Ken Burns Classroom

Questioning the Mission

Ken Burns Film: The Vietnam War

Collections: Postwar United States (1945-1970s)

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 9-12

Run Time: 1 class period

Lesson Overview

Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR that examine the concern held by some Johnson administration officials, Congress, and even President Johnson himself over US involvement in Vietnam. Students will view excerpts from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings that took place in 1966 as well as the testimony of various experts about the war’s progress. Students will then consider whether to support future funding for the war.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Examine the military situation of the United States in early 1966.
  • Assess reasons the Senate began hearings on the progress of the Vietnam War.
  • Analyze the comments George Kennan made during the hearings.
  • Make recommendations as to whether Congress should continue to support the war in Vietnam.

Activity Procedure

  1. Distribute the handout to all students, and then prepare to show the video segments to the class.
  2. Review the summarizing points in the handout with students. Have students take notes in the second section of the handout while viewing the segment.
  3. After students watch both segments and take notes, have them meet in small groups to complete the third section of the handout.
  4. Have students use the summarizing points in the handout along with their film notes to write questions in the fourth section.
  5. When they are ready, bring groups back to a whole-class discussion about the video segments. Have students ask their questions and the class respond in a general discussion.
  6. At the end of the discussion, cover the following questions:
    • What questions were members of the Johnson administration and Congress asking?
    • Why was the US military seemingly a prisoner of its past success in fighting a war?
    • Why do you think the Senate Intelligence Committee felt compelled to hold public hearings on the Vietnam War?
    • What efforts did President Johnson make to distract or take the public’s attention away from the hearings? Was this the right thing to do?
    • Why might George Kennan’s comments have had a negative impact on the US war effort in Vietnam? (For students to fully understand the significance of this question, have them look up George Kennan and find out what he is known for.)
  7. Tell students they are to assume the role of a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after hearing the testimony of the various experts. Have them write recommendations for future legislation that would either support additional funding for the war effort or cut back funding. Students should explain their reasoning.

National Standards for History

10.1A.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the Nixon administration’s involvement in Watergate and examine the role of the media in exposing the scandal. [Formulate historical questions]

10.1A.4 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze the constitutional issues raised by the Watergate affair and evaluate the effects of Watergate on public opinion. [Examine the influence of ideas]

10.1C.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess Nixon’s policy of detente with the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. [Analyze multiple causation]

10.1C.6 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the reformulation of foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

10.2D.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the desegregation of education and assess its role in the creation of private white academies. [Analyze multiple causation]

9.1B.7 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze interconnections between superpower rivalries and the development of new military, nuclear, and space technology. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.1C.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the significance of research and scientific breakthroughs in promoting the U.S. space program. [Examine the influence of ideas]

9.2C.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the Vietnam policy of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations and the shifts of public opinion about the war. [Analyze multiple causation]

9.2C.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the composition of the American forces recruited to fight the war. [Interrogate historical data]

9.2C.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate how Vietnamese and Americans experienced the war and how the war continued to affect postwar politics and culture. [Appreciate historical perspectives]

9.2C.4 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the provisions of the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 and evaluate the role of the Nixon administration. [Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations]

9.2C.5 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze the constitutional issues involved in the war and explore the legacy of the Vietnam war. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]

9.2E.2 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze interconnections between space exploration and developments since the 1950s in scientific research, agricultural productivity, consumer culture, intelligence gathering, and other aspects of contemporary life. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.2F.3 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the influence of television, the Internet, and other forms of electronic communication on the creation and diffusion of cultural and political information worldwide. [Formulate historical questions]

9.3A.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the relationship between post-war Soviet espionage and the emergence of internal security and loyalty programs under Truman and Eisenhower. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.3A.5 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate Eisenhower’s “Modern Republicanism” in relation to the economy and other domestic issues. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]

9.3B.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Examine the role of the media in the election of 1960. [Utilize visual and quantitative data]

9.3B.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the domestic policies of Kennedy’s “New Frontier.” [Hold interpretations of history as tentative]

9.3B.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the legislation and programs enacted during Johnson’s presidency. [Evaluate the implementation of a decision]

9.3B.4 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the effectiveness of the “Great Society” programs. [Evaluate major debates among historians]

9.4A.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the origins of the postwar civil rights movement and the role of the NAACP in the legal assault on segregation. [Analyze multiple causation]

9.4A.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the Warren Court’s reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education and its significance in advancing civil rights. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.4A.4 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze the leadership and ideology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement and evaluate their legacies. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]

9.4A.5 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the role of the legislative and executive branches in advancing the civil rights movement and the effect of shifting the focus from de jure to de facto segregation. [Evaluate the implementation of a decision]

9.4A.6 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of various African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans, as well as the disabled, in the quest for civil rights and equal opportunities. [Explain historical continuity and change]

9.4A.7 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the reasons for and effectiveness of the escalation from civil disobedience to more radical protest in the civil rights movement. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]

9.4B.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze the factors contributing to modern feminism and compare the ideas, agendas, and strategies of feminist and counter-feminist organizations. [Marshal evidence of antecedent circumstances]

9.4B.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the conflicting perspectives over the Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII, and Roe v. Wade. [Consider multiple perspectives]

National Standards for Civics and Government

I.C.2.5 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain how constitutions can be vehicles for change and for resolving social issues, e.g., use of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s; establishment of the Japanese Constitution after World War II, which provided women the right to vote

III.E.3.5.a ( Grades: 9-12 ): evaluate historical and contemporary political communication using such criteria as logical validity, factual accuracy, emotional appeal, distorted evidence, appeals to bias or prejudice, e.g., speeches such as Lincoln’s “House Divided,” Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”, Chief Joseph’s “I Shall Fight No More Forever,” Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”

IV.B.1.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain how and why the United States assumed the role of world leader after World War II and what its leadership role is in the world today

IV.B.2.4 ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe the various means used to attain the ends of United States foreign policy, such as diplomacy; economic, military and humanitarian aid; treaties; sanctions; military intervention; covert action

V.B.2.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): identify the major documentary statements of political rights–the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, the United States Constitution including the Bill of Rights, state constitutions and bills of rights, civil rights legislation, court decisions

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: Questioning the Mission Graphic Organizer

Directions: The top section lists the summarizing points of the video segments. Take notes on the topic points in the middle section. Then, in the third section, develop two questions you’re curious about and prepare to discuss them with the class.

Summarizing Points
  • Questions over US understanding of its mission
  • Determination of its enemy and the support of its allies
  • United States fighting a new war the way it fought the last war
  • Congressional hearings on the war’s progress
  • Johnson’s effort to divert attention from the hearings
  • George Kennan’s comments about America’s involvement in Vietnam
Notes from Video Clips
As you view the clips covering the points above, think of the purpose, benefits, and consequences of the following points.
Fighting a new war like the last war Congressional hearings on the war’s progress Johnson’s trip to Hawaii

 

George Kennan’s comments about America’s involvement
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Questions You Will Ask for Discussion
 

 

 

 

 

Additional Notes during Discussion