Ken Burns Classroom

Patriotism, Service, and Protest

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 9-12

Run Time: 2 class periods

Introduction

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.

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • 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.

Lesson Procedure

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Culminating Activity

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.

Extension Activity

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.

National Standards for Civics and Government

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework

D2.Civ.2.9-12 ( By the end of Grade 12 ): Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present.

D2.Civ.5.9-12 ( By the end of Grade 12 ): Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.

I.A.3.1.a ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain competing ideas about the purposes of politics and government, e.g., improving the moral character of citizens

I.A.3.1.e ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain competing ideas about the purposes of politics and government, e.g., promoting individual security and public order

I.D.3.2.b ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe common bases upon which representation is or has been established, e.g., citizenship

II.B.2.3 ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe the extent of voluntarism in American society compared to other countries

II.C.2.2.b ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain some of the reasons why political conflict in the United States, with notable exceptions such as the Civil War, nineteenth century labor unrest, the 1950s and 1960s civil rights struggles, and the opposition to the war in Vietnam, has generally been less divisive than in many other nations. These include the existence of many opportunities to influence government and to participate in it

II.D.2.6 ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate, take, and defend positions on the importance of civic virtue for American democracy today

II.D.3.1.b ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the following values which are widely considered to be fundamental to American civic life the public or common good

II.D.3.1.e ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the following values which are widely considered to be fundamental to American civic life equality

II.D.3.1.g ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the following values which are widely considered to be fundamental to American civic life openness and free inquiry

II.D.3.1.i ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the following values which are widely considered to be fundamental to American civic life patriotism

II.D.5.4.a ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain ways in which discrepancies between reality and the ideals of American constitutional democracy can be reduced by individual action

III.E.1.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe how the public agenda is shaped by political leaders, political institutions, political parties, interest groups, the media, individual citizens

III.E.5.4 ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the degree to which associations and groups enhance citizen participation in American political life

V.A.1.1.c ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the idea that citizenship confers equal rights under the law

V.A.1.1.e ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the idea that citizenship confers certain rights and privileges, e.g., the right to vote, to hold public office, to serve on juries

V.B.1.1 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the meaning of personal rights as distinguished from political rights, e.g., the right to privacy or the right to freedom of conscience as distinguished from the political right to peaceably assemble and petition for a redress of grievances

V.B.1.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): identify major documentary statements of personal rights, e.g., the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, the United States Constitution including the Bill of Rights, state constitutions and bills of rights

V.B.1.4 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain how personal rights are secured in American constitutional democracy by such means as the rule of law, checks and balances, an independent judiciary, a vigilant citizenry

V.B.2.4 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain how political rights are secured by constitutional government and by such means as the rule of law, checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and a vigilant citizenry

V.C.2.2.d ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance for the individual and society of assuming leadership when appropriate

V.C.2.2.e ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance for the individual and society of paying taxes

V.C.2.2.f ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance for the individual and society of registering to vote and voting knowledgeably on candidates and issues

V.C.2.2.g ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance for the individual and society of serving as a juror

V.C.2.2.h ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance for the individual and society of serving in the armed forces

V.C.2.2.i ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance for the individual and society of performing public service

V.C.2.3 ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate whether and when their obligations as citizens require that their personal desires and interests be subordinated to the public good

V.E.3.4 ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the importance of voting as a form of political participation

V.E.4.1 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain the functions of political leadership and why leadership is a vital necessity in American constitutional democracy

V.E.4.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe various ways one can exercise leadership in public affairs

V.E.4.3 ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe opportunities for citizens to engage in careers in public service

V.E.5.1 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain why becoming knowledgeable about public affairs and the values and principles of American constitutional democracy and communicating that knowledge to others is an important form of participation

V.E.5.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain how awareness of the nature of American constitutional democracy may give citizens the ability to reaffirm or change fundamental constitutional values

V.E.5.3 ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate the claim that constitutional democracy requires the participation of an attentive, knowledgeable, and competent citizenry

About The Authors

Julie Weiss

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 helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) train dogs to provide emotional support.

Handout: Patriotism, Service, and Protest Video Viewing Guide

Directions: As you watch the video segment “VVAW: Veterans Protest the War,” answer the following questions to summarize the statements by the veterans.

  1. What are two different ways that John Musgrave served his country?

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Questions about John Kerry’s testimony:
  • Why were vets speaking out against the war?

 

 

 

 

  • How did veterans feel when they returned home?

 

 

 

 

 

  • How does Kerry think the United States should have responded to the My Lai massacre?

 

 

 

 

 

  • What kind of nonsensical things did soldiers learn to rationalize?

 

 

 

 

 

  • How did they learn to view Vietnamese lives?

 

 

 

 

 

  • What kinds of futile activities did they engage in?

 

 

 

 

 

  • What kinds of immoral activities did they engage in?

 

 

 

 

 

  • How did veteran Phil Gioia respond to statements about soldiers’ immoral activities? 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Questions about Veterans throwing away the medals they earned in Vietnam:
  • Why didn’t Ron Ferrizzi want his medals when he threw them away in 1971?

 

 

 

 

 

  • When he was interviewed for THE VIETNAM WAR, how did Ron Ferrizzi explain throwing away his medals?

 

 

 

 

 

  • Why did Tom Vallely throw away his medals?

 

 

 

 

 

  • Why did Tim Bagwell throw away his medals?

 

 

 

 

 

  • Why did John Musgrave throw away his medals?

 

 

 

 

 

Handout: Patriotism, Service, and Protest Video Viewing Guide

Directions: Print out the following 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 video viewing 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. Groups will shift clockwise to the next corner and repeat the activity until students have addressed the statements in all three corners.

 

Serving your country in the military during a war is patriotic.

Visual 1, Part A

 

 

Protesting against a war you believe is wrong is patriotic.

 

Visual 1, Part B

 

 

 

 

Protesting against a war in which your country is involved is traitorous.

Visual 1, Part C