Secondary students (grades 9-12) and college students
American History, American Culture, Asian Studies
- To look at the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese
- To understand the history of Vietnam both during
and after the war
- To explore the effects of the war on both Vietnam
and the United States
Pre-viewing discussion and quiz:
Before watching the program, write the following
quote on the blackboard:
a country, not a war."
Le Van Bang, Former Vietnamese Ambassador to the
Invite students raise their hands and say what they
know about Vietnam, not including the Vietnam War.
This is a difficult question, even for adults! If
students are unable to come up with historical or
cultural facts, guide them towards contributing basic
information (i.e. "It's in Southeast Asia,"
or "President Clinton visited Vietnam in 2000").
The purpose of this exercise is to highlight how little
most Americans know about Vietnam after the last U.S.
soldier was evacuated in 1975. Class discussion should
follow on basic history of the Vietnam War, including
why the United States got involved and the final outcome
of the conflict. Talk about different effects the
Vietnam War had on America, and encourage the students
to brainstorm on how they think the war might have
Another method for introducing the topic of post-war
Vietnam is to have students take the following quiz.
Again, they are not expected to perform well on the
quiz should serve to highlight the necessity of learning
more about Vietnam and attempting to look at the war
from a Vietnamese perspective:
- The capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
- Ho Chi Minh City
- The U.S. Congress repealed the trade embargo against
Vietnam in what year?
- True or false: After the war, the new Communist
government forced many supporters of the southern
regime to remain imprisoned in 're-education camps'
until the end of the 1970s.
- The average Vietnamese worker today earns how many
dollars a day?
- True or false: More than a million Vietnamese refugees
fled their country after the war was over
ANSWERS: 1.) C, 2.) C, 3.) False. The last
camp didn't close until the early 1990s., 4.) A, 5.)
After watching the program, encourage a class discussion
about the effects of the war on Vietnam and the lives
of ordinary Vietnamese people using discussion points
below. Students can also take the quiz again to determine
how much they learned about Vietnam today from paying
attention to the film.
- Each of the six main character had one "Big
Choice" they made which affected the rest of
their life (i.e. Tao, joining the Viet Cong; Trung,
bombing the palace, etc.) Identify what those choices
were and what the consequences were for each person.
Can ask the students if they would have made different
choices if they had been in the character's shoes.
- The turning point in the film comes on April 30,
1975. Ask students to pretend that they are an American
reporter like David Lamb in Saigon to cover the
end of the war. Have them write three headlines
for the next morning's paper. After some of the
best suggestions are written on the blackboard,
read some real headlines from 1975. How do
the headlines differ in tone? In fact? Why do the
students think this is?
- In the film, LA Times reporter David Lamb talks
about being nervous about returning to Vietnam until
a taxi driver says to him: "We fought the Chinese
for a thousand years, we fought the French for a
hundred years. You were here for ten years. You
were just a blip in the history of a proud nation."
Oral history project:
Have students tape record interviews with a parent,
neighbour, or friend who is old enough to remember
the Vietnam War for an oral history project. If at
all possible, ensure that interview subjects chosen
by the class include all three of the following:
- Ordinary Americans
- Vietnam veterans
- Vietnamese-Americans who came to the U.S. in the
1970s and 1980s.
After a lesson in how to conduct an oral history
interview and a briefing on why this is a hot-button
topic that must be approached sensitively, have students
conduct interviews. Questions should include:
- What is your first memory of the Vietnam War?
- How did you feel about the war while it was going
- How do you think the war changed your life? How
do you think it changed America?
- How do you feel about the war 25 years after it
ended? Do feel differently than you did in 1975?
- What do you know about Vietnam today?
Students should then transcribe the tapes of their
interview, leaving out the questions they asked and
leaving just the answers, woven together in paragraphs
to form a story. The oral histories can then be compiled
into a book (one copy for each student, one for each
interview participant, plus a copy for the school
Objective: Allow students to hear the stories
of those who lived through the war, in their own words.
Have each member of the class choose one specific
facet of Vietnamese life (Art, Music, Literature,
Politics, Business, Public Health, Tourism, Architecture,
etc.) and research the history of this field since
1975. Give an overview of developments, trends
and milestones, in the form of a five-minute oral
report using visual aids. The report should also include
a closer look at the effects of the war on the chosen
field, and predictions for what direction the field
will move towards in the future. (This project can
also be done as written research papers.)
Objective: Give the class a broader exposure
to Vietnamese culture and the chance to learn about
the country since the end of the war.
After a brief presentation on geography of Vietnam
(for information, see LINKS), have each student in
the class choose a city from the list below (more
than one student may choose each city, but make sure
all the cities on the list is represented). The assignment:
make a posterboard of images and information about
the city, including:
- Maps and photos
- Geographical area (climate, key rivers and mountains,
flora and fauna)
- History: before 1800, under French colonialism,
during the war, to date
- Strategic importance during the war
- Date of "liberation" and what happened
when Northern troops took over (if applicable)
- Principle industries today
- Notable historic sites, places of interest to visitors
Cities: Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Vung Tau,
Cu Chi, Phan Thiet, Buon Ma Thuot, Nha Trang, Pleiku,
Danang, Hue, Vinh, Hanoi, Lang Son, Haiphong.
The posterboards should be exhibited in the classroom
so all students can learn about each city. Each student
could also be required to make a brief oral report
on his or her city. For help in gathering information,
see the "References" section of the Links
Objective: Learn more about the country
of Vietnam today by breaking it down into more approachable
units to facilitate a closer look at the effects of
war on a specific population.
Arizona Senator John McCain, a Vietnam veteran and
former POW, has long been one of the leading advocates
for better relations between Vietnam and the United
States. However, during a visit to Vietnam in 2000,
he angered many in the country by telling a reporter
he believed that "the wrong side won the war."
Organize a class debate on the topic (Resolved:
The wrong side won the Vietnam War), reminding
students to use both contemporary research and examples
from "Vietnam Passage" and the lives of
the characters featured.
Objective: To promote thoughtful discussion
and encourage students to look at both sides of a
complicated and emotional topic.
- "Vietnam Passage" shows scenes of massive
anti-war protests both in Vietnam and in the United
States. All of America's wars have been protested
by its citizens, but the war in Vietnam created
the largest and most publicized protests. Why do
you think that was so? Compare the situation in
the 1960s to the current public reaction to the
War on Terror following September 11. How is public
dialogue different now. Can you see a development
in the current war that would once again prompt
- After the fall of Saigon, one American observer
noted that "There were no winners, only victims."
However, a North Vietnamese officer declared, "The
war has ended today. All Vietnamese are victors."
Explain these two views of the end of the war. Which
speaker was right? Could both of them be right?
- Say that the South Vietnamese had defeated the
Communists and won the Vietnam War. How would the
lives of each of the six Vietnamese characters in
"Vietnam Passage" have been different?
For each character, write a brief essay imagining
how his or her life would have proceeded after 1975
(or choose one character and write a more in-depth
- When asked about the massive casualties suffered
by North Vietnam during the war, U.S. General William
Westmoreland once said, " Oh yes, but you must
understand that they are Asians, and they don't
really think about death the way we do. They accept
it very fatalistically." Do you see this kind
of rhetoric occurring in the current War on Terror?
If not, what has changed? Discuss the dangers of
understanding no culture but your own.
Objective: Get students to "think
outside the box" on the topic of Vietnam and
the war. Encourage the use of imagination and persuasive
writing on historical subjects.
Research paper topics:
- The end of the "American War" on April
30, 1975 was not the beginning of a lasting peace
in VN. Prepare a research paper on either the 1978
Chinese invasion of northern Vietnam or the Vietnamese
invasion of Cambodia. Papers should include information
on the historical reasons behind the invasions,
the role or reaction of the United States to the
conflicts, and how the wars affected the Vietnamese
- Why did it take 16 years for Ann Tran to find
her sons? The main reason she mentions in "Vietnam
Passage" is that the U.S.-sponsored trade embargo
cut off all communications between Vietnam and America.
Prepare a research paper on the effects of the embargo,
Nguyen Duy Binh is one of over one million refugees
who fled Vietnam during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Prepare a research paper of your choice on the "boat
people" and their lives in their new home countries.
Topics could include the following:
- General information about how the embargo affected
the country (economics and politics); and
- Specific information on how the embargo affected
the daily lives of the Vietnamese people, using
Ann Tran as an example. What effect did the trade
ban have on how she earned money, how the family
lived, and how she searched for her sons? If you
were Ann, how would you have tried to find Tony
and Tim (taking the communications problems into
consideration)? How would you go about finding
- America wasn't the only country to accept refugees.
Compare the resettlement process in the United
States and Australia (another main destination
for boat people). What assistance was available
to them upon their arrival in their new country?
How well have Vietnamese immigrants have adjusted
to their new lives in each place? How do other
Americans or Australians view Vietnamese immigrants
today? Are there problems with racism? What are
the greatest challenges faced by these communities?
- Prepare a biography of a Vietnamese-American
who fled Vietnam in the 1970s or 1980s. Discuss
the circumstances behind why s/he left Vietnam,
how s/he adapted and how s/he left Vietnam, his
or her achievements, and how s/he feels about
Vietnam today. This research paper can focus on
the life of a Vietnamese-American from your community
(based on interviews) or a prominent Vietnamese-American.
Possible subjects include author Le Ly Hayslip,
journalist Andrew Lam, memoirist Andrew X. Pham,
actor Dustin Nguyen, or pro football player Dat
Nguyen (for more ideas see the New Horizon project
Objective: To promote in-depth, independent
study of issues surrounding Vietnam during and after
For more information on the Vietnam War and the history
of Vietnam since 1975, here are a list of recommended
books and films to get you started. Make sure to visit
the extensive Websites provided under Links.
Chanda, Nayan. Brother Enemy: The War after the
New York: Collier Books, Macmillan, 1986.
Duiker, William J. Ho Chi Minh
New York: Hyperion, 2000
Faast, Horst and Tim Page, eds. Requiem: By the
Photographers who Died in Vietnam and Indochina. New
York: Random House, 1997.
Hiebert, Murray. Chasing the Tigers; A Portrait
of the New Vietnam
New York: Kodansha Internatonal, 1996.
FitzGerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake
New York: Vintage Books, 1989 (reissue)
Jamieson, Neil L. Understanding Vietnam
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Kamm, Henry. Dragon Ascending
New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996.
Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History
New York: Viking Press, 1983.
Lamb, David. Vietnam Now; A Reporter's Return
New York: Public Affairs, 2002
Pham, Andrew X. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled
Voyage through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam.
New York: Picador USA, 2000.
The Fall of Saigon, producer/director Mike
Dutfield for PBS
A production of Karin Muller in association with Story
Pete Peterson: Assignment Hanoi, Produced
and Directed by Sandy Northrop .
Return with Honor, Produced and Directed by
Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders;
An Ocean release of a Playtone presentation
Regret to Inform,
Produced by Barbara Sonneborn
Three Seasons, a feature film directed and
written by Tony Bui, released by October Films
Vietnam: A Televison War
(a thirteen-part series) A co-production of WGBH Boston,
Central Independent Television UK and Antenne-2, France
and in association with LRE Productions.