Contributed by Gail Price, Orange High School, Pepper Pike, OH
Using music, videos, and interviews are effective ways to study the Vietnam War era. The music from the late 1960s and early 1970s offers wonderful insights into how many Americans felt about the times. Through the use of personal interviews, students can gain a wealth of knowledge about this time period from those who lived through it and experienced the turmoil of what has become known as the Vietnam War era.
- identify Vietnam on a map of the world and its location compared to that of the United States.
- identify the causes of the Vietnam War.
- utilize historical resources to understand the factors that led to United States involvement in Vietnam.
- gain a better understanding of the human plight of both the Vietnamese people and Americans involved in the conflict.
- draw inferences about attitudes and actions during these times by interviewing various people who were alive during the era.
- compare attitudes and judgments of musical artists by listening to music from the era.
Suggested for middle or high school history students.
Approximately three 40-50 minute class periods.
Students should each have a copy of map of Southeast Asia. Include a list of locations that the students must place correctly on the map. Recordings and lyrics of selected songs. Sound system. VCR/monitor and video Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War, narrated by Richard Basehart is a good overview of the Vietnam War. An overhead projector and transparency of map of Southeast Asia.
The lesson on the Vietnam War era begins with students reading a textbook account of the time for homework and completing a blank map of Southeast Asia. Included should be: countries, Gulf of Tonkin, the South China Sea, the major cities and rivers (especially the Mekong), 17° parallel, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, etc.
Day One: Anticipatory Set
- Pass out the lyrics to “Military Madness.” Play the song for the class.
- Have students get into small groups and analyze the lyrics. Background information should include the fact that the songwriter’s father fought in WWII on the side of the Allies from Great Britain. Now that the songwriter lives in the USA, once again he is witnessing killing from war.
- A short lecture on the history of Vietnam and the causes of the war is important. Students need to know the role of the North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, the Viet Cong and the Americans. Using a chart on the board or an overhead can be useful.
- The teacher places an overhead transparency of a blank map of Southeast Asia. As a class, the map is to be labeled. Students should be aware of the different climate and discuss how climate and geography can affect soldiers and the techniques used to fight a war.
- Students are then given the assignment to interview five people who remember the Vietnam War. They are to composes four or five questions to ask these people about the war. It is during these interviews that students will gain oral histories and opinions about the war. Give students two days to complete the interviews.
- Close the class by reviewing important ideas about the Vietnam War.
- Show the movie The Ten Thousand Day War. Remind students that interviews are due the next day.
- After completing the movie, ask for volunteers to discuss their interviews. You will have many hands go up. As students are sharing their information, ask if there are similarities among the various interviews. What were some of the feelings of the interviewees? It is interesting that many students will find out for the first time that someone they know served in Vietnam or was related to someone who served there. Subjects that will arise include the draft lottery, draft dodgers moving to Canada, the war on TV, civil disobedience, etc.
- After interviews are shared, pass out the lyrics to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Play the song. Have students analyze the lyrics and discuss what social groups were represented in the armed services. Why do many people feel the Vietnam War was mostly fought by lower class citizens? Who were the “fortunate sons?”
- Did the music influence the times or did the times influence the music. For homework, students are to answer that question along with an essay on their reactions to the interviews.
Evaluations can include having students identify various locations on a map of Southeast Asia and explain each location’s significance to the Vietnam conflict. Students can compare and contrast the Vietnam War to the Revolutionary War in the United States. Both wars were fought for independence. Another essay can discuss what effects the Vietnam War had on the how the United States has conducted its military affairs in the last twenty-five years.
“Military Madness” by Graham Nash (Songs for Beginners, 1971)
“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (Willy and The Poorboys, 1969)
To expand the musical context of the lesson, have students research the music of the times using the school media center, a local library, and the interview. Students should choose a song from the era and describe what that song was trying to say and how that message influenced or reflected American culture, politics and/or society.
Students can also research how the antiwar music and demonstrations in the United States influenced the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.
Students can view theatrical movies on this topic and write a critique of the movie, comparing it to the facts students now know about the Vietnam War. Suggestions include: The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Born on the Fourth of July, Full Metal Jacket and Good Morning Vietnam. These movies are all rated “R”, so they cannot be required or there must be parental approval.