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        Popular​ ​Beliefs​ ​and​ ​Misconceptions: Analysis of Early US Strategy | Ken Burns: The Vietnam War

        This introductory activity is intended to prompt students to think about early direct US involvement in the war in Vietnam. Students will view selected video clips from The Vietnam War on the newly elected Kennedy administration and its sense of American exceptionalism. Students will record potential points of conflict and misunderstanding between the United States and the different military and political factions in Vietnam.

        Period​ ​Covered:​ ​1960-1962

        Lesson Summary

        This introductory activity is intended to prompt students to think about early direct U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam.

        Learning Objectives

        • Examine the foreign policy rhetoric of President John F. Kennedy.
        • Examine the goals of the North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong.
        • Analyze the nature of the Vietnam conflict.
        • Explore the American military’s misunderstandings of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong’s military capabilities and willingness to fight.


        Video Clips

        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

        1. Distribute the handout to all students and review the directions. Then, show the video segment. 

        2. After students watch the video clip and take notes, they should meet in small groups to complete the third section of the handout. Have them use the summarizing points and their film notes to write questions. Bring the students/groups back to a whole-class discussion, having students pose their questions and the class responding in general discussion. 

        3. Finally, ask students to brainstorm a list of potential conflicts or misunderstandings between the different parties mentioned in the video clip. Write these points on the whiteboard for future reference.


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