Monday, May 21, 2018

The Vietnam War for Level 4: 10,000 Days of Thunder

by Philip Caputo

In the last six weeks of our year (which I have condensed a little), First Son is studying Gandhi, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Afghanistan. Mater Amabilis™ provides some lesson plans for History in Level 4 (eighth grade) and suggested resources for these weeks, but I opted to use library books instead.

You can see our original plans in this post.

This book turned out to be an excellent choice. The author is a Vietnam veteran and a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. His powerful introduction impressed First Son:
The war began for me on March 8, 1965, when my battalion landed at the port city of Da Nang. I was rotated home on July 12, 1966, but that is not when the war ended for me, because wars have a way of going on and on in your mind and your soul long after you've left the battlefield.
He shares how the war ended for him, through poetry and vodka with a North Vietnamese veteran.

Each two-page spread in the book has text on the left-hand side and a full page carefully selected illustration on the right-hand side. Smaller photographs and "quick facts" boxes provided additional information that range from the historical to the quirky. One quick fact sure to appeal:
Infantrymen could not wear underwear while on patrol in Vietnam. The heat and humidity were so intense that wearing underwear caused the men to develop jungle rot--skin rashes that could get so severe the men would have to be hospitalized.
Though this is an overview of the war written for young adults, it introduces every topic relevant to the Vietnam War: history of French colonialism, rise of Communism in the north, events at home in America, and the reality of life in Vietnam for soldiers and citizens of all nations and propensities. Though the author's feelings about decisions made by politicians and generals in the war are obvious, so is his desire to help readers understand the different points of view. He seems to feel like the American public would have supported the war if they had been better informed by President Johnson. I don't know enough to disagree with him, but I did assign an essay by Wendell Berry (which you can find in the original plans) which provided a counterpoint.

Caputo manages to convey compassion for the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, and the soldiers caught between them. When describing some of the atrocities of the war, he explains they were committed on both sides but:
American atrocities were spontaneous and random acts in direct violation of U.S. military law and MACV directives. In contrast, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong had a written policy that sanctioned and encouraged these acts, including assassination, massacre, and torture.
Understandably, many of the photographs and descriptions in the text are of a graphic nature, but they are not unnecessarily so. The book was written in 2005 and includes information right up through the publication on the relations between Vietnam and the United States. I didn't feel like I needed to add anything to the study to cover the time between the war and the present day.

The end of the book includes an extensive bibliography, a list of web sites, and a detailed index. There is also a timeline at the front of the book.

I was satisfied with our original assignments and don't intend to change them for First Daughter. (Again, the original plans are here.) First Son also read Escape from Saigon, which is a very short easy read. I will probably provide other books during the six-week study for First Daughter, though perhaps not about Vietnam.

I checked this book out from our library. The links to Amazon above are affiliate links. I have received nothing for writing this post and these opinions are my own.

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