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. The class will view segments from THE VIETNAM WAR that include veteran John Kerry testifying against the war; Phil Gioia, an Army second lieutenant who saw battle, criticizing and questioning the validity of Kerry’s testimony; and veterans throwing away their medals to protest the war. Students will use the video clips, in-class activities, and a writing assignment to explore the meaning of patriotism.
Two 50-minute class periods.
- Summarize some Vietnam veterans’ points of view about the war and protesting against the war.
- Explore the meaning of patriotism.
- Explore the tension in American society between patriotism and moral conscience.
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 the following question: What is patriotism? Accept all answers (including any dictionary definitions they might share), and write them on the board or chart paper. Briefly discuss any different forms of patriotism they listed. Tell students that in this lesson, they will explore the meaning of patriotism.
- Share the following with students:
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” During the Vietnam War, some Americans believed that the best way to express patriotism was to serve in the military and fight in a war that their leaders said would keep America safe from Communism. Others believed that the best way to express patriotism was to protest against the war, which they believed was unjust and harmful to the United States. And in many cases, Vietnam veterans held both perspectives, believing their service in the war and later protest of the war as civilians were expressions of patriotism.
- Tell students that they will view a 10-minute video segment in which Vietnam veterans discuss their experiences fighting the war, and some talk about their experiences protesting it. Distribute copies of the student handout Patriotism, Service, and Protest Video Viewing Guide. Explain that the handout will help point them to the elements in the clip that they will need to pay attention to in order to complete this lesson. Students will have time later in the lesson to analyze what they are viewing.
- Review the handout to help students complete the sheet. Then watch the video segment “VVAW: Veterans Protest the War.” Have students jot down answers as they watch. If you think it would help your students, you can pause the video after John Musgrave’s first statement, then again after Phil Gioia’s statement opposing Kerry’s testimony.
- Give students the opportunity to analyze the statements these men made by having a short class discussion that answers the following questions:
- John Kerry said he wanted Vietnam to be remembered as “the place where America finally turned.” What do you think he meant?
- Tom Vallely said he threw away his medals out of a sense of “disrespectful loyalty.” What do you think “disrespectful loyalty” means?
- Why did the veterans throw away their medals? Do you think they would have thrown away medals if they had earned them in World War II? What message were they trying to convey to the government?
- In this portion of the activity, students will begin to evaluate what might or might not have been considered patriotic during the Vietnam War. Print out the Classroom Poster Sheet and place one of the signs (Visual 1, parts A-C) in each of three corners of the classroom. Divide the class into three groups, assigning each group to one corner. Be sure that students have the “Patriotism, Service, and Protest Video Viewing Guide” handout with them, so that they can use the content from the video in their discussions. Tell students that they have five minutes to make a case that the statement in their corner is true. Assign one person to be a scribe to write down the arguments in a bulleted list. Have students use evidence from the video clip to support their argument.
- Have the groups shift clockwise to the next corner and repeat the activity, this time supporting the point of view in their new corner. Again, have the scribe write down the arguments. Repeat the process once more, so that all students have been in all three corners.
- Ask a speaker from each group to state aloud his or her group’s arguments about the corner in which members are standing after the third iteration of the activity. Doing so will summarize for students these three different points of view.
- Debrief in a discussion: Which argument did you find most persuasive in terms of the evidence shown in the video? Which argument fit best with your beliefs? Which did you feel most uncomfortable with? Ask students to explain their responses.
Students have viewed and discussed some soldiers’ experiences returning home after serving in Vietnam. The actions of the veterans raise questions about what it meant to be a patriot at that time. Have students write an essay in which they define patriotism. They can begin with the dictionary definition, “love for or devotion to one’s country.” But their definition should go deeper. Tell students to use examples from what they’ve seen, heard, and discussed in this lesson to support their definition of patriotism.
Have students write their essays as homework.
Students might evaluate their definition of patriotism by applying it to another war or conflict in which the United States was involved, such as World War II, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Civil War.