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        Popular Beliefs and Misconceptions: American​ ​Power | Ken Burns & Lynn Novick: The Vietnam War

        In this lesson, students will view selected video segments from The Vietnam War that show the US involvement in Vietnam in the early years of the war. 

        Lesson Summary

        In this lesson, students will view selected video segments from The Vietnam War that show the US involvement in Vietnam in the early years of the war. In them, reporter Neil Sheehan vividly describes the daunting military power of the United States. But as the conflict progresses, both US and South Vietnamese military officials begin to doubt whether the military operations are achieving their objectives.

        Period​ ​Covered:​ ​1961-1962

        Learning Objectives

        • Describe the feelings of many Americans during the early years of the Cold War.
        • Describe how US military capabilities gave Americans the feeling of exceptionalism and commitment to a free world. 
        • Analyze why some American military officials questioned the use of massive force.
        • Compare and contrast the US conventional military strategy with a pacification program.

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        Student Handout

        About The Author

        Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise; and various Ken Burns productions including The War, Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, Baseball, The Tenth Inning, The Central Park Five, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and Jackie Robinson. He is the winner of the 2007 American Educational Publishers Award.

        Learning Activities

        Have students view the three video segments and discuss the following points:

        • Characterize the feelings of many Americans, like Neil Sheehan, about the mission in Vietnam in the early stages of the war.
        • From Sheehan’s words and the images in the video, describe how America’s military capabilities helped support its sense of exceptionalism and commitment to a free world.
        • Why did some American military personnel, like John Paul Vann, begin to question the use of massive force on the enemy? Give an example of how using massive force could have unwanted results.
        • Compare and contrast the conventional military strategy of the US military in Vietnam with the pacification policy of province chief Tran Ngoc Chau. Explain why, under the circumstances, the pacification policy of Chau might be more effective than that of the US military.

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