Ken Burns Classroom

Who Served and Who Didn’t

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 two video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR that focus on those Americans who served in the military in Vietnam and those who did not. In the first clip, four men describe their incentives for enlisting to go to war. In the second clip, students hear from Americans who chose not serve, how they avoided going to Vietnam, and why. Students will complete two graphic organizers to help them identify the motivations of, and see the similarities and differences among, those who served in Vietnam and those who didn’t.

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify different motivations for serving in Vietnam and attitudes about fighting in the war held by those who served.
  • Explain how some Americans avoided serving in the war.
  • Identify patterns among those who served in Vietnam and those who did not serve in Vietnam.
  • Examine why the US military in Vietnam “skewed toward minorities and the underprivileged.”
  • Evaluate the fairness of the draft as it was enacted during the Vietnam War.

Lesson Procedure

  1. Introduce the lesson by asking students, “When the United States goes to war, who fights in that war? How does someone become a soldier?” Students might point out that most people who fight in wars are young and usually male. They might say that people choose to join the military and fight, or some may have an idea about a draft. Explain that during the Vietnam War, there was a draft, which meant that some young men were required to serve in the military. Ask students if they know anyone who served in the Vietnam War. (Explain that there is no draft in place today.) Point out that not everyone serves in the military, and that was true during the Vietnam War, too. Explain that in this lesson, students will be learning about who served in Vietnam and who didn’t serve. Students will discuss some of the inequities of the military draft during the Vietnam War and design a draft system for military service. 
  2. Explain to students that they are going to watch two video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR. In the first segment, they will see and hear from four men who enlisted in the Marines so that they could serve in Vietnam. 
  3. Pass out copies of the Who Enlisted and Why Graphic Organizer. Explain that the four men are listed in the left-hand column of the chart. Point out that across the top are possible reasons for enlisting. Tell students that in the video, each man explains why he enlisted. Instruct students to put a checkmark in the appropriate boxes to show the reasons each man gives for enlisting. Students might use the “Other” column for additional reasons. By the time the segment is over and they have filled in the table, they will have a visual record of why each man enlisted. 
  4. Next, view the segment “Who Enlisted and Why” and give students a few minutes to complete their graphic organizers. Have them write a sentence or two under the chart that summarizes any patterns they see among the men and their reasons for enlisting. Have students hold on to the handout, so that they can return to it later. 
  5. Tell students that now they will be viewing another segment from THE VIETNAM WAR. Explain that then, like now, 18-year-old men were required to register for the draft. But just because they registered didn’t mean they served in the military. In this clip, students will learn about why some young men did not serve. 
  6. Pass out copies of the Who Didn’t Serve and Why Graphic Organizer. Ask students to fill in the graphic organizer as they watch the next segment. In the left-hand column, they will list different ways that people avoided going to Vietnam. In the middle column, they will list defining characteristics of those who didn’t serve. In the right-hand column, they will note who criticized those who avoided serving and what their criticisms were. 
  7. Now view the segment “Who Didn’t Serve and Why” and give students a chance to look over their charts and write a sentence or two summarizing what they have seen. 
  8. Have students use their completed graphic organizers to discuss these questions:
    • Do you know anyone who served in the Vietnam War? Are you from a military family?
    • What did you notice that the men who enlisted had in common? In what ways were they different from each other?
    • What did you notice that the men who did not serve in Vietnam had in common with each other? In what ways were they different from each other?
    • What generalizations can you draw about who did and did not serve in Vietnam?
    • What criticisms did Stokely Carmichael and Muhammed Ali have about who served in the war? What did they say about African American men serving?
    • Do you agree with the statement made by GIs at the time, “If you got the dough, you don’t have to go”? What evidence supports your answer?

Extension Activity

The Vietnam War often congers up more questions than answers. Students are likely to have many questions about the war and the people who served and chose not to serve. Invite individuals who lived through the Vietnam War from a broad range of experiences to speak to the class. These could be Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. Having conversations with individuals who lived through the Vietnam War era can help navigate difficult the questions students will have. Exposing students to a variety of unique eyewitnesses to history can challenge them to be more confident in interpreting complex historical events for which there are no absolute answers. A good place to start is by accessing the Community in the Classroom [insert link and its location on the website]. Using the Community in the Classroom approach gives students an opportunity to engage with individuals who served in and provide unique perspectives about the war and the era.

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

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: THE VIETNAM WAR: Who Didn’t Serve and Why Graphic Organizer

Fill in the graphic organizer as you watch the segment “Who Didn’t Serve and Why.” In the left-hand column, list different ways that people avoided going to Vietnam. In the middle column, list defining characteristics of those who didn’t serve. In the right-hand column, note who criticized those who avoided serving and what their criticisms were.

Ways to Avoid Going to Vietnam Characteristics of Those Who Did Not Go Response
1. Who criticized the arrangement that enabled so many men to avoid service?

 

 

 

 

 

2. What was the nature of their criticism?

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the space below, write a sentence or two summarizing the information in your chart.

 

 

 

 

 

Handout: THE VIETNAM WAR: Who Enlisted and Why Student Graphic Organizer

This chart below will help you organize the information you will see and hear in the first video segment, “Who Served and Why.”

The four men interviewed in the clip are listed in the left-hand column of the chart. Across the top are various reasons that men enlisted in the military. In the video, each man explains why he enlisted.

As you watch the clip, put a checkmark in the appropriate boxes to show the reasons each man gives for enlisting. (In the “Other” column, make any other notes that seem relevant about each man.)

Person Reasons for Enlisting
Family Idealism Service Patriotism Manly/Heroic Other
Matt Harrison  

 

Roger Harris  

 

John Musgrave  

 

Bill Ehrhart  

 

In the space below, write a sentence or two that summarizes any patterns you see among the men and their reasons for enlisting.