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        How the War Was Fought: Reassessing the Crossover Point | ​Ken Burns & ​Lynn Novick: The Vietnam War

        In this lesson, 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. 

        Lesson Summary

        In this lesson, 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. 

        Learning Objectives

        1. Examine various military and political experts’ opinions of the best war strategy.
        2. Analyze the choice of action chosen by President Johnson.
        3. Debate the recommendations by Johnson’s advisors and come to their own conclusions on the best course of action.

        Prep for Teachers

        Before starting this activity, explain to students that by spring 1967, the US military believed it had achieved the “crossover point” in several areas of South Vietnam. This strategic point was devised by Commanding General William Westmoreland to indicate the point in the war when more enemy soldiers had been killed than could be replaced. General Westmoreland tried to convince President Johnson that with just another 200,000 US troops, he could achieve the crossover point throughout South Vietnam and get the North Vietnamese government to surrender.


        Video Clips

        1. Westmoreland Addresses Congress
        2. Johnson’s Compromise

        About The Author

        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

        1. Have students view the video segment, “Westmoreland Addresses Congress,” which shows General Westmoreland announcing that the crossover point had been reached and that the end of the war was in sight. He then asks President Johnson for an additional 200,000 troops and permission to send US troops into Laos and Cambodia. Then, show the second segment, “Johnson’s Compromise,” of President Johnson’s decision.
        2. Have students discuss the questions below in a small group or as a full class. Then, review the debriefing questions with the full class. You can conduct the activity below as a class or as an individual student writing activity.

        Discussion Questions for Clips 1 and 2

        1. Summarize the message of General William Westmoreland in his address to Congress regarding the status of the war.
        2. What was the true belief of Westmoreland and the administration on how the United States would prevail in the war?
        3. Describe General Westmoreland’s assessment of the war’s progress as of April 1967. What steps did Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs of Staff say were needed to end the war in two years?
        4. Describe Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s feelings and his memorandum to President Johnson about the war’s progress by mid-1967.
        5. What were Secretary McNamara’s recommendations to President Johnson?

        Debriefing Questions

        1. After receiving advice from his military advisors, what actions did President Johnson eventually take? Why do you think he chose this middle ground?
        2. Would you have followed the advice of Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Robert McNamara? Explain.

        Culminating Activity

        Divide students into small groups of two to three students. Assign each group one of the following positions until all groups are assigned:

        1. Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs of Staff
        2. Secretary McNamara
        3. President Johnson 

        Have each group develop talking points explaining and justifying their respective positions. Form larger groups, each with the three positions, and have the groups discuss their positions again. Then have each large group vote on the most preferred position (Westmoreland’s, McNamara’s, or Johnson’s) or develop one of their own.  



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