the left-hand column, they will list different ways that people avoided going to Vietnam. In the middle column, they will list defining characteristics of those who didn’t serve. In the right-hand column, they will note who criticized those who avoided serving and what their criticisms were.
- Now view the segment “Who Didn’t Serve and Why” and give students a chance to look over their charts and write a sentence or two summarizing what they have seen.
- Have students use their completed graphic organizers to discuss these questions:
- Do you know anyone who served in the Vietnam War? Are you from a military family?
- What did you notice that the men who enlisted had in common? In what ways were they different from each other?
- What did you notice that the men who did not serve in Vietnam had in common with each other? In what ways were they different from each other?
- What generalizations can you draw about who did and did not serve in Vietnam?
- What criticisms did Stokely Carmichael and Muhammad Ali have about who served in the war? What did they say about African American men serving?
- Do you agree with the statement made by GIs at the time, “If you got the dough, you don’t have to go”? What evidence supports your answer?
The Vietnam War often conjures up more questions than answers. Students are likely to have many questions about the war and the people who served and chose not to serve. Invite individuals who lived through the Vietnam War from a broad range of experiences to speak to the class. These could be Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. Having conversations with individuals who lived through the Vietnam War era can help navigate difficult the questions students will have. Exposing students to a variety of unique eyewitnesses to history can challenge them to be more confident in interpreting complex historical events for which there are no absolute answers. A good place to start is by accessing the Exploring Perspective in the Classroom Handout.