Curriculum Ideas for Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam
Cross-Curricular Connections: Social Studies/History, Geography, English
During the Vietnam War
Imagine you are fighting in the Vietnam war. Write a journal entry at the end of a long, hard day. Describe what you have been through, and what you have seen others go through. What have you heard? Smelled? How do you feel
What do you fear after this day? What do you hope for?
To consider: What choices do you make when it is kill or be killed? What does fear do to you? Desire for revenge? Is what your country asks you to do is more important than what you want? What if you think it is, and then get disillusioned? What if citizens at home believe their government is wrong, and anyone in the military – including you – is part of the problem?
Imagine you were living in Washington DC or one of the big cities with many protests against the war. What are your feelings about the war? About the protests? There was no internet, and no phone service to people serving in Vietnam. If you wanted to communicate, you had to write a letter.
Imagine you have a brother, sister, boyfriend or girlfriend who is serving in Vietnam. Send them a letter. What would you include? What would you leave out? Would you worry about what they were going through while you were writing the letter? Would you worry about how they would react to what you include?
To consider: What if leaders are trying to make the best possible decisions for the country, but they are flawed characters?
What the Photos Reveal
There are more than 100 images in the book. They tell the story of the Americans serving in the Vietnam War, the protestors at home, and the politicians making decisions about the war.
Pick a photograph in the book which makes a strong impression on you. Describe what you see. What especially grabs your attention? What is the mood of the photograph? As you continue to look at the photo, what small details do you begin to see?
Why do you think the photographer took this image? What do they want you to understand? What do you imagine is not in this photograph? Can you tell how the photographer feels about this subject? Why or why not?
A photograph bears witness to something others wouldn’t know about. How does a photograph raise awareness and become a call for change on a social or political issue?
Race Relations During the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War occurred during massive national civil rights protests. How did serving in the military in Vietnam impact African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics?
How did David Oshiro, Henry Allen, and Lily Lee Adam’s race impact their experience in Vietnam?
How did Maya Lin’s race influence the controversy about building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after the war? Did her gender play a part? Her age?
Why the Vietnam War is Still Relevant Today
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
The veterans I interviewed lost friends, buddies, and patients in combat during the war, and whenever possible I noted in my book the location of the friends’ names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. I also found several photographs of men who later died during combat, and noted their location on the memorial as well.
How many of these locations can you find in the book?
Which story touches you most deeply?
If you were to visit the memorial, whose name would you like to look for?
Names are listed chronologically, not alphabetically, by date of death or missing in action. Each panel is labeled at the bottom with a number and an E or W. The number is the panel number and E or W refers to east or west. East is towards the Lincoln Memorial, west is towards the Washington Monument. For example, Henry Allen’s childhood friend, Louis Taylor, is on Panel 43E, Row 36. (Page 197 in Boots on the Ground.)
Visiting the memorial is often a very moving experience for people. It makes the Vietnam war and each death of an American feel very personal. It can challenge visitors to rethink some of their assumptions about war. Has reading about the Vietnam war changed your view of complex issues such as morality, heroism, or courage?
Compare and Contrast: Protests, Then and Now
The massive protests during the Vietnam war were closely related to civil rights protests and women’s rights. Young adults began to question their government, the press, and the military. We learned: you need to have a powerful message that grabs attention. You have to have the ability to get the word out. There has to be a disruptive quality to the protests – they have to upset normal life. You have to have flexibility, with clear ways of changing tactics.
Compare today’s political and social unrest with the unrest during the Vietnam War.
What groups of people are protesting?
What are the issues they are protesting against? Why?
How do they protest? How do they get the word out?
What do they hope will change?
What is the most important issue you feel faces young people today? Can change happen by working within the political system or outside it?
Living History: Read and Watch Interviews with Veterans
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has an amazing Veterans History Project site. You can search for first-hand accounts of veterans at https://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Interview a Veteran Yourself
Do you have a veteran in your family? A parent or sibling? Grandparent? You may not even know they are a veteran, as many have been reluctant to speak about their experiences. I found that when I asked, however, people were eager to tell me about their time in Vietnam. If you don’t have anyone in your family, there are likely veterans in your community. You can begin by Googling “Veterans” and the name of your town or county to locate veteran’s groups near you.
If you are in tenth grade or above, you can interview a veteran from any war and submit your interview to be included in the collection. They have clear guidelines for students and teachers here: https://www.loc.gov/vets/kit.html.
They also provide a terrific list of thoughtful questions to ask. http://www.loc.gov/vets/vetquestions.html.
These are important personal and historic stories that will be lost if we don’t all work together to capture them.
Does the United States Have a Draft Now?
Many men who went to fight in Vietnam were drafted, or entered the military knowing they were about to be drafted. Today, all men must register for the draft when they turn eighteen. There is currently no draft, but the Selective Service System is ready to re-institute the draft if necessary. https://www.sss.gov/About. It is possible women would be included in the draft as well, as women can now hold any position in the military.
Do you think women should be equally eligible for the draft with men?
What would you do if you faced being drafted at eighteen?
Without a draft, we have an All-Volunteer Force (AVF). Some people think that this places an undue burden on young men and women volunteers, who often serve multiple deployments.
Do you think it is fair to have an AVF or should the sacrifice of fighting for your country be born equally?