Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Gerald Ford and the Vietnam War
Michael Young
US History
Time Frame:
• The lesson can be organized to take from one to four 45-minute class periods depending on how much outside classroom work is required of the students. The discussion of how to do historical analysis can be introduced in this lesson or don
Grade Levels:
8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • This lesson can be integrated into the classroom through any or all of the following strategies: activities by individual students through cross-curricular activities with Language Arts and/or cooperative learning endeavors.
  •  Students will use computer technology to analyze Internet websites containing primary sources that contain a variety of documents related to President Ford and his advisors concerning what actions to take during  the closing days of the Vietnam War

  • To assist students in developing analytical skills that will enable them to evaluate primary sources such as documents and political cartoons related to decisions made by President Ford’s administration during the final days of the Vietnam War


  • To introduce students to the Stanford History Educational Group’s Reading Like A Historian teaching strategies to help them investigate historical questions by employing the following reading strategies: Sourcing, Contextualizing, corroborating and close reading

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:



K-12 History: Students will develop and apply historical knowledge and skills to research, analyze, and understand key concepts of past, current, and potential issues and events at the local, state, national, and international levels.

  • SS 12.4.2.c (US) Analyze and evaluate the appropriate uses of primary and secondary sources
  • SS 12.4.3.a (US) Analyze and evaluate how multiple perspectives facilitate the understanding of the full story of US history
  • SS 12.4.3.b (US) Compare and contrast primary and secondary sources to better understand multiple perspectives of the same event
  • SS 12.4.4.a (US) Compare and evaluate contradictory historical narratives of Twentieth-Century U.S. History through determination of credibility, contextualization, and corroboration
  • SS 12.4.4.d (US) Analyze and evaluate multiple causes and effects of key events in US history (e.g., Vietnam Conflict}
  • SS 12.4.5.b (US) Obtain, analyze, evaluate, and cite appropriate sources for research about Twentieth-Century U.S. History, incorporating primary and secondary sources (e.g., Cite sources using a prescribed format.)
  • SS 12.4.5.c (US) Gather historical information about the United States (e.g., document archives, artifacts, newspapers, interviews)

Common Core



Key Ideas and Details

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Craft and Structure

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Cold War Project in Vietnam. : 'The Vietnam-Era Presidency'. Opper Project.



Library of Congress.  Analyze A Written Document.




Library of Congress. Teaching with Primary Sources.



Mandell, Nikki.  “Thinking Like A Historian : A Framework for Teaching and Learning.”  OAH Magazine of History.  April. 2008.  Pp. 55-61.


Marlette, Doug . “Gerald Ford. Lessons of the Past in Vietnam” Political Cartoon

 Awesomestories.    https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/155990


National Archives. Document Analysis Worksheets



Rubric for Evaluating the Stanford Historical Thinking Chart.

UMBC Center for History Education, 2013. Adapted from the work of the Stanford History Education Group ® and Bruce VanSledright, Assessing Historical Thinking and Understanding: Innovative Ideas for New Standards, (New York: Routledge, 2014). http://www.umbc.edu/che/arch/images/ARCH_Historical_Thinking%20Skills_Rubric_Secondary_rev_2-17-14.pdf


Stanford History Education Group. Beyond the Bubble.



Stanford History Education Group.  Reading Like A Historian



SOCC. Visual Image Analysis  (Chart)






Vietnam Era -Era Presidents: Cartoon Analysis Worksheet.  Opper  Project.


Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

American Experience.  Last Days in Vietnam.



American Experience. Last Days in Vietnam: The Embassy Evacuation. https://mass.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/amex27ldv.ush.embassy/embassy-evacuation/#.WYeODVI9a5Q


Gerald Ford Presidential Library.



Gerald Ford Presidential Library. DEPARTMENT OF STATE . Washington, D.C. 20520. September 12, 1974 .MEMORANDUM FOR LIEUTENANT GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT THE WHITE HOUSE. Subject: Ambassador Graham Martin's Call on the President .




Library of  Congress.   Teacher Guide and Analysis Tool



National Archives. DocsTeach. Briefing Paper for President Gerald Ford's Meeting with Ambassador to South Vietnam Graham Marti



National Archives. DocsTeach. Several documents related to advice to Ford Concerning Vietnam


(Go to this Internet site and type in President Ford and Vietnam and it will take you  to various documents related to Ford and the Vietnam War)


National Archives. DocsTeach. Several documents related to advice to Ford Concerning Vietnamhttps://www.docsteach.org/documents?rt=3QBhX79GhgDP&start=50


National Archives.  DocsTeach.  Documents related  to President Ford and the closing days of  the Vietnam War


Full description of activity or assignment.

1. Use the following as a guide for a teacher-led discussion with students of the importance of using primary sources.


Why Use Primary Sources?

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Bringing young people into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can give them a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era.

A. Engage students

  • Primary sources help students relate in a personal way to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events.
  • Because primary sources are snippets of history, they encourage students to seek additional evidence through research.
  • First-person accounts of events help make them more real, fostering active reading and response.

B. Develop critical thinking skills

  • Many state standards support teaching with primary sources, which require students to be both critical and analytical as they read and examine documents and objects.
  • Primary sources are often incomplete and have little context. Students must use prior knowledge and work with multiple primary sources to find patterns.
  • In analyzing primary sources, students move from concrete observations and facts to questioning and making inferences about the materials.
  • Questions of creator bias, purpose, and point of view may challenge students’ assumptions.

C. Construct knowledge

  • Inquiry into primary sources encourages students to wrestle with contradictions and compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view, confronting the complexity of the past.
  • Students construct knowledge as they form reasoned conclusions, base their conclusions on evidence, and connect primary sources to the context in which they were created, synthesizing information from multiple sources.

Integrating what they glean from comparing primary sources with what they already know, and what they learn from research, allows students to construct content knowledge and deepen understanding.

Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/usingprimarysources/whyuse.html


2. Provide students with a copy of the following Stanford “Historical Thinking Chart.” Select one document from    

the National Archives DocsTeach Documents related  to President Ford and the closing days of  the Vietnam War


 Use it to model how students can investigate historical questions by employing the following reading strategies: sourcing, contextualizing, close reading and corroborating.



3. Assign students  (through a cooperative endeavor) to access the following political cartoon and use the “Cartoon Analysis Worksheet” to analyze the political cartoon through a teacher led discussion.


Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

Level 1


Words (not all cartoons include words)

  1. List the objects or people you see in the cartoon.
  2. Identify the cartoon caption and/or title.
  3. Locate three words or phrases used by the cartoonist to identify objects or people within the cartoon.
  4. Record any important dates or numbers that appear in the cartoon.

Level 2



  1. Which of the objects on your list are symbols?
  2. What do you think each symbol means?
  3. Which words or phrases in the cartoon appear to be the most significant? Why do you think so?
  4. List adjectives that describe the emotions portrayed in the cartoon.

Level 3

  1. Describe the action-taking place in the cartoon.
  2. Explain how the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols.
  3. Explain the message of the cartoon.
  4. What special interest groups would agree/disagree with the cartoon's message? Why?

National Archives.   http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/

The following information provides the teacher with information needed to analyze the political cartoon.

After President Nixon resigned, Vice-President Gerald R. Ford became America’s 38th President.

Because he had been appointed as Vice President, Ford took office as Commander-in-Chief without standing for a national election.

One of the first major things Ford did, as President, was to pardon Richard Nixon (on September 8, 1974). As a result of that presidential pardon, no legal action could be taken against Nixon for any alleged wrongdoing regarding the “Watergate Break-in" and its ensuing cover-up.

Although President Ford thought that pardoning Nixon was the best thing for the country—to allow a deeply divided nation to heal—not everyone agreed with him (or his reasoning).

Another of Ford’s major decisions troubled many people. He decided not to open an investigative inquiry into any aspect of the Vietnam War.

Americans were upset, among other things, that after so many years of combat—and so many American casualties—South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese in April of 1975. The last telegram, sent from the American embassy in Saigon, was President Ford’s order that all American personnel had to evacuate from Saigon.

Images of that evacuation—including people hanging on to helicopters in desperate attempts to leave Saigon—made it very clear that America had lost the Vietnam War. Why not investigate what had gone wrong?

Once again, however, President Ford believed that the country—which was still deeply divided—would not benefit from such an inquiry.

Doug Marlette, a political cartoonist, took aim at the President for this decision. His drawing, of Ford as a young boy, reveals many inaccurate answers which the lad has written on the blackboard.

Perhaps those obviously incorrect answers should call into question Ford’s judgment regarding an investigation into Vietnam?

The Library of Congress, which maintains a copy of this political cartoon—which Marlette published in the Charlotte Observer on May 8, 1975—provides commentary about it:

Editorial cartoon shows President Ford as a schoolboy who has filled a blackboard with erroneous information including a math sum showing 2 plus 2 equaling 5, a drawing showing $ plus bombing equals victory crossed out and replaced by $ plus bombing equals peace, the statements "If only we sent more money and arms we’d get peace with honor," "Presidents know best," and "Vietnam policy was always right."

Ford says, "I think the lessons of the past in Vietnam have already been learned."

In April 1975, two years after the last American ground troops left Vietnam, South Vietnam fell to the Communists. In his first news conference after the fall of Saigon, Ford rejected the idea of a Congressional investigation, saying it would be "divisive" and it was now time to "focus on the future."

The cartoonist reflects the position of many Americans who saw Ford's position as a betrayal.

When President Ford stood for election in 1976, he was defeated by Jimmy Carter. Despite this disappointing defeat, he did not regret the decisions he had made on issues which he realized could harm his own political future:

I only did what I thought was right. (Quoted by John McCollister in God and the Oval Office: The Religious Faith of Our 43 Presidents, at page 142.) 

To this day, people dispute whether those decisions were, in fact, “right.”

Gerald Ford. Lessons of the Past in Vietnam..Marlette, Doug.  Political Cartoon

 Awesomestories.    https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/155990



4. Have students use the following National Archives guide to analyze the following document from the Gerald Ford Library


                                        Analyze a Written Document

Meet the document.

Type (check all that apply):





Court document




Press Release




Identification document

Presidential document

Congressional document



Describe it as if you were explaining to someone who can’t see it. Think about: Is it handwritten or typed? Is it all by the same person? Are there stamps or other marks? What else do you see on it?


Observe its parts.


Who wrote it?


Who read/received it?


When is it from?


Where is it from?


Try to make sense of it.

What is it talking about?


Write one paragraph summarizing this document.


Why did the author write it?


Quote evidence from the document that tells you this.


What was happening at the time in history this document was created?


Use it as historical evidence.

What did you find out from this document that you might not learn anywhere else?


What other documents or historical evidence are you going to use to help you understand this event or topic?


 Materials created by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain.



Digitized from Box 18 of the NSA. Presidential Country Files: East Asia and the Pacific at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Talking points


Washington, D.C. 20520

September 12, 1974


Subject: Ambassador Graham Martin's Call on the President

Our Ambassador to the Republic of Viet-Nam, Graham Martin, will call on the President at 11:30 am,

September 13. There are attached points which we believe Ambassador Martin will raise with the President and a suggested line of response by the President.


GDS ~~~ GDH  2/10/00


Digitized from Box 18 of the NSA. Presidential Country Files: East Asia and the Pacific at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library


-- Ambassador Martin believes that, if we are able
to provide adequate economic and military assistance to Vietnam for the next two years, the nation can go into the 1976 electoral campaign with Vietnam so obviously an American success story that it will not be an election issue.

If the amounts provided are inadequate, he believes the destabilizing effects of a seriously deteriorating situation in Vietnam will have such damaging repercussions, far beyond Southeast Asia, that serious questions about American foreign policy will inevitably be a 1976 campaign issue.

Consequently, Ambassador Martin w ill briefly allude to what he believes is the vital necessity of having a clear understanding within the Executive Branch of the President's own strong support of a centralized and tightly coordinated effort to secure the maximum possible aid levels from the Congress.

Ambassador Martin will probably request that DOD
be directed to absorb all costs now charged to Vietnam military aid by DOD administrative decision but not required by law, and that he be authorized to inform President
Thieu that the President will request a supplemental appropriation at an appropriate time, should this be needed

to assure the success of Vietnam's defense against aggression.

He will express his conviction that, under the pressures of the last two years, the Executive Branch has largely abdicated its responsibility to correct the pervasive campaign of distortion about Vietnam which has been waged so effectively by Vietnam's opponents and which has been largely responsible for the erosion of support for Vietnam aid in the Congress. He will offer some suggestions how the performance of the Executive Branch can be improved in providing to the Congress and the American people a truthful and candid picture of the current realities in Vietnam.


Digitized from Box 18 of the NSA. Presidential Country Files: East Asia and the Pacific at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library



-- He will wish the President's authority to convey to President Thieu reassurances of the constancy of American support for Vietnam along the lines of the President's letter to President Thieu when he assumed the Presidency.

-- None of the above points is controversial and
we believe they will elicit affirmative responses from the President. We assume the President will wish to authorize Ambassador Martin to convey to President Thieu the reiteration of the assurances the President has already provided.

September 12, 1974



Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Assign individual students to select one document from the following list of documents related to the ending of the  Viet Nam War located at the Gerald Ford Museum https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/exhibits/vietnam/vietdocs.asp

Students should include a copy of the document evaluated and identify the location of the document.  The teacher can give students a copy of the following Historical Thinking Chart to evaluate the primary source document they choose to evaluate.

The chart is located at http://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/V3LessonPlans/HT%20Skills%20chart_0.pdf

Teacher can use the following rubric developed by UMBC Center for History Education, 2013. Adapted from the work of the Stanford History Education Group ® and Bruce VanSledright, Assessing Historical Thinking and Understanding: Innovative Ideas for New Standards, (New York: Routledge, 2014). http://www.umbc.edu/che/arch/images/ARCH_Historical_Thinking%20Skills_Rubric_Secondary_rev_2-17-14.pdf