Theme 3: Leadership and Decision Making

The Vietnam War Lesson Guide

Theme Overview

Lessons will explore the different political, military and other motivations that influenced the decisions of five U.S. presidents and take a close-up look at American leadership and politics. What is good policy vs. good politics? How did American anti-communism influence policy makers regarding U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia?  Lessons will also examine the motivations that influenced decisions by North and South Vietnam leadership. Who were the main players on each side? What were the decisions they made and what factors influenced those decisions? What alternatives were available to leaders of all sides?

Essential questions:

  • How effective were decisions made by American and Vietnamese leaders towards achieving their respective goals?
  • How can government leaders decide the best course of action during a time of war?

The lessons

  • Truman’s Decision to Aid the French—Students view selected video clips from The Vietnam War and examine the various forces that influenced post-WWII American policy to turn away from Vietnam and support the French. Students will engage in a decision-making activity that analyzes the circumstances, explores the president’s options, and then defines a course of action. After students come to a decision, they will see what the United States actually decided to do and will comment on the decisions made. Time period: 1945-1952 Video Clips:
  • Kennedy and the Diem Coup: The Torch Is Passed—Students view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and explore the military coup of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and the Kennedy administration’s degree of complicity. Students will engage in a decision-making activity that analyzes the circumstances, explores options, and then defines a course of action. After students come to a decision, they will see what the United States actually decided to do and will comment on the decisions made. Time period: 1961-1963 Video Clips:
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Incident—Students view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and examine the circumstances that led to the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the decisions made to authorize the resolution that bears its name. Students will engage in a decision-making activity that analyzes the circumstances, discusses options, and then defines a course of action. After students come to a decision, they will see what the United States actually decided to do and will comment on the decisions made. Time period: 1964 Video Clips:
  • Operation Rolling Thunder and Widening the War—Students view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and examine the 1965 US bombing campaign of North Vietnam, code-named “Operation Rolling Thunder,” and President Johnson’s decision to send ground troops into South Vietnam. Students will engage in a decision-making activity that analyzes the circumstances, explores options, and defines a course of action. After students come to a decision, they will see what the United States actually decided to do and will comment on the decisions made. Time period: Early 1965 Video Clips
  • 1965 Troop Escalations—Students will view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and review the conditions on the ground in mid-1965. Students will engage in a decision-making activity that analyzes the circumstances, explores options, and defines a course of action. After students come to a decision, they will see what the United States actually decided to do and will comment on the decisions made. Time period: Mid-1965 Video Clips:
  • 1967 General Westmoreland Promises to End the War—Students view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and review General Westmoreland’s assessment of the progress in the war and his request for an additional 200,000 troops to end the war within two years. The Pentagon also recommended increasing US bombing in North Vietnam along the Chinese border as well as mining North Vietnamese harbors. Students will engage in a decision-making activity that analyzes the circumstances, explores options, and then defines a course of action. After students come to a decision, they will see what the United States actually decided to do and will comment on the decisions made. Time period: 1967 Video Clips: