Contributed by Andy Kenen, Kenston High School, Bainbridge, Ohio


One of the most important aspects of the war in Vietnam was the draft. Every male upon reaching the age of eighteen was required to register with the selective service. Men found themselves willingly enlisting, trying for deferments as full time students or for other acceptable reasons, or leaving the country for Canada. Conscientious Objectors, including a young boxer named Muhammad Ali, became a part of the picture of the war. Some men were alleged to get “special treatment” from their local draft boards. America developed a lottery to decide who would be called upon first. The purpose of this lesson is to have students try to empathize with the decisions young men had to make when they reached the age of 18.


The students will be able to:

  1. define empathy.
  2. list reasons for various points of view regarding serving in the military.


CD’s, tapes, records of selected popular music; printed interviews; tag board and markers for name tags

Time Frame

3-4 class periods


Suggested for high school students studying American History or literature. It could be adapted for a sociology, psychology, or human relations class.



    Day 1
  1. Assign students to interview men who were of draft age during the war. Find out how they dealt with the dilemma of the draft. On Day 3 students will be role playing a discussion using the information that they have learned from their interviews.
  2. General class discussion of the term “empathy” (traditionally described as walking in another person’s shoes.)
  3. Introduce general information about the Vietnam war. Give background on the basic philosophies about the war. Define conscientious objector, amnesty, draft dodging, special treatment. Read magazine articles from the time period which talk about the subject. Find accounts of Muhammad Ali’s experiences with the draft.
  4. Distribute lyrics and listen to songs which depict the various views. Begin with “Ballad of the Green Berets”. This is a pro fighting point of view. Next consider “The Great Mandella”. This is about a conscientious objector. “The Fortunate Son” talks about men receiving “special” consideration because of their wealth or political connections. Finally, listen to “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”. It presents a humorous view of dodging the draft. Discuss what the artists are expressing with their works.

  5. Day 2
  6. Divide students into small groups. Give each group a recording of a song with its lyrics. Have students present an analysis of their song to the class. They should play the song, present the lyrics, and explain the meaning of the song.

  7. Day 3
  8. Students are going to participate in a role-play based upon the people that they interviewed (see assignment Day 1). Use markers and tag board to make name tags using fictitious names. Have students color code the name tags to represent the characters’ views of the war (draft dodger, conscientious objector, veteran). Divide the students into small groups. Try to mix up the groups so that all views are represented. Allow about 15 minutes for the role-play. At the conclusion of the exercise, hold a class discussion to evaluate the exercise.

  9. Day 4
  10. Final wrap up and evaluation of the unit.


Students should be evaluated based upon the interviews, presentations, and role plays. As a culminating activity students should write an essay describing what they learned about the different views of the draft. Finally, they should explain what they learned about empathy based on this unit. Another approach would be to have the students write a paper supporting or opposing the amnesty which allowed men who fled to Canada to return to the USA.

Selected Recordings

“7 O’clock News/Silent Night” Performed by Simon & Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Columbia CK-9363

“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” Performed by Arlo Guthrie Best of Arlo Guthrie Warner Bros. 3117

“Ballad of the Green Berets” Performed by SSgt. Barry Sadler Songs of Protest Rhino R2-70734

“Born In the USA” Performed by Bruce Springsteen Born In the USA Columbia CK-38653

“I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” Performed by Country Joe and the Fish Songs of Protest Rhino R2-70734

“Fortunate Son” Performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival Chronicle Fantasy FCD-CCR2-2

“Goodnight Saigon” Performed by Billy Joel Nylon Curtain Columbia CK-38200

“Great Mandella” Performed by Peter, Paul & Mary 1700 Warner Bros. 1700

“Jimmy Newman” Performed by Tom Paxton Best of Tom Paxton Flying Fish FF-70519

“Peacetrain” Performed by Cat Stevens Greatest Hits A&M 75021-4519

“Requiem For the Masses” Performed by The Association Greatest Hits Warner Bros. 1767

“Sky Pilot” Performed by Eric Burdon and the Animals Songs of Protest Rhino R2-70734

“Still In Saigon” Performed by the Charlie Daniels Band Decade of Hits Epic EK-38795

“The Box” Performed by John Denver Poems, Prayers and Promises (RCA 5189)

“The War Is Over”, “Draft Dodger Rag”, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” Performed by Phil Ochs The War Is Over A&M 75021-5215

“To Susan On the West Coast Waiting” Performed by Donovan Barabajagal Epic EK-26481

“Universal Soldier” Performed by Buffy St. Marie Best of Vanguard Recording Society, Inc. 3/4-2

“One Tin Soldier The Legend of Billy Jack” Performed by Coven Super Hits of the 70’s Have a Nice Day Vol. 7 Rhino Records R2-70923

“Ocean of War” Performed by the Samples The Samples W.A.R. Records 60003

Museum Connection

When visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum be sure to check out the special exhibit, I Want To Take You Higher. In the 1965 exhibit you will see posters and clothes from Country Joe and the Fish. The 1966 section posters about the war and some of the other artists whose music is being used in this lesson. In the 1968 section, pay special attention to the psychedelic military helmet and the story behind it.

Empathy and the Vietnam War Assignment
Empathy is defined by Microsoft Bookshelf 95 as identification with understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. A more common explanation is that empathy is walking in another person’s shoes.

Part I. Interview three people who were of draft age during the Vietnam war. Specifically, find out about their views on the war and how they spent the war years. Write one page for each of the interviews. Introduce us to the person and report the questions and their answers.

Part II. Today in class we are going to have an imaginary reunion of our high school’s graduating class of 1969.

  1. You are to use the information from your interviews and listening experiences to create a fictitious member of the class.
  2. In order to participate in this role-play you need to have a nametag. Nametags will be color coded to represent your view of the war based on those which we have discussed.
  3. Throughout the role-play you should stay “in character”. You may refer to other classmates who are not present at the reunion if you wish to expand your character’s world. Perhaps talk about your character’s friends who are no longer alive, or have moved away. These are pretty typical topics of discussion at class reunions.
  4. The class will be divided into small groups so that it is easier for each person to have time to share their views. Each group should have all of the points of view represented if possible.
  5. Your reunion will last around fifteen minutes. That should give everyone a chance to tell his story.
  6. Afterwards, we will have a chance to share our experiences with the class.