The following is a modified version of a teacher’s guide that I prepared to go with the book I co-authored entitled, The Vietnam War: A History in Documents. (Marilyn B. Young, John J. Fitzgerald and A. Tom Grunfeld, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.) It focuses on my book, but has application to other sources as well.
The Vietnam War was actually a series of wars. American military involvement was limited to the 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s. In contrast, the Vietnamese, whose sense of nationalism was deeply rooted, experienced one long war for most of the 20th Century against the “enemy invader.” This “enemy invader” wore many different guises: The French colonial power was followed by Japanese occupiers before the French returned with American assistance. In the final period, the Vietnamese fought against the Americans and their allies; Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. We call that phase the Vietnam War; the Vietnamese call it the American War.
A few years ago James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New York: The New Press, 1995), suggested the following questions for students and teachers to consider regarding the Vietnam War:
“…Why did the United States fight in Vietnam?
What was the war like before the United States entered it? How did we change it?
How did the war change the United States?
Why did an antiwar movement become so strong in the United States? What were its criticisms of the war in Vietnam? Were they right?
Why did the United States lose the war?
What lesson(s) should we take from the experience? ...." (p. 242)
Here are some suggested lessons that attempt to respond to Loewen’s questions.