Lesson Title: Behind the Scenes of the Vietnam War Course

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Kara Huizdos

Conception Formation Lesson Plan

Lesson Title: Behind the Scenes of the Vietnam War
Course: Minority Perspectives- U.S. History (Grades 9-12)
Unit of Study: Critical Perspectives of the 1960’s

The purpose of this lesson will be to learn about the theory of "containment" that the United States followed during the course of the Cold War, including Vietnam. This theory dominated the foreign policy of the United States and it can be said that the intervention in Vietnam was a logical outgrowth of its implementation. Learning and understanding the containment theory helps people to better understand the mentality of the people and leaders who lived through it, and gain some perspective of the Cold War, and more specifically the Vietnam War.


Students will:

  • compare US foreign policy of containment during the Cold War to current U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq. [I.3.HS.3] – Analyzing and interpreting the past

  • explain the concept of containment and provide major examples displayed in Cold War foreign policy [I.1.HS.3] – Time and chronology

Key Concepts:

containment = A policy of checking the expansion or influence of a hostile power or ideology, as by the creation of strategic alliances or support of client states in areas of conflict or unrest. (http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/index.html)

communism = A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people. (http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/index.html)

Instructional Resources:

Teacher Resources

Definition of truman doctrine, marshall plan, domino theory. History Channel. Retrieved October 17, 2002 from the World Wide Web:

Definition of iron curtain. Discovery School. Retrieved October 17, 2002 from the World Wide Web:

Synopsis of korean war. Retrieved October 17, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cedarville.edu/dept/ed/resource/schools/chca/othergrades/koreanwar/history.htm
Definition of containment, communism. American Heritage® Dictionary. Retrieved November 11, 2002 from the World Wide Web:

Student Resources –

Tindall, G. B., & Shi, D. E. (1984). America (5th ed.). New York, NY: W.W.Norton & Company, Inc. (606-618, 724-732)

Sequence of Activities:

This lesson plan occurs in the beginning of the unit that covers the various social movements during, but not limited to the 1960’s, which includes the often contentious and conflicting opinions of U.S foreign and domestic policies. This lesson, as well as others in the unit, will stay in chronological order so that students can reflect on the decisions made and events that transpired in relation to the information available to leaders at that time. The instructional strategy stressed in this lesson is based on the idea of concept formation.

  1. Introduce topic of U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a byproduct of the Cold War and U.S. foreign policies during the era following WWII. Briefly review the last unit on the period post WWII and the tensions mounting between the U.S.S.R and the United States.

Tindall, (pp.606-618, 724-732)

2. List the following events on an overhead transparency or handout:

  • The Truman Doctrine (1947) was proposed by President Harry Truman after World War II to prevent communism from spreading to Greece and Turkey. The doctrine gave financial support ($400 million) to both countries in order to reduce the threat of communist insurrection. (http://school.discovery.com)

  • The Marshall Plan (1947) was approved by the U.S. Congress and allotted $7 billion to the nations of Western Europe in an effort to prevent the rise of communist parties there. The Marshall Plan helped establish close ties between Western Europe and the United States. (http://school.discovery.com)

  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech (1946) illustrated the division within Europe at that time. Following World War II, Europe had clearly been divided into two political and economic systems supported by two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. In his speech, Churchill described the conflict this way: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” Churchill was outlining the ideological conflict between Soviet communism and democratic capitalism. (http://school.discovery.com)

  • Domino theory, the notion that if one country becomes Communist, other nations in the region will probably follow, like dominoes falling in a line. The analogy, first applied (1954) to Southeast Asia by President Dwight Eisenhower, was adopted in the 1960’s by supporters of the U.S. role in the Vietnam War. (http://www.historychannel.com/)

  • Korean War - Due to many different circumstances, in 1948, Korea officially split into two parts: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North), and the Republic of Korea (South). On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans unleashed a southward attack across the 38th parallel. Immediately, the United Nations established a resolution calling for the aid of all the UN members in stopping North Korea's efforts. Thus, America fought along side the United Nations and South Korea, while China aided North Korea. An American general, Douglas MacArther, took command of the combined UN and South Korean troops. The war ended in 1953 as a stalemate. Both sides agreed to an armistice. In the end, the border remained at the 38th parallel, and over 3 million lives were lost. (http://www.cedarville.edu/dept/ed/resource/schools/chca/othergrades/koreanwar/history.htm)

  1. Have the students work independently to quickly write down their ideas of what these events might have in common.

  1. After approximately 5-8 minutes ask the class to collectively brainstorm how these events or policy strategies are alike. After the group has suggested several attributes that tie all the events / policy strategies together, offer for consideration the three attributes of containment.

  1. Create a table on the chalkboard to determine whether each of the events listed follows both of the attributes provided.

  1. Ask students to write one sentence defining all the shared attributes and edit the definition so that it is similar to:

Containment is a foreign policy strategy that attempts to limit the expansion or influence of a hostile power or ideology and is in direct response to a perceived threat.

7. Choose a word to label the defined category. Propose “containment” if it is not already suggested.

  1. Ask students if they would like to edit their working definition of the concept of “containment.”

  1. Identify additional members of the category, e.g., US foreign policy toward Cuba, Bosnia, and/or possibly our current US foreign policy strategy in Iraq.

  1. Have students suggest non-examples, e.g., granting independence to the Philippines, turning over control over the Panama Canal.

  1. At end of the class the teacher will ask the students several open ended questions, which will briefly be discussed as a group. These questions will mostly answered as homework, in the form of a brief essay, to be turned in the following day.

Answer one of the following questions and be prepared to present your ideas to the class:

    1. Up to this point do you think the United States was justified in its involvement in Vietnam?

    2. What would you recommend as a next step for the United States?

    3. Can you see any connections between U.S. involvement in Vietnam and perhaps our current situation in the Middle East?


Informal assessment of student learning can be done by observing student participation and progress of student responses in the discussion of containment and gauging students reaction to the open ended questions posed at the end of class.

Formal assessment will occur when students answer the questions listed above in a written response for homework.

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