Tuesday, February 22

The Things They Carried + the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was fought between communist North Vietnam and the government of Southern Vietnam. The North was supported by communist countries such as the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. The South was supported by anti-communist countries, primarily the United States. The war lasted for twenty years, something the US never expected when it joined in the fight, and ended with the country of Vietnam going to the communists...

I’d Rather Fight Than Pay (Chuck Dockery)
In 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which required all men aged 20-30 to register for military service. This led to acts of civil disobedience by men refusing to register, which then led to the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it illegal to "willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production" of the things "necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war."

During the Vietnam War, individuals could receive a deferment of service for being a college student; being a student at a divinity school, or being a clergy leader; having dependent children; being the sole supporter of a parent; and various forms of medical exemptions. Opposition to the draft during Vietnam was widespread, with some personally opposed to forced military service and some opposed to the war as a whole. The deferment system led to a disproportionately working class force in Vietnam, with as many as three quarters of those who served in Vietnam coming from working and lower class families. 

What Are You Fighting For?  (Phil Ochs)
Vietnam had been under French colonial rule since the 19th century.  During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Vietnam. To fight off both Japanese occupiers and the French colonial administration, political leader Ho Chi Minh formed the Viet Minh, or the League for the Independence of Vietnam.  Following its 1945 defeat in World War II, Japan withdrew its forces from Vietnam, leaving the French-educated Emperor Bao Dai in control.  Seeing an opportunity to seize control, Ho’s Viet Minh forces immediately rose up, taking over the northern city of Hanoi and declaring a Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) with Ho as president.  Seeking to regain control of the region, France backed Emperor Bao and set up the state of Vietnam in July 1949, with the city of Saigon as its capital.  Both sides wanted the same thing: a unified Vietnam. But while Ho and his supporters wanted a nation modeled after other communist countries, Bao and many others wanted a Vietnam with close economic and cultural ties to the West.

The Vietnam War and active U.S. involvement in the war began in 1954, though ongoing conflict in the region had stretched back several decades.  After Ho’s communist forces took power in the north, armed conflict between northern and southern armies continued until the northern Viet Minh’s decisive victory in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.  The French loss at the battle ended almost a century of French colonial rule in Indochina.  The subsequent treaty signed in July 1954 at a Geneva conference split Vietnam along the latitude known as the 17th Parallel (17 degrees north latitude), with Ho in control in the North and Bao in the South.  The treaty also called for nationwide elections for reunification to be held in 1956.  In 1955, however, the strongly anti-communist politician Ngo Dinh Diem pushed Emperor Bao aside to become president of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN), often referred to during that era as South Vietnam.

With the Cold War intensifying worldwide, the United States hardened its policies against any allies of the Soviet Union, and by 1955 President Eisenhower had pledged his firm support to Diem and South Vietnam.  With training and equipment from American military and the CIA, Diem’s security forces cracked down on Viet Minh sympathizers in the south, whom he derisively called Viet Cong (or Vietnamese Communist), arresting some 100,000 people, many of whom were brutally tortured and executed.  By 1957, the Viet Cong and other opponents of Diem’s repressive regime began fighting back with attacks on government officials and other targets, and by 1959 they had begun engaging the South Vietnamese army in firefights.  In December 1960, Diem’s many opponents within South Vietnam—both communist and non-communist—formed the National Liberation Front (NLF) to organize resistance to the regime.  Working under the “domino theory,” which held that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, many other countries would follow, President Kennedy increased U.S. aid, though he stopped short of committing to a large-scale military intervention.

Eve of Destruction (Barry McGuire)
From 1961 until 1971, the US military dropped more than nineteen million gallons of toxic chemicals on southern Vietnam. The chemicals were identified by the colors painted on their 55-gallon-drum shipping containers, with the most-sprayed being Agent Orange, a herbicide known by the late 1960s to contain often dangerous levels of persistent-organic-pollutant (POP) toxins. The goal of the spraying program was to deprive the resistance fighters of food supplies by destroying crops and to deny them cover through deforestation.

There is growing scientific evidence that those exposed during the war may experience increased incidence of cancer, type 2 diabetes, nervous-system conditions, reproductive problems, disabilities among offspring, and other health problems. The environmental impact continues in present-day Vietnam from the loss of forests and the presence of “hot spots” with high concentrations of residual toxins. 

Run Through the Jungle (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Whereas World War II was an ‘airplane war,’ the Vietnam War relied heavily on helicopters to ferry soldiers in and out of the thick jungle. The helicopter design was improved upon between wars, and by the 1960s it had a speed and agility that no plane could match. This made it much easier to bring troops, weapons, and supplies into the difficult terrain while evading enemy fire. The CH-47 Chinook and Ch-54 Skyhook were two popular models frequently used.

The jungle was a difficult place to fight a war. The Northern and Southern Vietnamese looked the same, so it was difficult to know who the enemy was, and there were booby traps and underground tunnels. Troops were being ambushed constantly and had to deal with medical issues such as jungle rot, heat stroke, and digestive problems.

For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
As the first U.S. troops were withdrawn, those who remained became increasingly angry and frustrated, exacerbating problems with morale and leadership.  Tens of thousands of soldiers received dishonorable discharges for desertion, and about 500,000 American men from 1965-73 became “draft dodgers,” with many fleeing to Canada to evade conscription.  Nixon ended draft calls in 1972, and instituted an all-volunteer army the following year.  Problems were also occurring back at home.  

The anti-war movement, which was particularly strong on college campuses, divided Americans bitterly.  For some young people, the war symbolized a form of unchecked authority they had come to resent.  For other Americans, opposing the government was considered unpatriotic and treasonous.  The invasion of these countries, in violation of international law, sparked a new wave of protests on college campuses across America.  During one, on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University, National Guardsmen shot and killed four students.  At another protest 10 days later, two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi were killed by police.

War is Over (John Lennon)
One of Richard Nixon’s first missions as President was to end the war. He began removing troops from Vietnam in July of 1969, and on January 27, 1973 a ceasefire was negotiated. In April 1975, South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam and the country became officially unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam - a communist country.  

Millions of Americans had watched the first televised war, with footage that literally brought the struggle into their living rooms, they had seen the lottery drawings each evening for the draft on the nightly news, and now they watched Nixon as he began to bring the troops home.  The troops were often poorly treated upon their return home, and many suffered from PTSD and other health problems that stemmed from their service.

After the US pulled out of the region, conflict between North Vietnam and its Cambodian allies began almost immediately in a series of border raids by the Khmer Rouge, eventually escalating into the Cambodian–Vietnamese War.  Chinese forces directly invaded Vietnam in the Sino-Vietnamese War, with subsequent border conflicts lasting until 1991.  The unified Vietnam fought insurgencies in all three countries.  The end of the war and resumption of the Third Indochina War would precipitate the Vietnamese boat people and the larger Indochina refugee crisis, which saw millions of refugees leave southern Vietnam, an estimated 250,000 of whom perished at sea.  Within the U.S, the war gave rise to what was referred to as Vietnam Syndrome, a public aversion to American overseas military involvements, which together with the Watergate scandal contributed to the crisis of confidence that affected America throughout the 1970s.

Psychologically, the effects of the Vietnam War ran deep.  The war had pierced the myth of American invincibility and had bitterly divided the nation.  Many returning veterans faced negative reactions from both opponents of the war (who viewed them as having killed innocent civilians) and its supporters (who saw them as having lost the war), along with physical damage including the effects of exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, millions of gallons of which had been dumped by U.S. planes on the dense forests of Vietnam.  In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C.

  • November 1955 – The US helps Ngo Dinh Diem get elected in South Vietnam. This comes after the French leave a power void in the region and the country divided into two parts.
  • March 1959 - Ho Chi Minh declares war in order to unite Vietnam under one rule.
  • December 1961 - US military advisors begin to take a direct role in the war.
  • August 1964 - The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is passed by the US Congress after two US Destroyers were attacked by the North Vietnamese, allowing US troops to use armed force in the area.
  • March 8, 1965 - The first official US combat troops arrive in Vietnam.
  • January 30, 1968 - North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, attacking around 100 cities in Southern Vietnam.
  • July 1969 - President Nixon begins the withdrawal of US troops.
  • March 1972 - The North Vietnamese attack across the border in the Easter Offensive.
  • April 1975 – South Vietnam surrenders to North Vietnam.


  • The Things They Carried
    • Depicting the men of Alpha Company—Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three—the stories in The Things They Carried opened our eyes to the nature of war in a way we will never forget. It is taught everywhere, from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing, and in the decades since its publication it has never failed to challenge our perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, and courage, longing, and fear.


  • Apocalypse Now
  • Experience the Vietnam War through this 4-minute video
    • This video is a better overview of the war, and better than the 2nd one below, but YT would not allow it to be embedded.  It must be viewed directly on YT due to restrictions.

Make / Do

  • Create a timeline of the Vietnam War
  • Using pictures, turn your timeline into a slide show
  • Write a letter to Kiowa's father explaining his death
  • Using a map of Vietnam, label locations from the novel
  • Interview a Vietnam War vet about their experiences
  • Create an infographic educating others about PTSD
  • Explore the underground tunnels of the war
  • Find other Vietnam War activities in:


  • topography
  • comport
  • amortizing
  • deferment
  • reticence
  • napalm
  • mundane
  • digressions
  • cadres
  • piasters
  • catharsis
  • complicity
  • snipe hunt


  • What does O'Brien mean when he says, "I realize it is Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story" ?
  • It's often said, 'War is hell."  Do you believe this is true?  Find examples from the story to support your opinion.

Explore more with the Advanced High School Literature bundle!

Includes six unit studies covering a variety of topics presented in more mature literature selections.
  • Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!
Units include:
· Oliver Twist & the Industrial Revolution
· Things Fall Apart & the Colonization of Africa
· The Chosen & the Zionist Movement
· Five People You Meet in Heaven & Human Impact
· The Things they Carried & the Vietnam War
· Crime and Punishment & Free Will vs Determinism

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