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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Secretary of Defense R. McNamera pointing to map of Vietnam Two Days in October provides insights into American history topics including, the nation's divide over the Vietnam War, the experiences of young people as soldiers or protesters, first-person accounts of war, the manufacture and use of chemical weapons like napalm, the rise of antiwar protests, class tensions and socioeconomic differences between those who served and those who stayed home, and more. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: geography, economics, history, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

  1. Debating war, then and now.
    Media reports in 1967 showed the growing intensity both of the war and of the debate over the war in the United States, from the stark description of battle in a magazine article to a sarcastic welcome to University of Wisconsin students in a campus newspaper to state legislators' angry statements against student protesters in a local newspaper.

    More recently, the war in Iraq has become a subject of intense debate. To get a sense of that debate, read a press release from the American Legion opposing public protests against the Iraq war and a statement by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, explaining her decision to hold a public protest against the war by camping outside President George W. Bush's Texas vacation home.

    What is your own view about the war in in Iraq -- should the United States have invaded Iraq, and should U.S. troops remain there now? Find a published statement that comes closest to expressing your view about one or both of these issues. It can be, for example, a newspaper op-ed or editorial, a magazine column, a blog entry on a Web site, a statement by a private citizen in a news story, a speech by a government official, or a book excerpt. (If you prefer, you can write your own 500-word statement.) Circulate these statements among the class, without identifying which statement came from which student, and then discuss the range of opinions they express about the war.

  2. Lives changed by war.
    Watch the interviews with ten people who lived through the events shown in the film. What might these people say to each other regarding the meaning of the war, the role they played in it, and its impact on their lives? Divide the class into ten groups, each representing one of the ten interviewees, and hold a conversation in which each group tries to express that person's viewpoint. Which of the interviewees had their personal views changed most dramatically by the war? On what issues do you think they would agree, or disagree? Which of them would be able to overcome past differences about the war?

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

  1. Songs opposed to war.
    Students and others opposed to the Vietnam War often expressed their views through antiwar songs, including classics such as "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, "Give Peace a Chance" by John Lennon, and "Blowin' in the Wind," by Bob Dylan. Have each student find one such song and bring in the lyrics -- and, if possible, a recording of the song -- for the class. Review the songs as a class and discuss their similarities and differences. What is their mood: angry, sad, hopeful? Do they express opposition to war in general or the Vietnam War in particular? Do they focus on events in Vietnam or the United States?

  2. American life, circa 1967.
    Create a multimedia "museum exhibit" in your classroom to show what life in the United States was like in 1967. Divide the class into groups to research different topics, such as clothing (what styles were popular?), pop music (which groups had the top-selling hits?), sports (which teams and stars were dominating their sport?), movies and television (which were the most popular?), literature (who were the best-selling authors?), slang (were any unusual expressions widely used by young people?), and consumer goods (what were the "hottest" cars?). Your exhibit could include examples of clothes of the period, video clips from popular television shows, recordings of popular songs, magazine advertisements, and "top ten" lists of movies or books.

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

  1. War, morality, and economics.
    To examine some issues raised by the event that sparked the protests -- a recruiting visit by Dow Chemical, maker of napalm, to the university -- divide the class into three groups and assign each group one of the following questions:

    Are some weapons immoral regardless of how they are used, or does the morality of any weapon depend on the way it is used (including the enemy it is used against)?

    When the government asks a private company, in the name of national defense, to make a weapon, does the company have a responsibility to agree to this request?

    Should colleges and universities prevent certain employers from recruiting on campus if large numbers of students disapprove of those employers?

    Each group should write two answers, each one paragraph long, on the two opposing sides of its assigned question and should make both answers as persuasive as possible. When the groups are done, have the entire class review the sets of answers and vote on all three questions. Has this exercise given you a new perspective on the events at the University of Wisconsin?

  2. Examining equality.
    Issues related to economic class contributed to the tensions within American society over the Vietnam War, from the fact that most of the soldiers who served in Vietnam came from modest backgrounds to the division between the mostly working-class police of Madison and the more affluent students at the University of Wisconsin.

    Have equality and economic opportunity improved or declined in this country since 1967? Working with a partner, examine this question by selecting a specific topic for research. For example: Is today's all-volunteer military more representative of the country as a whole than the Vietnam War-era military was? Is the income gap between poor Americans and wealthy Americans (or the income gap between white men and African Americans, women, and other groups that have suffered from discrimination) larger or smaller than it was in 1967? Has the share of the population that lives in poverty gone up or down? Is the average American better off or worse off than she or he was in 1967?

    Present your topic to your teacher for review. Once a topic is approved, research it and present the results to the class in the form of a brief oral presentation, a multimedia presentation, or in some other form.

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

  1. The war's two battlefronts.
    Divide the class into 11 groups and assign each group one of the years from 1963 to 1973. Give each group photocopies of two outline maps: one of Vietnam, the other of the United States. For its assigned year, each group should show the major events in the war on the Vietnam map, and the major events in the antiwar movement in the U.S. map.

    When the maps are complete, post them in two rows and review them as a class. Do students see any link between military developments in Vietnam and protests in the United States?

  2. Important locations in the war.
    Assign each student one of the following places: Ap Bac, Cambodia, Dienbienphu, Gulf of Tonkin, Haiphong Harbor, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hue, Khe Sanh, Laos, My Lai, North Vietnam, Phnom Penh, Saigon, South Vietnam. Students should find the location of their assigned place and write a sentence on an index card explaining why it was important during the Vietnam War. Then, prepare a wall map of Southeast Asia and have students attach their index cards to the appropriate locations. Your students may wish to consult the maps on the American Experience Vietnam Web site.

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