The Vietnam War was a period of American involvement in Southeast Asia from 1961-1975 in which U.S. troops fought to try to stop communist North Vietnam and their allies from overtaking South Vietnam. Much of the War was fought in a non-traditional guerilla style, and there were many casualties on both sides. As the War continued and more young men were drafted, it became increasingly unpopular with the American public. Photographs and videos shown on the news, many of which were graphic and upsetting, brought the War into the American home.
The Vietnam War was complicated, and students can have a hard time understanding the complex political issues as well as comprehending the emotions felt by U.S. soldiers and the American public. In this unit, students will read letters from Pennsylvania soldiers serving in Vietnam and analyze documents written by various members of the American public. They will better understand the issues that made the War unpopular and will be able to empathize with soldiers serving in Vietnam and concerned citizens at home. This unit should be used after students have begun studying the war and have background knowledge of what the War was about and the major events that occurred.
- Conflict and cooperation among social groups, organizations, and nation-states are critical to comprehending society in the United States. Domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relation, immigration, and wars and revolutions are examples of social disagreement and collaboration.
- Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.
- Analyze a primary source for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time and place in United States history
- Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures, and place
- Downs, Frederick. The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War. New York: Norton, 1978.
- Edelman, Bernard. Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. New York: Norton, 1985.
- Hamill, Pete. Vietnam: The Real War: A Photographic History. New York: Abrams, 2013.
- Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam, a History. New York: Viking, 1983.
- Lawrence, Mark Atwood. The Vietnam War: A Concise International History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.
- PBS resources on Vietnam
Teachers can grade the letters students wrote after lesson one. Alternatively, students could be split into groups and assigned to write a newspaper set during the Vietnam War. The newspaper should include an editorial, a letter to the editor from a parent of a soldier, two articles about events during the War, and photos from that time. Some outside research will be necessary.