The Vietnam War Lesson Guide

Theme 6: Propaganda, Truth, and the Media

Theme Overview

The “images” of the Vietnam War and the messages sent by the news media and how they influenced the public perceptions about the war. Media and press relations: how the media served the government in the execution of the war, then how the media questioned the government’s execution of the war. Lessons explore key questions: Is it ever acceptable for a government to lie to its citizens? Is it always acceptable for the media to reveal the truth? What is the most appropriate way to balance the public right to information against national security? Lessons will also examine the confusion over patriotism and loyalty to the nation vs patriotism and loyalty to the government. The impact of the media’s portrayal of the Vietnam soldier, the veteran and key events during the war.  How the younger journalists and younger politicians began to question the motives and goals of the war and influenced policy makers to consider alternatives to continuing the war. Americans felt from the war. 

Essential questions:
  • How did the discrepancy between the media’s reporting of the war and the government’s official reporting affect Americans opinions of the war?
  • How can the government’s need to maintain national security and the public’s right to know the truth ever be reconciled?
The lessons:
  • The Pentagon Papers: National Security vs. the Right of the People to Know—Students view selected video segments from The Vietnam War and examine various viewpoints on the legality of the publication of the Pentagon Papers.  After viewing the segments and completing graphic organizers, students engage in a class discussion about the video. The lesson culminates with students writing a persuasive essay answering the question whether it is morally and ethically acceptable for a “leaker” to release classified information, even if it might embarrass the government or endanger national security.
    Time period: 1945-1967, 1971

    Video Clips: