Where are the Viet Cong?
Objectivity is often hailed as one of the keynotes of a good historian but objectivity needn’t and shouldn’t dominate every part of the teaching and learning process. We need to be objective when reaching a final decision on e.g. Charles I’s responsibility for the outbreak of the Civil War but that doesn’t mean every aspect of teaching and learning should squeeze out emotion – because if we omit emotions then we may find it difficult to achieve a full understanding of events.
This activity, created by Ian Luff, makes excellent use of emotion to help students understand the fear and uncertainty among American GIs when seeking out the Viet Cong forces – and this understanding then leads on to a deeper understanding of why the US army could not master its enemy.
Over to Ian for his description.
A key part of most Modern World GCSE specifications is the examination of the consequences of the Vietnam War in terms of US confidence and reputation in the world following its unthinkable defeat. It was difficult for US contemporaries who were not involved in the fighting to understand why such a well equipped and supported force such as the US Army was being defeated by an irregular, poorly equipped semi guerrilla force. How much more difficult then is it for the student of today to master the concept why the kind of war fought by the Viet Cong was so successful.
This activity therefore aims to help students:
- analyse and explain the reasons for the difficulties faced by American soldiers
- relate the reactions of soldiers to the overall reasons why the US forces failed to defeat the Viet Cong.
1. Arrange the classroom in traditional rows
2. Play the class a section from the Vietnam sequence from the film Forrest Gump - the section from the introduction of Forrest and Bubba to ‘Lieutenant Dan’ to the death of Bubba by the shores of the Mekong.
During the film pupils should be plotting Forrest’s emotions on a living graph with the opposite ends of the vertical axis labelled ‘boredom’ and ‘fear’
3. On the finish of the film give number cards from 1-30(ish) to the whole class then pick two numbers at random as GI's. This has the 'feel' of the draft. Then send those GI's out so they can't hear the rest of the proceedings.
4. Once they've gone, I unashamedly pick three VC villagers from volunteers or people in the class I know will shout loudly. They are given this briefing
Smile at the GIs.
- If they walk past you stand and SHOUT ‘Death to US Imperialists’. You have destroyed an enemy!
- If they pick you out, hang your head and raise your arms
5. The rest of the class are then told they are friendly villagers and given this briefing
Smile at the GIs.
- Hope you don’t get killed.
- If you do, die noisily protesting your innocence!
6. Now bring in the first GI. Order him about in a drill sergeant voice and give him this briefing
Walk through the countryside (the room). Your mission is to detect and destroy the Viet Cong villages. You may only walk forwards until you reach the very back of the room. You can identify three villages as VC. If you suspect a village of being VC place your hand on the shoulder of a person – this signifies village destruction.
- If you destroy a VC village you are helicoptered home to receive the CMoH. [Congressional Medal of Honour].
- If you destroy a friendly village you are court-martialled.
- If surprised by a VC ambush you are dead!
7. Now send the GI out on patrol and then repeat with the second GI.
Each GI has a maximum of three taps on shoulders.
- Make a big show of ‘he died for his country’ if killed by VC.
- If GI destroys a friendly village bawl him out.
The tension in the room is palpable. This is as close as one can get to the fears and uncertainties of the war in Vietnam. Now students will appreciate how difficult was the job of the young US soldiers. After both GI's have tried and succeeded/failed I reveal who was friendly.
Possible questions are:
1. Ask different individuals to describe their feelings as they took part – how has this affected their understanding of
- GI’s feelings
- GI’s actions e.g. destruction of friendly villages
- why the US army found it so difficult to win the war
2. Relate the activity to the film and living graph students created while watching it.
- What impact did the creation of emotional reactions have on students’ understandings?
- Did the activity benefit any students in particular and what might this tell you about their learning needs?
- Which other topics might be better understood by the injection of ‘enhanced emotion’?