Ken Burns Classroom

The Political Philosophy of Ho Chi Minh and US Foreign Policy

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 address the brief history of Ho Chi Minh’s political activity. Then, they will read selections of Ho Chi Minh’s writings. Students will examine Ho’s motivations and goals and compare those with the goals of the United States during the Cold War.

Learning Objectives
Students will:

  • Analyze the writings of Ho Chi Minh.
  • Examine Ho Chi Minh’s meaning of the terms communism and nationalism.
  • Summarize Ho Chi Minh’s political views regarding communism and nationalism.
  • Analyze the importance of Ho Chi Minh’s political views to US policy makers.


Activity Procedure

  1. After students have viewed the video segments as a full class or in small groups, ask them to describe what they learned from the clip or what surprised them from the clip. Inform students that one of the prevailing questions surrounding Ho Chi Minh at the time was whether Ho was a communist or a nationalist. (Here you might provide definitions for students.
  2. Have students work in small research teams to find examples from the provided readings that speak to Ho Chi Minh’s desire for Vietnamese independence and his feelings about communism. Ask students to cite examples from the readings where Ho’s rhetoric aligns with the ideology of nationalism or communism.After students have completed their research, review these discussion questions:
    • What do you think was the main message in Ho’s writings and speeches? Is he persuasive? Authentic?
    • Explain whether you feel Ho meant what he said in his writings or if any of it was empty rhetoric for an intended audience.
    • What might have been the relationship between communism and nationalism in Ho’s mind? Was communism a means to achieve nationalism or the other way around? What was the appeal of either ideology for Ho and the Vietnamese?
    • How does Ho’s political ideology compare with Vladimir Lenin or Mao Zedong?
    • From your research, how would you summarize Ho Chi Minh’s political views? Do you think he leaned more toward communism or nationalism? Explain. Do you think it’s possible (or fair) to label Ho as one or the other? Explain.
    • Why would it matter to American policy makers whether Ho was a communist or a nationalist? How might their preference for one or the other ideology affect their policy making toward Vietnam?

National Standards for History

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]

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]

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework

D2.Civ.10.9-12 ( By the end of Grade 12 ): Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.

National Standards for Civics and Government
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

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.