Vietnam: Educator's guide
A guide for K–12 teachers to teaching about Vietnam using LEARN NC's slideshows, with a focus on the question Why should we care about Vietnam?
A teacher's guide for grades 6–12 Social Studies
This guide is designed to be used in conjunction with LEARN NC’s slideshows on Vietnam and Cambodia. Each photograph in the slideshows is accompanied by a caption written by an anthropologist that explains what the picture depicts, puts the picture in initial context, and links interested viewers to other related pictures in the collection.
While the slides themselves enable students to glimpse life in Vietnam, this guide offers additional suggestions and resources to help teachers place the slides into a larger context.
This guide aims to ignite student (and teacher) enthusiasm for learning about Vietnam by answering the question Why should we care about Vietnam? The guide begins with a look at the significance of Asia in today’s world and then moves into an examination of Vietnam.
Why should teachers and students in the United States learn about Vietnam?
Suggestion for teachers: One way teachers may want to enter into a unit on Vietnam is by asking students to brainstorm responses to this very question. A teacher might then ask students to return to this question on an assessment at the end of the unit.
Why Asia matters
Vietnam is in Southeast Asia, so let’s start with five compelling reasons why Asia matters:1
Asia represents 60 percent of the world’s population of 6.5 billion people (India and China each come in at about 1.2 billion).
U.S.–Pacific two-way trade surpassed U.S. trade with Europe in the 1970s. Japan is the second largest economy in the world behind the United States, and China is third (or fourth behind Germany, depending on who measures GDP). Since World War II ended in 1945, East Asia has had the fastest rate of economic growth in the world.
3. National security
The War on Terrorism is being fought in part in Afghanistan; both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons; North Korea is developing nuclear weapons; and U.S.–China relations are among the most important in the world, as China potentially ascends to superpower status.
Signs of Asian culture are spreading throughout U.S. society. Asian-Americans are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population. Great Britain has mandated that some of its students learn Mandarin Chinese and many U.S. schools may soon follow that lead.
Asia has a long, complex history. It is the birthplace of all of the world’s major religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (technically, the Middle East is Southwest Asia). An educated person today needs to know about Asia’s history.
What’s so special about Vietnam?
Suggestion for teachers: Introduce Vietnam as the ultimate “comeback country.”
Vietnam has a compelling recovery story and a long history of resiliency against foreign invaders, including China, France, and the United States. (As an introduction to the unit on Vietnam, students could be tasked with fleshing out Vietnam’s history of occupation and invasion through the years.)
The Vietnam War
Slideshow: French Colonization and Vietnam Wars
As a starting point, most U.S. students know something about the Vietnam War. What they know may not be complete or accurate, but odds are they have at least heard of the war. Students may be interested to learn that, in Vietnam, that war is known as the “American War.” Until recently, the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam was called the American War Crimes Museum.
From Vietnam’s perspective, it had been occupied by China for a thousand years (from 100 BCE to 900 CE), then by the French for several decades (1859–1954). When the United States decided to support South Vietnam as part of a Cold War strategy, it took over where the French left off, and fought against the Communists in the north of the country, led by Ho Chi Minh.
The key point — and one that students may find particularly compelling as evidence to support the “comeback” thesis — is that from 1964 to 1972, “the U.S. and its allies exploded fifteen million tons of bombs in Vietnam. That is twice the amount used in all of Europe and Asia during World War II.”2
In the war between North and South Vietnam (with the United States supporting the non-Communist South), about 3 million Vietnamese were killed out of a 1970 population of approximately 40 million. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed and more than one-third of South Vietnam’s population was relocated during the war.
Additionally, to clear the jungle areas, defoliants such as Agent Orange were sprayed on about one-fifth of South Vietnam’s jungle areas.
Once the Americans left (America’s direct involvement in that war lasted from the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964 to the final evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in 1975), Vietnam had to figure out how to reunify the North and the South. It was a nation left in a shambles, and it was under Communist rule — not a healthy combination.
To make matters worse, shortly after reunifying the nation, Vietnam began in 1978 to fight a decade-long war against its increasingly hostile neighbor — the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.
Slideshow: Contemporary Life in Vietnam
Vietnam today is fascinating because it is in the process of privatizing after decades of devastation followed by years of Communist rule. A renovation program that is moving the nation away from Marxist ideas, known as Doi Moi, began in 1986 and continues today.
Vietnam is now one of the world’s more densely populated countries, with nearly 85 million people (as of 2006) living on a small S-shaped strip of coastal land about the size of New Mexico — that is, if New Mexico were stretched out to an S-shaped strip of land on the coast of the South China Sea.
Approximately 60 percent of Vietnam’s population is unemployed or underemployed. Despite this high unemployment rate, there has been recent buzz about Vietnam’s economic prospects. Why? Because Vietnam’s economy grew by an average of nearly 8 percent per year from 1990 to 2002, making it the world’s second-fastest growing economy behind China, its neighbor to the north.
Vietnam and China
Slideshow: Northern and Coastal Vietnam
China occupied Vietnam for a thousand years and had a huge influence on Vietnam’s culture and language. China has the world’s largest army, and given that Vietnam borders China, it makes sense that Vietnam would need a powerful army to defend itself against China. Vietnam actually has the seventh largest army in the world.
Vietnam and the world economy
For the two decades following the Vietnam War, Vietnam had no diplomatic or trade relations with the United States. Washington finally lifted its trade embargo against Vietnam in 1994, and diplomatic relations between the two countries were re-established in 1995.
The two-way trade between the two countries increased from $220 million in 1994 — the year the embargo was lifted — to over $6.4 billion in 2004. Major Vietnamese exports to the United States include textiles and garments, seafood, crude oil, home furnishings, footwear, and coffee, while U.S. exports to Vietnam are mainly aircrafts, fertilizer, steel, computers and parts, equipment and parts, leather goods and footwear, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. (source)
In 2005, Vietnam was the forty-fourth biggest exporter to the United States, and the United States was Vietnam’s biggest importer, accounting for 20.2 percent of its total exports. In the 1990s, Vietnam’s exports of goods and services grew faster than those of any other country in the world. Vietnam is now the world’s third largest exporter of rice; the second largest exporter of coffee, cashews, and pepper; and a leading exporter of apparel and textiles, seafood, and footwear.
See VINATRADEUSA for more information.
More facts about Vietnam (from VINATRADEUSA):
- Vietnam is considered the safest country in which to do business and travel in Asia-Pacific. This is according to a poll of over 400 business executives conducted by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. following the Bali bombing in October 2002.
- Vietnam is the second best investment destination among ten ASEAN countries for Japanese investors, according to a survey conducted in early 2002 by the Japanese External Trade Organization.
- A recent survey of 178 small and medium Korean companies showed that Vietnam was chosen as the second best destination for Korean foreign investment.
- Vietnam, the thirteenth most populous country in the world, has a large market of 80 million people with an abundance of young and a highly literate workforce of over 40 million people of whom around 45 percent are under thirty-five years of age.
- Vietnam is a member of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), the Asia-Pacific Economic Community and the ASEAN-Europe Meeting; has signed a trade agreement with the United States; and is negotiating for accession to the World Trade Organization.
- Vietnam, thanks to its stability, is a favored recipient of foreign aid for development. During the 1996–2002 period, the international community committed to provide Vietnam with Official Development Aid of around $22 billion.
- Vietnam has a relatively extensive network of roads, exceeding those of nearby Malaysia and Thailand.
- Most visitors to Vietnam are overwhelmed by the sublime beauty of the country’s natural setting. Its 3,451-kilometer coastline includes countless unspoiled beaches and a number of stunning lagoons.
- The book, Searching for the Perfect Meal, concludes that Vietnam has the most delicious food, per square meter, in the world.
Tourism in Vietnam
Today, many U.S. tourists visit Vietnam and see such sites as its exquisite coastline (over 2000 miles of coastline) and the Cu Chi tunnels (pictured in the French Colonization and Vietnam Wars slideshow). Students seem fascinated by these tunnels, and there are tons of pictures available online.
Suggestion for teachers: You might consider having interested students do additional research about the Cu Chi tunnels and report back to the class.
Walt Disney in Vietnam
For good or for ill, a Disney World theme park is slated to open in southern Vietnam, just north of Ho Chi Minh City, in the next few years.
For North Carolina teachers
North Carolina students have a particular link with the people who live in the mountainous regions of Vietnam. When Vietnam was occupied by the French, the French called these mountain people “Montagnards,” and the name is still used today.
Many Montagnards face discrimination in Vietnam and have come to the United States. Many were drawn to North Carolina, particularly because North Carolina’s mountains remind the Montagnards so much of their homeland in Vietnam. The connection between the terrain in Vietnam and North Carolina was also noticed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. As part of their training, some U.S. helicopter pilots came to North Carolina’s mountains to practice maneuvering in mountains similar to the ones they would see on a tour of duty in Vietnam.
According to one source, Vietnam’s language is the eleventh most popular language in the world:
There are about eighty million native speakers of Vietnamese, of which about three million live outside Vietnam. In terms of native speakers, that makes it about the eleventh most populous language in the world, just ahead of French. It is a highly musical six-tone language that has affiliations both with Cambodian (Khmer) and Chinese, as well as a recently acquired sprinkling of French loan words. It has had a written script for about a thousand years. For most of that period the script was a highly complicated extension of the Chinese writing system, but in the past century this system has been replaced by an easier one that uses letters of the Western alphabet in combination with diacritics and tone marks. The Vietnamese have a strong affinity for scholarly and artistic pursuits. Most Vietnamese, whatever their ostensible profession, are at least “closet” artists, poets, scholars, or musicians. (source)
Other sources rank Vietnamese somewhat lower among the most-spoken languages of the world. You or your students may wish to consult a variety of sources.
Suggestion for teachers: Teachers might task each of their students with finding at least three maps of Vietnam to see what different maps accentuate. Then have the students share what they have found. LEARN NC’s multimedia library is a good place to start looking for maps.
Vietnam’s geography is often referred to as a shoulder pole with a rice basket at each end, making the shape of an S. This analogy is particularly apt, because the heavily populated, rice-producing areas are in the north and the south of the country, while the middle of the country is thin like a pole. At its thinnest point, Vietnam is only about thirty miles wide.
Some of the major cities students may have heard of in Vietnam are located in the following regions:
- North — Hanoi
- Middle — Hue and Danang
- South — Saigon (now officially called Ho Chi Minh City)
Vietnam has two major river deltas, the Mekong River in the south and the Red River is in the north. To its east, Vietnam borders the South China Sea. A well-known road that hugs the east coast of Vietnam is Route 1.